In one of his calls over the holidays, Mr. Biden repeated a variation of a line he has used publicly: “If you can persuade me there is somebody better who can win, I’m happy not to do it,” he said, according to the Democrat he spoke to, who shared the conversation on condition of anonymity to discuss a private talk.But then Mr. Biden said something he has not stated so bluntly in public: “But I don’t see the candidate who can clearly do what has to be done to win.”
Other possible contenders and their supporters naturally would take issue with Biden’s assessment, citing his age, his goofiness and his identity as a Washington insider as liabilities. They’d argue that he’s too moderate to satisfy the progressive base. In addition, it’s far from clear that the Democratic Party wants a 70-something white guy as its standard-bearer. Moreover, if Biden’s advantage now is based on name recognition, that will slowly dissipate as others campaign. It also sets up anyone who bests him in an early contest to become the giant-killer, the man or woman to beat.
Biden’s supporters argue that in the Trump era, “only somebody with the stature and experience of a two-term vice president can bring back stability. And, they contend, [President] Trump has diminished the importance of ideological differences within the Democratic Party," the Times notes. If he did run, he’d almost certainly need a non-male and/or nonwhite running mate.
Biden would by no means have an easy road to the nomination, but he has a more fundamental problem than the deficits his opponents would cite, namely: What if Trump isn’t the GOP nominee in 2020?
Yes, Trump remains the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP nomination. Still, if things keep going the way they are and the economy hits a rocky patch, there is a not insignificant chance that Trump might be forced to leave office before 2020, and a greater chance that he’ll face a credible primary challenger. If one serious GOP opponent steps forward, others might follow (as was the case on the Democratic side in 1968).
Sure, Trump retains upwards of 80 percent support in his party, but polling also shows more Republicans are willing to consider an alternative to Trump. According to a CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of registered Republicans in Iowa taken in December, only “a quarter (26%) say the Iowa Republican Party should discourage challengers to the President, while 63% feel the party ought to welcome them.” In addition, “the share in favor of welcoming challengers is higher among Iowa Republicans with college degrees (72%) than among those without degrees (56%). It’s also higher among women (66%) than men (60%), and among younger Republicans (67% among those under age 45) than older ones (60% age 45 and up feel that way).”
What’s the rationale for Biden’s candidacy if, say, former senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) or a GOP governor is the nominee? Even more problematic, what’s the advantage that Biden would have over, say, former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who’s 30 years younger than Biden, a daughter of immigrants, a successful former governor and an advocate for human rights?
If the GOP nominee is not Trump, Democrats' criteria for picking a nominee would change considerably. The most sober, experienced, insider-y candidate who would have advantages in a race against Trump might look stale, unexciting and old against a fresher GOP face, especially if that person is not tainted by Trump sycophancy.
That might be one reason that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is trying to avoid making her campaign about Trump. The Post reports on her Iowa campaign swing:
She connected issues that galvanize the left under the idea that America’s political and economic system is “corrupt” — the precise word used in 2016 by both Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — and that is preventing working-class families from getting ahead.Implicit in that was criticism of both Trump and, more broadly, of politics as practiced in Washington. ... Warren avoided not only mentions of Trump but also other potential Democratic candidates, by name at least.
Warren’s pitch works whether Trump is the GOP nominee or not. She’s running on a message that doesn’t posit herself as the antidote to Trump; she’s the antidote to corruption, right-wing economics and the excesses of capitalism.
Every candidate will have to face questions about how he or she will clean up the mess Trump will leave behind. In that regard, tenure in Washington might or might not be an advantage. None other than Barack Obama ran against an ultimate D.C. insider in 2008, promising to unite the country and advertising himself as someone unburdened by the baggage of partisan warfare. When Democrats decide that they want change, there’s a precedent for rejecting the candidate who is a Washington fixture.
Biden reportedly will make up his mind soon. If he decides to run, he — along with all the other Democrats — should keep in mind the argument for his candidacy if Trump is already in the rearview mirror. After all, isn’t that precisely what Democrats (and a substantial chunk of the rest of the electorate) are hoping for?