Wasn’t this the party of change, a party looking for fresh faces to lead the faithful to progressive places? If so, then Washington Post reporters Annie Linskey and Michael Scherer wonder how Joe Biden became the dominant polling frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. This looks like the least likely election cycle for a nostalgia tour, and yet Biden seems firmly unrepentant for his un-woke career up to now:
Former vice president Joe Biden defends his support for the 1994 crime bill that many blame for mass incarceration of blacks. He declares that most Americans are “satisfied” with a private insurance system reviled by the left. He justifies the North American Free Trade Agreement as a pact that “made sense at the moment.”
And to the dismay of many liberals, he won’t call for a study of slavery reparations, saying the nation has other ways to fight racism.
In his opening weeks as a presidential candidate, Biden has rejected much of the conventional wisdom that drove the first stretch of the Democratic nomination fight, refusing to play to the party’s liberal wing, focus on the wrongs of the past or call for revolutionary transformation.
To the surprise of many, he has been rewarded with a lead in the polls that, so far at least, has proven durable and steady. As a result, his candidacy is challenging assumptions about what Democratic voters want in the era of President Trump.
This might be a bit too harsh on Biden. The former VP has also backtracked on Anita Hill in an attempt to pander to progressives, although he has not gone far enough yet to satisfy them. Biden also said that he “gets it” on sexual harassment, even though he refuses to admit he’s engaged in such conduct despite some clear photographic and video evidence. More to the point, Biden has always been malleable on policy, and he’s sending up enough signals in the last few weeks that hardline activists can be at least assured he’s feeling their pressure.
Still, this dominance is tough to explain, considering the political climate among Democrats:
It’s not just Biden, either. The only other candidate thus far standing out from the crowd is Bernie Sanders, another white male septuagenarian in a party that’s supposedly itching to feature diversity and youth. Kamala Harris, who embodies all of those qualities, has been declining since late February and has now dropped into fourth place, all but tied with Pete Buttigieg.
Donald Trump has taken to trolling Biden on Twitter, and by extension Democrats in general. Trump added to that this morning by calling Biden a rescue project for Barack Obama, and also China’s biggest hope in the election:
Looks like Bernie Sanders is history. Sleepy Joe Biden is pulling ahead and think about it, I’m only here because of Sleepy Joe and the man who took him off the 1% trash heap, President O! China wants Sleepy Joe BADLY!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2019
Trump may not take Biden seriously on Twitter, but his campaign takes Biden seriously where it matters. Trump won election by flipping the “blue wall” Midwestern states, and his campaign pollsters found out that he’s slipped considerably in the states where Biden might provide the biggest threat to Trump’s re-election:
Trump will travel to Pennsylvania Monday for a rally that comes after recent visits to Wisconsin and Michigan, two other states at the center of his reelection strategy. Those appearances are just the most public display of his team’s efforts to fortify his standing.
Behind the scenes, they’ve rushed to the aid of languishing state Republican Party machines and have raised concerns that a potential GOP Senate candidate in Michigan could hurt the president’s prospects there. They are also scrutinizing the map for opportunities to fire up his base in the trio of states.
The moves come at a time of growing anxiety over the geographic linchpin of his 2020 hopes. The Trump campaign recently completed a 17-state polling project that concluded the president trails Joe Biden in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, according to two people briefed on the results. America First Action, the principal pro-Trump super PAC, is expected to conduct its own polling and focus groups in Pennsylvania and Michigan later this summer.
Allahpundit covered some of the polling last week, but there’s more critical context to consider as well. Trump only won these states within a single percentage point in 2016, but he didn’t expand the Republican vote in the three states while doing so. Hillary Clinton lost hundreds of thousands of votes from Obama’s 2012 re-election bid, and that was the difference that made Trump president. Any competent Democratic campaigner that doesn’t push far enough leftward to alienate voters in these states are likely to win them — unless Trump and the RNC can find ways to consolidate their gains from 2016. The midterms strongly suggested that they hadn’t done so at all.
All Democrats have to do is find a nominee who won’t get in the way of wins in those states and who knows how to talk to moderates and Rust Belt voters. Democratic voters might have learned that lesson from 2016, too, even if the progressive activists haven’t. Biden might not be the identity-politics hero they want, but he might be the old-timer coalition hero they need.