Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
Opinion writer

A Washington whispering campaign continues to insinuate, infer and otherwise suggest — often without leaving an identifiable trace — that Joe Biden just cannot win. He cannot win the Democratic nomination or the general election. When a CNN poll pegged the former vice president and longtime senator’s support at just under 40 percent, this quiet insistence is a little puzzling. After all, shouldn’t the official entry of a clear front-runner into the Democratic field be a cause for celebration for a party frothing at the bit to remove President Trump? Apparently not.

While activists and the illuminati on the left are nowhere near ready to settle on Biden, insiders cannot help pointing out all the ways the most experienced candidate running still might stumble. The fact is, a lot of liberals are convinced the energy in the Democratic Party is with women or a new brand of socialists who came of age after the fall of the Soviet Union, and are therefore able to see socialism not as oppressive and broken, but as fashionable. It is this faction that sees their nominee as being anything but an old white male with almost a half-century in the swamp and all the baggage that entails, including decades of moderate positions that need explaining.

Having closely followed presidential campaigns for nearly four decades, I have observed that Republicans tend to fear the Democratic candidate that looks most like themselves. Republicans always think the most Republican-looking Democrat is the most electable. The outlier, of course, was Barack Obama. In 2008, Obama ended up proving to be the most electable, which is grounds enough for a new perspective.

Today, some on the left are suggesting that “electability” is somehow a dog whistle for proponents of the white patriarchy in much the same way that supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called “likability” an unfair barrier at the beginning of this year. “Metrics like authenticity and likability and electability are just code that we use against candidates who are not like what we are used to,” a spokeswoman for Emily’s List told Vox in March.

Poll numbers have never been the only way to judge a campaign. Obviously, fundraising suggests something about a candidate’s viability. Yet many want to discount these time-tested measures of who is most likely to win the nomination. Perhaps Trump has made everyone rethink the old formulas and become skittish about predictions.

While FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver concedes that Biden enjoys a clear advantage among black voters, he suggests that Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) may creep up on Biden as the race progresses. And the Atlantic’s David A. Graham pointed out on Wednesday that Biden is the only “backward-looking” candidate in a field of credentialed progressives. Would it not be fair to assume that plenty of Democratic activists and liberal voters look back fondly on the Obama days?

For some Democrats, it is not enough to like their nominee — they must love him. Call it the “rapture” factor, dating back to John F. Kennedy and Camelot. Making sense is too low a bar for that segment of the Democratic Party that time and again puts its feelings first.

Biden is almost the most Republican-looking candidate in the race. I say almost because Pete Buttigieg has captured the attention of some Republicans, such as Newt Gingrich, and brings the same Midwestern bona fides as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a favorite of the late John McCain. Among base Democrats, Biden’s reticence to speak ill of all Republicans is itself a sin. In Iowa on Saturday, Biden continued the theme he staked out in his announcement video that Trump is an “aberration” in our history, but also spoke of his “Republican friends” in Washington. That is general election talk coming early before primary season. But to bitter partisans, it may sound almost treasonous. Still, if there is any stock to be had in polling, the fact remains that today, Biden appears to be the most electable.

As the weeks and months progress, be on the lookout for subtle and not-so-subtle hints that Biden is more vulnerable than we think — a la the New York Times tying the vice president’s son Hunter to a Ukrainian gas company, a link that had been much discussed in conservative media but only now has pierced the Gray Lady’s bubble. Interesting timing.

Also, Biden can be counted on to deliver a steady stream of clunky, toe-curling and wince-inducing, off-the-cuff comments that will keep the doubters in doubt. And we are not through seeing creepy, touchy-feely videos of Uncle Joe crossing the line.

But, as we all learned again in 2016, it is not what Washington thinks or feels that matters. Let’s see how its whispers and rumors evolve, and whether the Democrats can bring themselves to settling on the candidate who can actually win.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: The media underestimates Biden’s strengths

Angela Wright-Shannon: Joe Biden doesn’t owe me an apology. Clarence Thomas does.

Ed Rogers: Did Nancy Pelosi just jump the shark?

Molly Roberts: Joe Biden is wrong about Trump

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Can Biden be the helmsman who gets us past the storm?