The Democratic Party has one overriding priority for the 2020 presidential election: to find a candidate who can unseat President Donald Trump. It seems like an obvious statement, but the ability to defeat Trump is more important for Democrats than the campaign platform and a candidate’s likability and experience. The party knows this will not be an easy task – after all, in 2016, the assumption was that Trump would never beat Hillary Clinton.
Democrats know they cannot afford to make that mistake again, but they have a problem: All 15 of the declared Democratic presidential candidates – as of April 1 – are trailing one man in the polls. That man is former Vice President Joe Biden, and he has yet to make an official announcement. Worse still, Biden is the most problematic candidate for Democrats.
Joe Biden Pros and Cons
From the party’s point of view, Biden has several things going for him. He has enormous political experience, he has been one step away from the Oval Office, and he has unsurpassed name-recognition. Some Democrat voters may even see a Biden presidency as a third term for Obama. Of all the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, Biden quite possibly has the best chance to sway independent voters.
Also from a Democratic Party point of view, though, Biden has a long list of undesirable associations. He is old and white and a man. These three characteristics alone are enough to place President Obama’s former No. 2 outside the desired demographic of the party. Also, Biden is no firebrand, though he sometimes tries to portray himself as such. Compared to Trump, however, he is positively comatose – not someone with the needed energy and personal presentation to fire up the party faithful the way the president can ignite his base.
Biden is not likely to win over any Republican voters, and it is hard to imagine that he can successfully court the votes of any independents who were not happy with the way things went during the Obama years. Biden cannot really campaign on change or on ending “business as usual” in Washington – as so many presidential candidates like to do – since for eight years he was literally vice president of business as usual.
That Obama connection is also problematic since a Trump v. Biden contest would allow Republicans to relitigate the many scandals and failures of the Obama years. Among those, Benghazi, the IRS targeting conservative organizations, Fast and Furious, Solyndra, Hillary Clinton’s pay-to-play State Department, and the complete failure of Obamacare to restrain the steep rise in health care costs.
The Two Big Biden Problems
Aside from all this, however, the two biggest problems with a Biden candidacy are, first, that – despite his recent insistence to the contrary – the former senator and VP is more moderate than many in the party are looking for in a presidential contender. Second, Biden has a significant issue with inappropriate physical interactions with women and even young girls.
As White House counsel Kellyanne Conway pointed out, one can Google “creepy uncle Joe” and find a number of video clips showing Biden putting his hands on both women and children in a way that is not just inappropriate but quite disturbing. Former Democratic Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores recently went public with a story of Biden touching her in just such a way. The #MeToo movement has become a serious problem for this particular potential 2020 candidate.
To those who would judge Biden in the harshest way possible, the man is a creep and pervert who shows a tendency toward trichophilia – a sexual fetish for touching or smelling body hair. On the other hand, “Uncle Joe” could be just the slightly eccentric guy he is often made out to be and that he is, as he claims, completely unaware that his touchy-feely manner is out of place in today’s #MeToo climate.
If the latter is true, though, it is still fair to point out that, were he a Republican presidential hopeful, his touching and caressing of unsuspecting females would be used against him at every opportunity, and any campaign for office upon which he embarked would not survive long. This creates an enormous problem for the party that constantly plays the sex (gender) card and insists that women be respected.
If the concept of toxic masculinity is anything more real and serious than just progressive nonsense, then Biden’s touching is an obvious example: Here is a powerful and influential man who believes he can put his hands on a woman without her consent, bury his nose in her hair, caress her shoulders, and even kiss her, and there is nothing wrong with that. At the very least, Biden is guilty of utterly disregarding a woman’s right to personal space; if he does not understand that, he is probably not the kind of person to be in the Oval Office.
Is He In or Out and What Will it Mean?
Observers and political pundits have been waiting for weeks for the former VP to make an announcement. Most have assumed that he would run, but the continued delay gives the impression that his heart may not be in it. Indeed, one could speculate that Biden has been waiting for an excuse to bow out of consideration formally. The Flores allegation – if one could call it that – may put Biden in a difficult spot.
Flores has talked about how Biden made her feel uncomfortable and confused, though she did not feel what he did to her amounted to sexual harassment. For his part, Biden released a statement that implied the former Nevada politician did not accurately recall the incident, which is never a good response for a man facing this situation these days. If Biden now announces that he will not, after all, seek the Democratic nomination, it is going to look as if he is acknowledging his improper behavior. If he formally joins the race, this issue is going to stick to him throughout, and that may be more than he and his family can bear.
The Democrats do not really want Biden because he is the wrong age, the wrong color, and the wrong sex. They do not want him because he is not a true progressive, and they probably do not want him because he has a less than stellar history of presidential campaign success. They do want him, though, because he may get closer than any other candidate to defeating Trump in 2020.
Both Biden and his party have a horrible choice to make and the best way out for both may be the easiest way: For Biden himself, it would be to run and then – a month or two later – drop out, citing insufficient fundraising success or some other logistical or personal difficulties. For the party, it would be simply to see where the chips fall. If Democratic primary voters propel Uncle Joe to the nomination, then perhaps they do not care where he puts his hands or that he is a too moderate old white man. In that event, the party may learn something about where the hearts of its base really lie, and that will be a lesson it can take into the battle to replace Trump in 2024.