Joe Biden’s recent debate performance stirred a fresh round of worries about his fitness for a grueling general election. As I’ve argued, it isn’t fair to treat Biden’s strange ramble about record players as representative of his whole performance; for some of the time, at least, Biden was forceful and energetic.

However, that ramble (among other things) does raise legitimate concerns — and clearly Biden’s camp knows this is a problem given that his candidacy rests so heavily on the notion that he’s the Democrat best positioned to defeat President Trump.

That’s probably why Biden allies are now going out of their way to raise concerns about Elizabeth Warren’s fitness for a general election. Politico reports:

While Warren won reelection easily in 2018, Biden’s backers point to her performance among independent and blue-collar voters as evidence she’ll fail to appeal to similar voters in the Rust Belt — just as Hillary Clinton did in 2016.
“The grave concern of many of us Democrats in Massachusetts is that in many of the counties where Sen. Warren underperforms, they are demographically and culturally similar to voters in key swing states,” said state Rep. John Rogers, who backs Biden.
“The tangible fear here,” Rogers said, “is that these Massachusetts counties are bellwethers for states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio — key states that Democrats can’t afford to lose in the battle to beat President Trump.” . . .
Another Democratic member of the Massachusetts Legislature who supports Biden but who did not want to go on record criticizing Warren, said the senator’s performance in the state was reminiscent of Clinton’s struggles against Trump in 2016 among non-college-educated and white suburban voters.

What drives your humble blogger crazy about this argument is that there is no serious affirmative case here for why Biden will automatically fare so well among those non-college and suburban white voters. Biden allies feel no visible obligation to make that case; they seem to think it’s just widely understood to be self-evidently true.


But why should anyone accept this as self-evident? What’s the basis for this underlying assumption?

To be clear, I’m not saying concerns about Warren’s electability aren’t legitimate. They may be. Rather, my point is that it’s just not clear why we’re supposed to accept it on faith that Biden will fare as well among those voters as his allies suggest.


This isn’t necessarily the Biden campaign’s official argument, by the way. They tend to argue that Biden will fare better among working people of all races, and sometimes cite polls to make this point. But polling this far out isn’t predictive, so it’s not clear how much stock we should place in that argument.

Nor does this argument address the nagging questions of how well Biden will hold up under the strain of 14 more months of campaigning, whether his verbal slip-ups will worsen, and how they might impact his standing in the heat of a general election, when scrutiny is a lot more intense.


Of course, to be fair, predictions that Biden’s faltering will worsen or eventually prove fatal are also mostly guesswork.


But regardless, here we have Biden allies explicitly claiming that Warren will not do well enough among non-college whites and suburban whites to win. And this is an argument that some pundits seem to reflexively accept on faith as well.

The obvious implication here is that candidates like Warren — and Bernie Sanders — are too progressive to fare as well as Biden among white voters. At the Houston debate, Biden aggressively attacked them both over their Medicare-for-all plans, and one aspect of his message is plainly that he is more electable against Trump because he isn’t threatening the disruption from the left that his progressive rivals are.

Concerns about whether major and ambitious health-care reforms might alienate some swing voters seem reasonable. Warren and Sanders have offered their rebuttals — arguing that an electorate that picked Trump is looking for major structural change, not incremental reform. One hopes that’s true on the substance, but when it comes to the politics of health care in particular, we simply don’t know whether it’s right. After the tumult of Obamacare’s passage and implementation — and the endless GOP efforts at repeal — it’s plausible that swing voters might balk at more major change, at least in the short run.


But the other unstated assumption coming from Biden’s allies makes less sense. The other side of Warren’s progressive agenda concerns ambitious efforts to tax extreme wealth, constrain corporate power, overhaul corporate governance to enhance worker power, and reform our democracy to curb the influence of big money and lobbyists.

What’s the basis for assuming that this sort of progressivism will alienate white swing voters, or that Biden’s more incremental approach will have greater appeal to them? (By the way, Biden’s agenda is more progressive than commonly supposed, as Alex Roarty has shown, but it’s still not as progressive or transformative as Warren’s would be.)

Reporters have collected some anecdotal evidence that Biden supporters in places like Iowa do think that he’s more electable on economic matters, based on his ties to unions and his regular paeans to the “dignity of work.” And polls do show that Democratic voters see him as more electable. It seems likely that this is partly the result of Biden’s regular assertions that Warren and Sanders are threatening too much disruption and that he’s got intangible middle-class appeal.

But the mere fact that some voters believe this doesn’t make it true. I’m still waiting to hear a serious affirmative case from Biden supporters as to why we’re supposed to believe it.

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