Every election has a tinge of historic value and is characterized as a must-win battle for each party. For the Democratic Party in 2020, this is true once again. Coming off of an impressive 2018 midterm election, the presidency is one seat that the Democrats feel they must flip next year. The popular front runner is Joe Biden, the former vice president under Barack Obama. Biden, through his centrist appeal, is leading many of the polls in this 10-, 15-, 20-way battle for the presidency. The Democratic Party cannibalized itself in 2016, and they are at far greater risk this election cycle. No matter how many times Mayor Pete claims that we are “all on the same team,” it rings hollow when said around a dozen of your closest opponents.
Buttigieg is correct in spirit: if the Democrats want a chance at the White House, they need to unite behind the winner of the primary election. Since the primary goal of many liberal Americans is simply to get Donald Trump out of office, electability tends to be valued over alignment with any particular policy. In this sense, having a clear front runner through the debates leading up to the first caucuses is a tremendous advantage to the party. While fall has brought with it cooler weather and a surge in the polls for Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden is still the candidate to beat. Unfortunately, he is also one of the least popular candidates with young voters.
In order for the Democrats to succeed in the 2020 election, they need to do what Trump did in 2016: mobilize the disenchanted. They need to ensure their message reaches those negatively impacted by Trump’s trade or immigration policies, those frustrated by his public and private conduct, and those who are simply at their wit’s end with contemporary politics. They can not simply bill themselves as “not Trump” and expect to coast to an electoral victory—Hillary Clinton already tried that strategy. Voters, particularly younger ones, are clamoring for more of what they saw in the midterms: historic numbers of women of color elected to office, grassroots fundraising, town hall meetings, and decisive policies. Politicians can not ignore the political power that the younger demographic wields. In order to win, young progressives have to be convinced that a candidate is authentic, passionate, and committed to social change. To Biden, this demographic of young, excited activists is a threat.
Joe Biden represents the politics—and world—of the past. He belongs to a generation of men who are baffled by the notion that touching women isn’t always appropriate and that calling an African American man unusually “articulate and bright and clean” is far from complimentary. Older voters are more likely to excuse him as a product of his time and remember him fondly as “Uncle Joe,” the charming sidekick of the sophisticated Barack Obama. This view is not shared by the ever-growing movement of accountability, spearheaded by one of the most politically active generations in memory. Particularly in the light of the Ukrainian controversy, in which Biden does not come off well, Uncle Joe could be looking at a reckoning from the American people.
While neither Biden nor his son has been implicated in any wrongdoing regarding the Ukrainian prosecutor, his name is irrevocably tied to the unfolding scandal. Regardless of his above-board political motivations, he had a very personal stake in a matter of foreign diplomacy. For Biden to be a viable candidate for president, he will need to be acquitted in the court of public opinion. Unfortunately for the former vice president, the complicated ins and outs of his case set him at a disadvantage. Trump can not be underestimated here either; if he has committed to taking Mike Pence down with him, you can bet he will drag Biden’s name through the mud at every possible turn. Trump’s hold on his base virtually ensures that a decent portion of the population will go to their graves believing Joe Biden misused his political power for personal gain, even if the evidence proves the contrary. President Trump may not have received his favor from the Ukrainian prime minister, but he got what he wanted: doubts about the integrity of the Democratic frontrunner. The former vice president’s name is in almost every major publication, and his most favorable judgements only say “no proof of wrongdoing.” This is poison to a campaign, even if it has not reached the bloodstream just yet. Barring something truly dramatic, this is Biden’s legacy, the first association that people will make when they hear his name in the coming months.
The progressive party simply can not afford to nominate Joe Biden. He has voted against too many popular policies, committed too many social faux pas, and apologized for too few of his actions. Another unlikeable candidate could repeat the mistakes of the 2016 election and drive voter participation down, which is the last thing Democrats want. Low turnout, in the past few years, has generally meant Republican victory. The gerrymandered districts provide insurance to incumbents, especially incumbent conservatives. Attempting to replace an old, controversial white man with yet another old, controversial white man will not enthuse most voters. People likely will either not vote or vote third party as they did in 2016, splitting liberal votes and granting Trump a plurality. It is no longer Joe Biden’s time. The parade has passed him by, and it has ushered in a new age of politics. The future doesn’t belong to the reformed, but to the reformers. Joe Biden does not embody what the ever more liberal Democratic party stands for, despite any pretending to the contrary. “Joe’s Story” does not inspire the most politically active generation in decades. A Biden nomination could fracture the party, likely into older moderates and younger progressives, perhaps irrevocably. If the Democrats have figured out how to make a figure who has drawn so much public criticism president in the last few years, then Joe Biden might just have his four years. The more likely scenario is that the window of opportunity for him has passed, and the Democratic party should be grateful. It would be far too retrogressive for a Joe Biden to hold the highest office in the country in 2020. Trump and his Ukrainian interference has forced the Democrats’ hand: they have talked the talk of progressivism and radical political reform, let’s see if they can walk the walk.
Categories: Foreign Affairs