vision 2020

Is the Biden Appeal About to Fade?

Still in the lead, for now. Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Intelligencer staffers Benjamin Hart, Jonathan Chait, Margaret Hartmann, Ed Kilgore, Ezekiel Kweku, Eric Levitz, David Wallace-Wells, and Ben Williams discuss whether Joe Biden’s popularity with Democratic voters is more than surface-deep.

Ben H: I talked to a Biden fan last night who doesn’t really care about the allegations of improper touching — an attitude I think is probably broadly representative of his base. Because his supporters are so underrepresented online, it’s even tougher than usual to determine whether any of this is moving the needle.

Margaret: Yeah. I was informed yesterday that Biden-bashing would not be permitted in my parents’ home.

Ezekiel: The Biden Bunch unbowed.

Jon: Those people don’t make a living writing their takes, though, and cannot grasp how easy Trump makes our job.

Ben H: It can be quite difficult to argue with the common “he’s the best candidate to beat Trump” line, because I’m not sure that’s wrong.

Ezekiel: What makes people so sure Biden is the best candidate to beat Trump?

Ben H: I think the most common argument is that he could win a place like Michigan easily. He does perform best in head-to-head matchups against Trump right now. I don’t necessarily share the view that he’s ultimately the most “electable” candidate; just saying, I don’t have a great rejoinder to the thesis at the moment.

Ezekiel: I think his high ratings are pure Obama nostalgia, and I have my doubts that they would carry him through both a primary and a general election.

Jon: I likewise suspect his campaign performance would bring him back to Earth. People forget all the gaffes. He has run before and lost very badly! But maybe the Obama connection would be a huge asset this time.

Ben W: I agree. I feel like it’s better to nominate someone without a decades-long record to attack. Anti-Trump sentiment is going to rally behind any candidate.

Margaret: Do we still care about gaffes, though? Didn’t Trump say “oranges” instead of “origins” earlier this week?

Ezekiel: Biden has to appeal to a different set of voters than Trump does.

Ed: Biden is pretty slowly morphing into a 2020 version of Hillary Clinton, without her particular gender issue — beginning as a unity candidate but becoming more controversial every day. Eventually, that will affect both his primary and his general-election numbers. Or maybe I just don’t get his avuncular, “Uncle Joe” appeal.

Ben H: I just wonder if that appeal, which, yes, is strongly tied to Obama nostalgia, is a little deeper and harder to uproot than we understand.

Margaret: I think a lot of people feel the statute of limitations has run out on stuff Biden did decades ago, and they’re really attached to him as an Obama administration figure.

Ben H: I also think there’s a strong sense out there among older white Democrats that nominating a woman and/or a person of color would be a risky move.

Ezekiel: Plenty of white guys to choose from.

Margaret: Are there, though? Guys who have that combo of experienced, “electable,” and centrist? And aren’t 37? If I’m a voter looking for that, I’ve eliminated Beto, Sanders, Buttigieg … who’s left?  (I’m seriously asking — I can’t remember everyone in the field anymore.)

Ed: There’s Tim Ryan, as of today. If Biden doesn’t run, Terry McAuliffe and Bloomberg probably will.

Ezekiel: Why do you need “electable” and “centrist”? Isn’t the appeal of centrism, in this context, electability?

Ed: I’m not sure how to define “electability” anymore. Biden has led Trump pretty consistently in polls, in a way that no one else has. But I’m guessing that won’t last.

Ezekiel: I very much don’t understand the profile of a voter who (1) thinks a woman or person of color is a risky move and (2) likes Biden because he was in Obama’s administration. I’m not saying that these people don’t exist, I just don’t understand what exactly they’re thinking.

Ed: I’ll say this about his personal appeal: Everyone talks about the terrible legacy of the 1994 crime bill, and I agree with much of the criticism. But I also remember watching CSPAN, transfixed for hours (something I never did), as Biden made the case for it. There was a point at which he alluded to NRA president Charlton Heston’s claim that the bill wouldn’t actually provide as many cops as sponsors claimed, and Biden commented: “I went home last night and my wife said, ‘Joe, you said the bill had 100,000 cops, but MOSES said it didn’t!,’” and went on in that vein for a while. It was great theater. So he’s capable of that sort of thing.

Eric: I think giving Trump another opportunity to attack his opponent as one of the out-of-touch elites who supported the Iraq War and is in bed with the finance industry isn’t ideal. But they all have liabilities.

Ben H: It’s true that the big-business coziness hasn’t stuck to him yet, and will likely be a potent line of attack.

Ed: I’ve heard no rumors of Obama vocally coming to his defense. Has anyone else?

Ben H: No, and I seriously doubt he will. I don’t think he wants Biden to win.

Ed: Really? How could you know that?

Eric: Who does he want to win?

Ben H: Eric Swalwell, of course.

Eric: Haha.

Ben H: No, Ed, it’s just that he never seemed enthusiastic about Biden’s potential candidacy in 2016. He easily could have boosted him, but he didn’t.

Eric: Seemed like he was into Deval Patrick, but since that didn’t pan out, I haven’t seen similar rumors about him eyeing anyone else.

Ben W: It is often pointed out by political reporters that Obama and his people conspicuously do nothing to push Biden.

Ed: It is interesting, I guess. Biden’s running more or less on his legacy. Harris is running on his strategy.

Eric: And Beto is running as his pale imitation. Pun extremely intended.

David: There were pretty pervasive rumors he was pushing Patrick only to signal to Joe not to run. He knew it wouldn’t bite him because Patrick wasn’t going to run, so it was a costless way of ignoring Joe. To be fair, though, he hasn’t done much, at least publicly, to help anyone …

Ed: There’s all sorts of unnamed, implicit criticism of Obama’s policies, his “theory of change,” etc. But nothing overt. If he feels no loyalty to Biden, and his advisors are all over the place (yeah, some are with Beto, but hardly all of them), then I guess there’s no reason for him to intervene unless Bernie has a senior moment and attacks him for centrism. Wonder if anyone even wants an endorsement from either Clinton?

Eric: Surely Biden would like Bill to vouch for the propriety of his conduct with women.

Margaret: I think Obama unintentionally anointed Biden at the end of the term. He meant to just give him a nice send-off into retirement, but now the “moonshot” thing and his Medal of Freedom are the first things that come to my mind when I think of him.

Ben H: We’ll see how long that afterglow lasts.

Is the Biden Appeal About to Fade?