The turnaround was stunning — and something no political observer could ever recall seeing play out. Exit polls revealed late-deciding voters breaking decisively for Biden, saying that their personal preferences came second to sending President Trump packing.
But will Democrats ultimately suffer a case of buyer’s remorse? It’s a question to be asked before another vote is cast, because Biden possesses significant weaknesses that could leave him vulnerable come November.
Yes, the former vice president offers up the promise of restoring stability — something that would normally be a low bar, but in the age of Trump is a high priority. (Imagine what it would be like to wake up in the morning and not need to wonder about what latest insanity the president unleashed on Twitter!)
Biden also represents a connection to Barack Obama’s presidency and a more bipartisan past. It’s easy to ding him for his (apparently sincere) belief that he can convince Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to come to the legislative table, but it’s also true that many voters remember when such a thing was possible and want that time back.
There is also Biden’s essential decency and his ability to offer solace. That, in particular, is something I suspect will stand out as the nation confronts a global coronavirus epidemic with Trump at the helm.
But, but, but … Biden, 77, is even older than Trump — and, frankly, it shows. His public performances are erratic. There are days he is on fire and days — too many — when it seems he’s not quite up for the job. For every voter he comforts, he insults another, often seemingly at random. He can seem tired and, well, confused. Earlier this week, he referred to “Super Thursday.”
Moreover, there are competing impulses within the Democratic Party and the electorate at large. On one hand, many people want a restoration to the sanity of the Obama years. On the other, the anger at the political and economic elite that led to Trump’s election is still out there. Majorities say they favor everything from higher taxes on the wealthy to a more significant health-care reform than the one Biden is proposing. The crisis of an ever-increasing number of Americans unable to afford a middle-class life remains pressing. Little surprise, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) still attracts significant support among people under the age of 45.
Biden is the establishment, the one Trump continues to rail against to great effect. Biden spent decades arguing that Social Security needed to be corralled and trimmed. He supported the job-destroying North American Free Trade Agreement. He voted for the invasion of Iraq. His fundraising chats — “nothing would fundamentally change” — are less than encouraging.
And to top it off, the issues with Hunter Biden go beyond the discredited — albeit sleazy — Burisma dealings. He worked for credit card issuer MBNA while — wait for it — Joe Biden led an ultimately successful effort to reform bankruptcy laws in the creditors’ favor, to the detriment of debtors. Don’t think this stuff will be forgotten. It won’t: Tucker Carlson is on the case. And don’t tell me Trump’s kids are even worse. They are, but it might not matter.
Trump is a professional entertainer, and his ability to do everything from highlighting his rivals’ weaknesses to sowing division should not be underestimated. Yes, crowds and enthusiasm don’t directly translate to votes, but they do count for more than people might want to admit.
Every time I hear that Biden is gaining support because he’s electable, I question what that means. Is he electable because other people say he’s electable? Because the TV says so? Because Trump seems the most worried about him? Because voters truly believe he will make the best president? I don’t know the answer; no one does. The least anyone can do is try to figure it out before the primary season’s point of no return kicks in.