Former vice president Joe Biden formally entered the Democratic primary race last week to instant frontrunner status and a massive $6.3 million fundraising haul in his first 24 hours. Yet despite the fact that Biden leads in virtually every poll, has just proven his ability to generate cash, has broad name recognition as a former vice president and senator, and is an experienced campaigner with few surprises in his closet, many Democrats are less than thrilled with the prospect of a Biden candidacy.
Among the unhappy Democrats was one of my cousins, who describes herself as “a lot more leftist than your garden variety Dem.” A Bernie Sanders supporter, she shared an article, “Joe Biden Is a Disaster Waiting to Happen,” from a liberal website, Jacobinmag.com, on her Facebook page last week, which sparked an enlightening discussion about the relative merits of “Scrappy Joe.” The problem that my cousin and the author of the article had was not Biden’s creepy, handsy behavior or his track record of gaffes, but that he isn’t liberal enough. Citing “Biden’s record on busing, mass incarceration, neoliberal economics, war and civil liberties, abortion, or immigration,” she said that Biden should “should run as a Republican.”
My cousin’s opinion on Biden seems widely held among Democrats. He is taking heat from many segments of the Democratic Party on issues ranging from his treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings to his friendship with Republicans and endorsement of Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican as well as his policies which, although they seem liberal to conservative observers, look relatively conservative when compared to the other Democratic candidates. After a career that began in the Senate in 1973, a period in which the United States has undergone massive changes, Biden has done and said a lot that is out of step with modern Democrats.
“He’s been a corporate Democrat for years, and I think the Democratic Party is recognizing that our nominee and our party moving forward really has to be prepared to challenge the D.C. power structure,” Democracy for America Chairman Charles Chamberlain told Politico. “The wheels are going to come off the cart.”
In a lot of ways, the 2020 Democratic primary is shaping up to resemble the 2016 Republican race. There is a bevy of candidates that better represent the beliefs of the liberal Democratic base just as a large number of Republican candidates vied for the support of traditional Republicans. The problem for liberal activists is that those candidates are all competing for the support of the same voters while Biden, like Donald Trump in 2020, dominates his niche of the party, the blue collar moderate.
In Trump’s case, he was able to secure the Republican nomination with only 44 percent of the Republican primary vote. Even in the closing days of the primary, Ted Cruz and John Kasich split the anti-Trump vote, allowing Trump to win a plurality in most states. A similar path may be open for Biden who has consistently polled at about 30 percent.
Joe Biden also has another advantage in support from crossover Republicans. On Facebook and Twitter, I regularly see posts from ideological refugees from the Trumpist Republican Party who are excited to vote for Joe Biden. In fact, ex-Republicans seem more excited about Biden’s candidacy than my Democrat acquaintances. Particularly in states with open primaries, Biden may well see a surge from Republicans who are unhappy with President Trump. This is especially likely if there is no serious Republican primary challenge to the president.
The big question is whether disaffected Democrats will stay home if Biden is the nominee. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s uninspiring campaign led many Democrats, particularly those who had supported Bernie in the primary, to stay home on election night. FiveThirtyEight points out that there were enough of these nonvoters to sway the election.
The Trump campaign shouldn’t count on Democrats staying home next year, however. Despite Biden’s unpopularity with many in the party’s activist base, dislike for Trump runs much higher than dislike for Biden. Few would be willing to take the chance on re-electing the president by sitting out the election or voting for a third-party candidate like the Green Party’s Jill Stein from the last election. Again the situation mirrors 2016 in which Republicans were underwhelmed by Donald Trump but rallied around him with the rationale that “at least he’s not Hillary.”
My cousin probably speaks for many Democrats when she says, “I could take literally any other Democratic candidate other than Joe, but I will vote for him if I have to.”
To put it another way, at least he’s not Trump.
Originally published on The Resurgent