By N. Peter Kramer
Former Vice-President Joe Biden is running for the democratic presidential nomination. A race with 23 candidates, six of them women, six minorities, with a gap between the youngest and the oldest of 40 years. Biden started at the front of the pack and has stayed right there after a month. Normally, this would hardly be surprising, considering how well-known and deeply rooted he is within his party.
But we don’t live in normal times. Many insiders thought Joe Biden was too old, too old-school, too centrist, too willing to work with Republicans, too much baggage from past controversies, etcetera. It is very early of course, but what is the buoyancy of Biden telling us about the Democratic Party? A guess.
Democrats may not have moved as far left as thought by many observers. May be a misreading of the 2018 midterm elections. The most important victories weren’t by candidates on the left, but by 21 House freshmen who won in districts President Trump carried in 2016. These were centrists candidates and represent where many Democratic and independent voters are: on the center-left.
Don’t forget there is actually unease within the party over prominent candidates of the left. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling, 36% of Democratic primary voters say they have reservations about or are uncomfortable with Senator Bernie Sanders, and 33% say that about Senator Elisabeth Warren. In the meantime, just 27% have reservations about or are uncomfortable with Joe Biden.
Starting with his announcement, Biden’s message has been that Trump’s values and behaviour, more than the policy debate, are the real issues for the 2020 campaign. This approach presumes that voters are most interested in a candidate who represents the opposite of Trump in terms of style and demeanour, and puts less importance on ideology and policy positions.
Biden shows a contrast with the approaches of Sanders and, especially, Warren, who has begun to gain attraction with a series of detailed liberal policy proposals, a wealth tax, a corporate tax, student-debt forgiveness.
Joe Biden presents himself as a traditional Democrat with traditional middle-class sensibilities but also one who knows how to reach across the aisle to work with Republican and find consensus in Washington. ‘We need to have a candidate who is ready to rebuild trust’, is what you hear often.
Biden’s position contrasts with most other Democratic candidates, who are appealing to the anti-Trump anger by using the word ‘fight’ and stressing their eagerness to battle with Republicans. Biden’s more reasonable positioning turns to be smart. Trump is directing so much of his Twitter fire at Biden, that it seems to suggest that he is the Democrat the president considers the biggest threat.