Joe Biden’s entry into the 2020 race has propelled him (for the moment) to frontrunner status with a decisive lead in the polls compared to his primary opponents. While attacking Donald Trump is probably good for fundraising, it’s not enough to remain competitive with someone with Joe Biden’s name recognition—and his opponents are finally starting to realize that. The Hill reports that his opponents are starting to attack him, “seeking to blunt the former vice president’s rise in polls by arguing he is too conservative to be the party’s presidential nominee.”
If Biden is “conservative” in comparison to the other 2020 candidates, that’s frightening—but his opponents are trying to make that case.
“I think if you look at Joe’s record, and you look at my record, I don’t think there’s much question about who’s more progressive,” [Bernie Sanders] said in an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“Joe voted for the war in Iraq, I led the effort against it. Joe voted for [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and permanent trade relations, trade agreements with China. I led the effort against that. Joe voted for the deregulation of Wall Street, I voted against that,” Sanders said.
The comments followed a jab from Warren, who has accused Biden of being too cozy with corporate interests during the Wall Street bailout.
“At a time when the biggest financial institutions in this country were trying to put the squeeze on millions of hardworking families,” Warren said last month, “Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies.”
But the assault isn’t just coming from his opponents. Liberal groups are also joining in.
“I think that people’s initial, and main concern is that he is out of step with the primary electorate and is going to have the same problems that Clinton did with motivating the base and being the best candidate to run against Trump,” said one Democratic strategist. “And then that got turbocharged by him jumping out to an early lead, and all of the [news] articles about people being focused on ‘electability’ and that again is going to be another Clinton campaign redux.”
Justice Democrats PAC slammed Biden quickly after he jumped in the race, accusing him of being “in near complete opposition to where the center of energy is in the Democratic Party today.” Justice Democrats is the PAC that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used to be in control of, but she was removed from the board of directors after legal and ethical concerns were raised by The Daily Caller.
Biden has also taken heat for daring to call Vice President Pence “a decent guy” and for having once praised former Vice President Dick Cheney. Pressure on Biden isn’t going to end any time soon.
Bhaskar Sunkara, the author of the new book “The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality” and the founder of Jacobin Magazine, a quarterly magazine offering socialist perspectives, said it’s important to keep the pressure on Biden’s candidacy.
He said it’s clear Biden has a following among Democrats, and that even though he isn’t the most progressive candidate he could win the primary.
“Biden isn’t a progressive candidate, but he is a well-liked candidate,” Sunkara said.
Sunkara also said that while bringing up Biden’s centrist policies could help win supporters for Sanders, Warren or another progressive candidate, it might not be enough. He suggested that progressives need to make Biden’s electability a part of the debate, but turn it against him.
“But with the specter of Trump looming, most people just want someone who’s electable,” Sunkara said. “Portraying Biden as unelectable and gaffe-prone seems to me the most important thing.”
The issue of electability is definitely one that has weighed on Democrats in past elections. John Kerry pulled off a surprise victory in the 2004 Iowa caucuses even though Howard Dean had been the frontrunner for weeks. Kerry’s perceived electability is what ultimately led to his surprise victory, and ultimately won him the Democratic nomination that year. Joe Biden’s perceived electability is clearly his strongest quality, but, let’s not forget that Democrats have shunned perceived electability before in favor of identity politics. At the end of 2006, Hillary Clinton once led Barack Obama among black voters, largely in part because they felt at the time America wasn’t ready for a black president. But things quickly turned around. By February 2007, black voters had swung heavy in Obama’s favor. In other words, Biden’s perceived electability might be driving his poll numbers now, but a lot can happen in the next year that can swing the polls against Joe Biden.
With the exception of the strong economy, there are many reasons to believe that Donald Trump is vulnerable in 2020. If Democrats believe victory in 2020 is likely, will they want the most “progressive” candidate on the ballot or the “safe” candidate?
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 July 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis