The other day I responded to an anti-anti-Trump Facebook friend by pointing out that pretty much every criticism of Joe Biden – he mangles his words, he seems like he’s not all there sometimes, he’s a bit handsy with women, he’s in thrall to the most radical elements of his political party – apply at least double to Donald Trump.
As Jonathan Last and Sarah Longwell put in on The Bulwark Secret Podcast (which is absolutely worth sending a few bucks to The Bulwark to access it): every Trumpy criticism of Biden works only if you assume Biden’s opponent is not Donald Trump.
And right on cue, here’s the top story on Mediaite this morning:
Jonathan Chait says that contrary to popular belief, “Sleepy Joe” is actually running the perfect campaign for 2020:
It would obviously be a fallacy to attribute Biden’s current lead entirely, or even mostly, to his campaign strategy. The polls primarily reflect a massive public repudiation of Donald Trump’s presidency. But Biden is also doing some things right.
For all the derision that has surrounded Biden’s generally low profile, it is the broadly correct move. Trump is and always has been deeply unpopular. He managed to overcome this handicap in 2016 because Hillary Clinton was also deeply unpopular, though somewhat less so, and turning the election into a choice allowed anti-Clinton sentiment to overpower anti-Trump sentiment. The fact that Biden has attracted less attention than Trump is not (as many Democrats have fretted) a failure. It is a strategic choice, and a broadly correct one.
Second, Biden’s isn’t just hiding out. He is doing some things. He has delivered speeches, given interviews, and met with protesters. These forums have tended to display his more attractive qualities, especially his empathy. Only one of them (his Breakfast Club interview) yielded a major gaffe.
And third, Biden has managed to communicate a coherent campaign theme. This is often a challenge for Democrats, who usually want to change a whole bunch of policies (health care! environment! progressive taxation!) that resist a simple unifying slogan. But Biden has been able to carry forward the message he used to start his campaign, which he built around Trump’s shocking embrace of racist supporters at Charlottesville, into a promise of healing racist divisions.
…Biden has also done an effective job of using the most popular parts of the protesters’ message while distancing himself from its unpopular elements. Biden speaks for the transracial majority that supports systematic police reform and opposes defunding the cops. Trump is left to represent the minority that sees Floyd’s death as an outlier requiring no serious changes.
Electability was a subject of bitter contention during the Democratic primary. Many progressive critics argued either that electability is inherently unknowable, or that the key electability dynamic was the ability to motivate left-wingers who might otherwise not vote. Instead, Biden’s campaign seems to be vindicating a more conventional theory of the case. He has appealed to progressives by adopting some of the most popular pieces of their program, while steering clear of its controversial aspects. And he is winning in the very conventional way: by stealing voters in the middle who are conflicted.
2016 was a choice between two deeply unpopular candidates. In the end, Democrats nominated the only person who could lose the election to Donald Trump, and Republicans nominated the only person who could lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
In 2020 it’s between an incumbent Republican President who is still widely hated, and a Democrat whom no one (outside of the far-right and far-left fringe) really seems to mind all that much. And as long as Biden can keep this election campaign a referendum on Trump, he was win bigly.
I still have post-2016 stress disorder, so I won’t take anything for granted until Joe Biden is taking the oath of office. But if the election were held today, Trump would be struggling to hang on to Texas and Georgia, much less the rust belt seats in which he narrowly beat Clinton.
Biden’s opponents are making the same mistake the PC Party made while campaigning against Jean Chretien in 1993: they assumed he was yesterday’s man, out of step with the times and easy to beat.
That’s far from the only reason the once-mighty Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was routed – the PC vote was split badly by the emergence of the Bloc and Reform Parties, and the party was being led by a hopelessly incompetent future Twitter troll – but the fact is, Chretien didn’t last so long in politics without learning how to play the game skillfully. The same applies to Joe Biden in 2020.