Opinion: Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden to Be President?

Opinion: Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden to Be President?


    The most critical prerequisite for a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party? Electable. This is more than naming a nominee who has strong ideas, we keep listening. This matters nothing than nominating a nominee with a progressive legislative track record. Of course, that is more important than nominating a woman who might be the first female President.

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    Sadly, very few people who say they put electability first seem to grasp what "electability" entails, or what it really looks like in the electorate today.   
    Case in point: No answer to the issue of electability is offered more consistently and with more enthusiasm than "Joe Biden" in a field crowded with nearly two dozen candidates.

    Mr. Biden, whose campaign officially kicks off in Philadelphia this Saturday, is the kind of guy you might see sitting behind a wide desk, serving as a wise custodian of our democracy without posing the danger to any reform. He is from one of those scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by too many pundits — people who assume that the mythical white voters of the working class that is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats want Joe Biden, which is what makes Joe Biden electable in effect.   

    True, Mr. Biden is polling a wide margin ahead of the other Democrats in the field, both with women and color voters. However, polling so early in the campaign is more indicative of recognition of the name than anything else; 98 percent of Democratic primary voters remember the two leading candidates for 2020, Mr. Biden and Bernie Sanders. This also makes early polling a weak barometer of success in the elections. Around this point in the lead-up to 2016, the top candidates for the Republican nomination were Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker.   

    The argument people make for Mr. Biden's electability is not that he is especially optimistic about some group of people, but that he has the best chance of having independents and maybe even some moderate Republicans to cross over and vote Democratic; nevertheless, unenthusiastic leftists would vote for him because this is an emergency, and Donald Trump is so much worse. Politics 101: The candidate nearest to the median voter is likely to pick up the biggest share.

    But being elected is not about the bland standard being appealed to. It's about getting the people who are genuinely inspired to turn out and vote.   
     The 2019 Democratic Party is not feeling much like Joe Biden. Women, African-American, Latino and Asian voters all say they back Democratic candidates even more than Republican ones. White voters, male voters, and especially white male voters support Republicans in general.
    Estimates on who votes Democratic often show the Democratic Party is more diverse than the pundits who decide who should be elected.
    These electability assumptions reflect more entrenched biases than political science, and have to boot a dash of arrogance.  An electable candidate has to be credible and widely appealing, the reasoning goes. But authenticity itself is classified as white and male when White Men define it.

    This constant reading of the tea leaves of the working-class white (or beer hops?) makes sense only if those voters are simply more powerful than all the others. We do not belong to the Democratic Party. In the 2018 midterms, just under a percent of white men without college degrees said they had voted for a Democrat. And the Democrats will not win near a majority of those men anywhere. Women vote in greater numbers than men; college and postgraduate voters turn out in greater shares than those without.   

    Such high-turnout classes are the same as Democratic trends. A Democrat can end up in the White House because they're inspired to turn out to vote.
    But what about those voters moving from Obama to Trump who are stated to make or break this contest, as they did the last? The Democratic Party will not leave anyone behind, but white men of the working class are decreasing as a part of the Democratic base, while whites are increasingly decreasing as a part of the general population. The entire idea that the only potential swing voters are white people without college degrees is a flawed one.   
    There is also little evidence that most voters would choose a policy-based candidate and that a moderate candidate who wrote campaigns would do much better than a more visionary and progressive candidate to appeal to a wide range of voters. Instead of trying to win back a dwindling electoral and demographic power, it would be easier for Democrats to think about what is going to bring voters to the polls. The defeat of Hillary Clinton can only be explained by a long list of reasons, but one of them was definitely apathy: the certainty that she had actually depressed the turnout of voters in the bag.     

    Contrast this to the midterms of 2018, which saw a record-setting turnout — and a record number of elected women. Disgust with the Trump administration pushed voters to the polls, certainly. But that's how a bunch of exciting candidates did it and didn't look like the traditional "electable" ones. They looked much more like the people actually elected them.

    Women registered political donations in 2018, and dominated behind-the-scenes campaigns, at least anecdotally. The white working-class base of Mr. Trump also voted Republican, but in fewer numbers than when he triumphed. Women of color, and particularly black women, continued their propensity to strongly support Democrats, And racial minority turnout hit a high 28 percent of voters, and 38 percent of voters under 30. A majority of white women with college degrees voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it was this demographic that brought a new advantage to Democratic candidates in 2018, rising their Democrats support over Republicans by 13 percentage points from two years earlier.

    White women with college degrees switched in some central states, including Ohio and Florida: A plurality voted Republican in 2016 and Democratic in 2018. White men, regardless of education, did not. The most promising swing voters for Democrats in 2020 are white women, not working-class white men; and who could wind up as loyal lifelong Democrats.   
    Fast turnout among colored voters, a Political change among white voters, and major flips by college-educated white women all captured dividends for the 2018 women who ran. Women mid-term candidates outperformed male candidates on both the left and the right by a substantial margin (and the difference was greater with Democratic candidates than Republicans). In other words, if the 2018 election is any indication, women are more electable than men — with Democrats in particular but not just.

    History is a restricted guide to who can succeed. After all, it was not just an African-American law professor with scant national political experience and a foreign-sounding name  The picture of electability; neither was a thrice-married former reality television star turned sexual abuser accused and compulsive tweeter confirmed. Yet both of the American population were tapping into something alive and hungry.

    No force has been greater, bolder, louder, and more hungry than women since Donald Trump's election in 2016. Women have become the most vibrant and powerful political group in Trump's America, beginning with the Women's March, seguing through the # MeToo campaign, and reaching full force with the 2018 midterm women's tsunami. It is women of color within the category who are the core of the Democratic Party.       
    It's disconcerting, though, to learn all of this and assume that the most elected nominee is Joe Biden, an older white man closely associated with sexual assault and sexism, even though he's polling more than a year ahead of the election.
    In more than 20 years, a white male Democrat hasn't won the White House; a white male Democrat hasn't won a majority of American voters since at least the 1970s (and Hillary Clinton, it bears repeating, won a greater proportion of the electorate than Donald Trump).

    Given all this — who vote for Democrats, who work for Democrats, who have actually won the White House as a Democrat over the past two decades — several people have surveyed the field and come to the conclusion that Joe Biden is the bunch's most electable. The statement does tell us a lot about what the true custodians of authority really look like. Yet it does not tell us anything about who will really be able to win by 2020.   

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