Biden’s statement that America is an “idea” is both a unifying call for Americans regardless of ideology, party, class and race and a dagger in the heart of Trumpism, which posits that America is about blood and soil, a nativist image that no president before the current one has embraced.
Biden didn’t have to talk about policies, because voters know essentially where he sits on the ideological spectrum — squarely in the center left. He can lay claim to be the Obama Democrat, progressive but not wacky, and the friend to traditional Democratic constituencies (women, African Americans, immigrants). He hardly needs to remind voters that he’s pro-union, passionate about fighting climate change and appalled by Trump’s suck-uppery to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other international thugs. He has the luxury, therefore, not to spend time introducing himself but instead setting the battle lines between him and Trump.
Biden, who will at some point need to address his past stance on crime and his experience with the Anita Hill hearings, also makes his first message about Trump’s unpardonable sin in fanning racism, anti-Semitism and hate. He presents himself as the champion of tolerance, inclusion and decency — qualities that voters already associate with him.
He also gives Democrats an outlet for their anger, disgust and, yes, even fear about what Trump is doing to the country. He declares emphatically that we cannot tolerate eight years of Trump. Implicit is the argument that whatever his faults, if Biden is the guy best equipped to kick Trump out, he should be the nominee.
News coverage has devoted so much time to Biden’s challenges that it’s easy to forget his major advantages, most importantly, his preexisting relationship with voters, their genuine affection for him and his comfort level in speaking about values and the American creed (“All men are created equal...”).
It would be a mistake to characterize his path to the nomination as easy, let alone preordained. Like any candidate, Biden has weaknesses. However, he holds a unique place right now in American politics — the grand old man of the party, the dignified father who has twice had to bury children, the right-hand man for the popular ex-president, the friend of labor and the gregarious uncle who’s always going to ask how things are going and, yes, give you a hug when you are feeling down.
We will see if Biden’s official entry into the race moves him into a commanding lead in the polls, opens the fundraising floodgates and sucks up the support and free media attention keeping other candidates afloat. One shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the first days and weeks of a campaign. The good news for him is that all eyes will be on Biden for a time; the bad news is that early slip-ups will get plenty of coverage.