Tuesday, January 08, 2019


Charlie Pierce is concerned about a Joe Biden presidential run.
For all the talk of a party divided by its leftward flank, a Joe Biden campaign in 2020 would be the most divisive thing that could happen to a Democratic primary field.
Divisive? In what way?
... Biden has a track record that puts him on the wrong side of every issue that currently energizes his political party, and gets all up in the grills of the party's most loyal base of activists. His sponsorship of a grotesque bankruptcy bill has not been forgotten by Democratic voters charged up by the notion of breaking the plutocracy. (It was in her opposition to that bill that most of the country first heard of a Harvard law school professor named Elizabeth Warren.) African-American and minority voters will surely beat him over the head with his support for the truly awful crime bill proposed by President Bill Clinton. Women will remember him for turtling on Anita Hill. It's hard to imagine a presidential candidate who's a worse fit for the party that just swept all those new members into the House of Representatives.
But if Biden is such a terrible fit for the party, how will he manage to be divisive? I assume he'll be a front-runner when he announces. Then his past will be scrutinized. Opponents will question his record in debates and ads. News organizations waill reexamine key moments in his career. And his support will drop. Or he'll make a persuasive case for why he's not the same Joe Biden, and it won't.

Isn't that how primaries are supposed to work? If he's still in the top tier once after months of vetting, that suggests that there's a significant portion of the Democratic electorate that's comfortable with his record. That's not Biden's fault. It means the Democrats are a bigger-tent party than the Republicans. That didn't hurt Democrats in 2018. Progressives ran in some districts, left-centrists in others. Candidates from both wings of the party won.

Only one person can be the presidential nominee, of course, but that person's victory will inevitably leave some supporters of other candidates bitter. That will be the case regardless of the makeup of the field. It's our task to minimize the division.

I know what worries Pierce: that Biden will drag the party back to the center, using a combination of lingering goodwill and good old plutocrat cash. Biden, Pierece writes, "is a beloved figure among the pundit class, as well as among many of the old-line money people who currently are trembling at new forces that they do not understand."

But these people will turn to someone else -- Mike Bloomberg, John Hickenlooper, Howard Schultz -- if Biden isn't around. Granted, none of these candidates are as popular as Biden. But we're going to have a progressive-centrist battle of some kind in the 2020 primaries. It's unavoidable.

Candidates ranging from Andrew Gillum to, well, Donald Trump have demonstrated that the old-school power brokers can't inevitably foist their candidates on primary voters through brute force. I don't think Biden will win the nomination if he's out of step with what Democrats in 2020 want. There are too many other strong contenders. He should run if he wants to, and whoever doesn't like him should be ready to say why.

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