For political junkies looking for entertainment, here’s the disappointing truth: Joe Biden is at his best when he’s being boring.
If his speeches are the political equivalent of a Lunesta, that’s a good thing, at least for him. If he’s able to pass off his policies as some sort of recycled, Obama-era mush with a bit of liberal spice added to the mix, so much the better.
He’s Warren G. Harding 2.0, promising a return to normalcy after President Donald Trump.
Of course, he’s also like Harding in another way. In a time when social media consisted of the letters to the editor section in the newspaper, our 29th president committed what might have been the ultimate political gaffe when he wrote, according to The New York Times that, “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.”
He was right, of course, but it wasn’t something the media was interested in reporting at the time. Just imagine if telegraph lines had been able to support some rudimentary form of Twitter.
And therein lies the reason political junkies looking for entertainment needn’t be disappointed: Joe Biden isn’t going to be boring.
For Democrats, however, that could be very bad news, particularly when it comes to who their alternatives are.
As of right now, Biden still leads by 11.8 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average, which is generally a reliable indicator of how a candidate is doing. The problem is that the average is derived from polls that are all over the place, between one survey showing the former vice president up by 18 points and another that showed him down by 1 to both Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
What ought to be worrying is that all of these polls were taken during the last two weeks and that the trend, such as one can be reliably established, shows Biden’s lead shrinking.
The last two polls, surveys from the Economist/YouGov and Emerson, show him up by only 4 and 7 points, respectively.
This was before his latest gaffe, in which it turns out a story of military heroism he’s told on numerous occasions was, at best, several different stories amalgamated into one. He promptly issued a response which could be boiled down to “sorry not sorry.”
This gaffe felt dire enough to be of Kinnockian proportions — as opposed to, say, the merely offensive malapropism “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids” — and still managed to make its way into a news cycle that includes a hurricane.
But if Joe fails, what are the other options? It’s still early days — something we fail to remember, since if this campaign feels like it’s been going on since Trump’s inauguration, that’s because it has been.
However, the two candidates right behind him may not be the best choices if the Dems want to be back in residence at 1600 Pennsylvania come 2021.
While the polls have been unpredictable over the past few weeks, one of the few predictable things about them is that the two challengers right behind Biden — or ahead of him in one poll — are Sanders and Warren of Massachusetts. Sen. Kamala Harris of California has settled into a distant fourth after a second debate performance which, quite frankly, didn’t go so hot.
“The race as I see it at this point is all about who will be Biden’s main opponent and, more importantly, who will win the hard-fought match-up between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders,” an unnamed Democrat strategist told The Hill in a story posted Saturday.
“It’s shaping up to be Biden versus a progressive, and that appears to be Elizabeth Warren at the moment,” the strategist said. “But does Bernie come back? And who becomes the alternative? That’s the biggest question.”
There’s another problem, too: If you accept the tacit assumption that both Sanders and Warren draw from the same progressive vote and you also assume the progressive vote remains stable, a candidate who got all of that vote would likely be leading Biden.
Don’t think that Sanders or Warren aren’t aware of this, either.
“There is supposedly a nonaggression pact between Warren and Sanders, but those pacts have a way of collapsing under pressure,” Democrat strategist Chris Kofinis told The Hill.
The most recent poll on the matter by Fox News showed all three front-runners ahead of Trump in a head-to-head matchup, and all by significant margins. Then again, the same thing could have been said of Democrats in 2015, as well.
Sanders or Warren would be the furthest left the Democrats have ever gone in terms of a presidential candidate. That’s something Republicans are going to hammer home in 2020, particularly when it comes to corralling independent voters.
Outside of the primaries, a lot of their ideas — Sanders’ version of the Green New Deal or Warren’s wealth tax, for instance — aren’t going to sound so great for general election voters on the fence about whether the Democrats have gone too far to the left.
There’s also the issue of the Democrats engaging the youth base to come out and vote. Yes, young voters may not like Trump, but where’s the young blood on the other side of the aisle?
Biden, Sanders and Warren are 76, 77 and 70, respectively. At least one of these candidates already has possibly age-related issues attached to his campaign. Are we to expect that young people are going to rally around a coterie of septuagenarians, no matter whom the eventual winner picks as a running mate?
Biden is still the leader of the pack, somehow. The backup plan, at least at the moment, is either Sanders or Warren. It’s a choice between Warren G. Harding 2.0 or Karl Marx Lite.
And, just to draw emphasis to it, both Sanders and Warren will be on stage with Biden during the next debate.
That shouldn’t reassure anyone except members of the Trump campaign.
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