Close your eyes, and picture the perfect standard-bearer for the Democratic Party in 2020. Do you see a 77-year-old white man who voted for the Iraq War, championed tough-on-crime policing, helped reduce bankruptcy protections for poor people with credit-card debt, mistreated an alleged sexual-harassment victim during high-profile Senate hearings, and recently reminisced about his warm relationships with white-supremacist colleagues?
If yes, then there’s a very good chance that you are Joe Biden.
The former vice-president is making the media rounds for his new memoir about the death of his son Beau Biden, who succumbed to brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46. While promoting the book, Biden has taken pains to float an entire Party City’s worth of 2020 trial balloons.
In an interview on NBC’s Today show Monday, Biden said that he hadn’t made up his mind about another presidential run — but emphasized that he is a very healthy septuagenarian.
“I’m not closing the door. I’ve been around too long,” Biden told Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer. “I’m a great respecter of fate, but who knows what the situation is going to be in a year and a half? I don’t have any idea. I’m in good health now, I’m in good shape … but I just don’t know. Honest to God, that’s the truth.”
Days earlier, a bevy of Biden’s confidantes fed Politico a story about how the longtime senator had become convinced that Trump must not be reelected — and that “he doesn’t yet see anyone else who could stop that from happening.”
For the first time in what would be the sixth presidential campaign that he’s either seriously flirted with or launched, Biden sees an argument for a candidacy for which he is the only answer: An elder statesman who can help repair the damage and divisions in the country and around the world, unite the competing wings of the Democratic Party, and appeal to traditional Democratic voters who fled last year for Trump.
“He’s a great respecter of fate,” said one person close to the former vice president. “At some point, it may turn into fate and planning.”
As Business Insider’s Max Tani notes, that “one person close to the former vice-president” sounds an awful like, the, uh, former vice-president.
So, Biden might be reading from John Barron’s playbook. Or one of his staffers might be just be parroting Biden’s favorite mantra. Regardless, it’s clear that Obama’s wingman is already “planning” for a potential 2020 bid.
The case for such a run isn’t difficult to make. Biden’s folksiness and blue-collar background make him a plausible emissary for Democrats in the reddening Rust Belt. And early polls suggest Biden could make easy work of Trump, with a Public Policy Poll putting him ahead of the president by 18 points in a hypothetical 2020 showdown.
Still, the notion that no one but Biden is capable of defeating Trump in 2020 seems absurd. No president has ever been this unpopular this early in his presidency. And that fact isn’t merely a product of blue America’s unanimous disdain for Trump: Last fall, the mogul won 73 percent of the vote in Alabama; over the weekend, a JMC Analytics poll found Trump’s approval rating at a mere 52 percent in the Heart of Dixie.
In 2016, Trump faced the second-most unpopular major party nominee in American history — one whose candidacy was tarred by an FBI investigation that reclaimed headlines days before the election — and he still lost the popular vote by millions of ballots, while cobbling together an Electoral College win on the strength of a mere 80,000 votes.
Who knows what will happen between now and 2020. But, at present, it looks like any competent Democrat who isn’t under federal investigation should be able to evict Trump from the White House. Given this landscape, the fact that Biden is premising his (potential) candidacy on an electability argument looks like a tacit recognition that progressive primary voters are unlikely to vote for an old, white male centrist in 2020, unless they’re convinced that there is no alternative.