The inevitable presidential candidacy of Joe Biden has many speculating that he could be the Democrats’ only hope. Myself, I’m not convinced Biden will even survive the primary. In fact, I suspect Biden’s candidacy will look a lot like Fred Thompson’s in 2008. I could be wrong, but I have my reasons why Biden is not the Democratic Party’s 2020 Trojan Horse.
5. He’s repeatedly underwhelmed as a presidential candidate
If the past is any indication, Biden just isn’t someone to gamble on in a presidential primary. His first run for president in 1988 was thwarted by accusations of plagiarism from his law school days and from campaign speeches. In 2008, he was arguably one of the most experienced candidates running for president but lost to a first-term senator who was a virtual unknown just four years earlier. Perhaps his best chance to be his party’s nominee was in 2016, but he didn’t even throw his hat in the ring because the party wanted Hillary Clinton. So, he’s technically had three failed attempts—and the last two he was passed over by candidates younger and less experienced.
The best thing Biden has going for him is that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t old enough to run for president, because seventy-five percent of Democrats would consider voting for her if she was. If the 2008 election didn’t prove to you that experience and qualifications mean nothing to Democrat primary voters, that poll should leave no doubt in your mind. Once Democrats realize Joe Biden is not Barack Obama, his poll numbers will decline. Recent polling also says that Democrats are looking for someone new, meaning that despite his strong poll numbers now, if someone more exciting jumps into the race he’ll fade.
4. His past racial comments
In his previous elections, his history of racially insensitive (some say “racist”) comments weren’t so much an issue, but America has become a lot more sensitive to such things in recent years, and with Biden’s poll numbers suggesting he’s a favorite amongst Democratic primary voters, his opponents would be foolish not to try to make those an issue again. An article in the New York Intelligencer yesterday explained what might come up in a highly competitive primary:
Joe Biden once called state-mandated school integration “the most racist concept you can come up with,” and Barack Obama “the first sort of mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean.” He was a staunch opponent of “forced busing” in the 1970s, and leading crusader for mass incarceration throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Uncle Joe has described African-American felons as “predators” too sociopathic to rehabilitate — and white supremacist senators as his friends.
Biden has also opposed slavery reparations, and far-left opponents seem to be willing to jump on that bandwagon. As that article notes, Biden enjoys a plurality of support among black Democrats now, but how long will that last if his primary opponents, sensing the opportunity to knock him down, exploit these? Biden doesn’t have the luxury Obama did in 2008 being an unknown without a long record to tear down, and can’t play the race or gender card either.
3. Beto O’Rourke is the most likely VP candidate
Beto O’Rourke polls well as a 2020 contender, but I suspect if he does join the 2020 race, he’ll actually be running for vice president. Beto’s 2018 Senate race against Ted Cruz had many on the left thinking he had a chance. Beto, if he runs for president, will demonstrate he still has star power amongst the left, but his real appeal will be the potential to turn Texas competitive. Texas has been a reliably red state, but it has been trending purple recently, and Beto on the ticket could turn Texas into a battleground. But, Beto won’t top the ticket… he just won’t. Democrats are so invested in identity politics that it’s hard to imagine them nominating two white males in 2020. Beto probably brings more opportunities as a young exciting candidate on the ticket from Texas at the bottom of the ticket than Biden does as an old white guy from the East Coast on the top of the ticket.
2. What his poll numbers tell us
His poll numbers are also quite interesting. They’re definitely better than Hillary’s in 2016, but they also follow a similar trend:
Biden’s poll numbers weren’t great until he was Obama’s VP nominee, and he clearly peaked before taking office. For the majority of the Obama years, Biden’s poll numbers were pretty much divided, before bouncing back in 2017… after Trump took office. Two years into Trump’s presidency his approval has actually gone down 5 points. It reminds me of Hillary’s polling. Her favorability was even higher while she was secretary of State, but started to decline after she left the Obama administration, before going underwater as a candidate. As a public figure, Hillary was more popular than she was as a candidate, and Biden will likely see a similar decline once he’s officially in a race, fending off a dozen other Democrats who want to take him down. Is he more likable than Hillary? Sure, who isn’t? But, the day before he officially enters the race will likely be his best day as a candidate. As we see above, Biden’s polling the past ten years has been either a reflection on Obama or Trump. As a candidate, his poll numbers will reflect more on himself, and as the past has shown he has a problem connecting with Democratic primary voters.
1. The Obama factor
Anti-Trumpism isn’t enough to stand out in the Democratic primaries. They all hate Trump. Each candidate has to represent something different from the rest, and with Biden joining the expanding clown car of Democrat 2020 candidates, he becomes the face of the Obama years. This means that the only way to knock him down will be to knock down Obama’s record, which—despite Obama’s popularity in the party—not all “progressives” look back on too fondly. Considering which voters candidates must appeal to in the primaries, Biden’s candidacy will put the Obama years on trial in a way that will likely remind voters how not-so-great they were and how other candidates are more likely to bring about the “change” they really want. Biden will have a choice: separate himself from Obama, or go all in as the successor to Obama’s legacy. That’s a tough choice to make—and both have the potential to backfire.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy, will be published in 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis