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The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?

The 2020 election horse race is beginning to take shape.  Unless something unexpected happens (e.g., impeachment, resignation), Trump will likely seek reelection as the Republican candidate.  A number of independents will seek third-party (e.g., Greens, Socialists) candidacy.  And then there are the Democrats.

Numerous Democratic politicos are beginning to cluster behind the starting gate considering a primary run for the 2020 presidential nomination.  The UK’s Independent lists 40 possible candidates that fall into four broad categories – former elected officials, current Senators and Congress-persons, celebrities and billionaires.  To date, Sen. Elizabeth Warren D-MA), Julian Castro (Obama’s housing secretary) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have announced their candidacy.

However, the Independent, like other media outlets, identifies Joe Biden as the current front runner.  “The former two-term vice president consistently receives a majority of support among Democratic voters to run in 2020 against any other potential candidates in recent polling,” it reports.

Liberal outlets like Vanity Fair and The Atlantic are touting Biden’s candidacy.  Vanity Fair sputters, “Is Biden progressive?  Absolutely. Gaff-prone? Duh.  But he is the antithesis of Trump, with the added benefit that he’s been vetted before, and passed muster.”  And The Atlantic champions,“These are odd times for Biden. He gets dismissed as too old, or he gets held up as the only adult who can actually come in to lead the Democrats to beat Trump in 2020. He is to many in his party the perfect answer to how to win back the white working-class voters that he helped bring in for Barack Obama, but to others he’s a relic of a Democratic Party of the past.”

The National Review, a voice of Republican but anti-Trump conservatives, has joined the Biden bandwagon.  It notes that with “36 years in the Senate, eight more as vice president — [he] has an ability to appeal to parts of Trump’s base.”  It goes on to pinpoint Biden’s apparent appeal to Trump supporters and other Republicans:

Biden is one of the few Democrats with credibility among the white working-class voters who abandoned the Democrats to elect Trump in 2016. Like Trump’s, his predilection for bluster endears him to these voters, even as it horrifies high-minded coastal elites. … Americans — or at least the rock solid 35–45 percent of the electorate that supports President Trump — don’t seem to care that their standard-bearer isn’t always faithful to the truth so long as he is skewering the people that they despise.

Numerous early-bird opinion polls indicate that Biden not only leads the Democratic pack but could likely defeat Trump in a 2020 match-up.  A December 24th The Hill-HarrisX poll reports “Biden leading Trump, 42 percent to 36 percent”; it also finds Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) beating the incumbent president 38 to 37 percent, but that Trump would defeat Rep. Beto O’Rourke(D-TX) 30 to 37 percent.

A recent CNN, the Des Moines Register and Mediacom poll found that 32 percent of likely Democratic-Party caucus-goers claim Biden as their first choice. It reports Biden had the highest favorability rating among likely Democratic caucus-goers at 82 percent.  The rating for other prominent Democrats was: Sanders, 19 percent; O’Rourke, 11 percent; Warren, 8 percent; Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), 5 percent.

Politico published the most revealing Biden promotional piece. Juleanna Glover, a long-term Republican operative and Biden-apparatchik (i.e., she is a member of the Biden Institute Policy Advisory Board), proposes that Biden not only run but do so as a third-party candidate and team up with a moderate Republican likeSen. Mitt Romney (UT), Sen. Ben Sasse (NB) or John Kasich, former Ohio governor.

Glover repeats many of the National Review’s platitudes: “[Biden] appeals to the kind of working-class voters Democrats have been bleeding to Republicans over the years. Most important, he could make a good president, and not just because he has a deep mix of domestic and foreign policy experience; he also has the character for the job.”

She adds one further suggestion to her pitch – a Biden-led third-party ticket should pledge to serve only one term in office.  “It decouples a president from the demands of reelection politics while simultaneously easing concerns about age—Biden would be 78 on inauguration day.”  She notes, “It also ensures governance unpolluted by campaign finance concerns and narrow special interests inherent to maintain a winning coalition.”

Glover dismisses previous third-party campaigns like that of Jill Stein and Ralph Nader of the Green Party or Ross Perot as coming “from the lunatic fringes.”  But with a Biden campaign, a “trans-party” third-party “presidency would be genuinely disruptive.”

In all likelihood the Democratic establishment will seek a “safe” candidate like Biden, one who would not challenge political conventions like a “democratic socialist” or be an African-American, Hispanic or another woman.  Biden is the perfect band-aid candidate, one well-tested in compromise or “bi-partisan” politics.  Best case, a Biden candidacy and possible victory over Trump in 2020 could also lead to a further increase of Democrats in the House and possibly the defeat of many Senate Republicans.

The unasked question is simple: Is that all Americans can ask for? Sadly, Biden is an older, 21st century version of Bill Clinton.  Does nothing ever change in American politics?

In 1990, Biden opposed the Gulf War but in 1998 switched positions and supported the Iraq invasion, calling Saddam Hussein a national-security threat.  More troubling, he’s been a long-term backer of bank deregulation and – like Clinton and Obama — close to Wall Street financiers. He helped secure the passage of the “new Jim Crow” legislation, Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, that Clinton signed. And in 2001 he backed the USA PATRIOT Act – i.e., Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act – that institutionalized the national security state.  Biden is an old-hand playing the political hand he’s dealt.

Perhaps most important, Biden’s run – and possible victory — can help the Democratic Party establishment contain the grassroots insurgency that spouted in the mid-term 2018 elections.  Some of these insurgents include the democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Native American Deb Haaland (NM) and Sharice Davids (KS, and a lesbian), Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia (TX, state’s first two Latina congresswomen), African Americans Ayanna Pressley (MA), Jahana Hayes (CT) and Lauren Underwood (IL).  Others, with even bolder visions, will likely emerge during the 2020 campaign.

The U.S. is in the midst of a great restructuring, with globalization superseding the American Century, inequality replacing the American Dream.  Trump and his supporters know this and invoked a renewed call for white-skin privilege – i.e., make America great again – to deny the inevitable. One of the lessons of the 2018 midterm election was that Trump’s false policies of 2016 are not working, and more and more people, including among his supports, know it.

Unfortunately, Biden and the establishment Democrats are unlikely to admit to the fundamental structural changes remaking the country – or propose meaningful policies to address them. Sadly, Biden, like Hillary Clinton before him, will offer only band-aids to stop the bleeding of the symptoms and not deal with the deeper causes sickening the nation.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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