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Here We Go: Biden Reportedly Telling Associates He's the Democrats' Best -- or Only -- Shot at Beating Trump

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of the intertwined shutdown and immigration dramas this week was yet another significant indication that former Vice President Joe Biden is leaning heavily toward doing something he opted out of last cycle: Mounting his third bid for the presidency.  We recently noted Biden's carefully-calibrated moves designed to avoid certain errors and pitfalls that helped sink Hillary Clinton (the details for that piece were almost certainly leaked into the open by Bidenworld), and now another insight into Biden's timing and thinking has miraculously ended up in the pages of the New York Times.  Nothing's settled until it's official, but it sure sounds like he's planning to go for it:

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is in the final stages of deciding whether to run for president and has told allies he is skeptical the other Democrats eyeing the White House can defeat President Trump, an assessment that foreshadows a clash between the veteran Washington insider and the more liberal and fresh-faced contenders for the party’s 2020 nomination. Many Democratic voters, and nearly all major Democratic donors, are keenly interested in Mr. Biden’s plans because of their consuming focus on finding a candidate who can beat a president they believe represents a threat to American democracy. But there is also a rising demand in the party for a more progressive standard-bearer who reflects the increasingly diverse Democratic coalition. He has the best chance of beating Trump, hands down,” said Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, Mr. Biden’s longtime friend and former colleague. “On a scale of one to 10, that’s probably about a 12 for us.”...

Mr. Biden has indicated that he is leaning toward running and will most likely make a decision within the next two weeks, according to Democrats within and beyond his inner circle who have spoken to him recently...The former vice president told a senior Democratic official last week that he is both likely to run and that his aides have told him he must move quickly in this primary, according to two Democrats briefed on the conversation...In one of his calls over the holidays, Mr. Biden repeated a variation of a line he has used publicly: “If you can persuade me there is somebody better who can win, I’m happy not to do it,” he said, according to the Democrat he spoke to, who shared the conversation on condition of anonymity to discuss a private talk. But then Mr. Biden said something he has not stated so bluntly in public: “But I don’t see the candidate who can clearly do what has to be done to win.”

The piece quotes a number of Democratic officials touting Biden as the would-be frontrunner (likely true, if only based on name recognition and national reach), and as the party's best chance at unifying the party and decisively defeating the incumbent.  Elsewhere, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has argued the same thing, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein has preemptively endorsed Biden.  But there would be negative cross-currents, too.  The Democrats' center of gravity has moved unmistakably to the left in recent years, and many progressive partisans see Biden as something of a relic.  They'd surely come after him on ideological grounds, picking apart his multi-decade record -- but they'd also argue, overtly and more subtlely, that he's a mismatch for the Left's identity obsession:

He would have to bridge divides in a primary that would test whether Democrats are willing to embrace a moderate white man in his 70s if they view him as the best bet to oust Mr. Trump. Yet Mr. Biden’s skepticism about the field could alienate female and minority voters who are excited that several women and African-Americans are expected to run. Nominating a white man may also roil some Democrats who are already torn about whether a woman could win in 2020 after Hillary Clinton’s loss. And Mr. Biden’s preoccupation with winning back blue-collar Midwestern whites could place him at odds with Democrats who see greater potential for growth in the highly educated suburbs and across the booming Sun Belt and upper South...Part of Mr. Biden’s challenge would be what he represents as a septuagenarian who came of age in a consensus-oriented Senate dominated by white men, some of them segregationists, a political milieu as distant to millennial Democrats as the Civil War. Should he run, Mr. Biden would quite likely face multiple major black candidates and no fewer than three prominent women. After the Democratic base elevated diversity to a first priority in the midterm elections, Mr. Biden would have little to offer voters determined to change the face of the presidency.


Another line of attack that's explored less in this story is the knock that Biden's a gaffe-prone two-time loser who's proven to be underwhelming as a presidential candidate.  The obvious rejoinder to that criticism is that Biden had never before occupied anything close to his current perch within the national landscape, so the previous two runs have no bearing on his strength and viability this time.  After all, Biden allies will argue, the man has now successfully run on a presidential ticket twice.  Also, if Biden makes inroads with blue collar workers, how likely is it that he'd also fail to improve upon Hillary's performance among affluent suburbanites?  A nominee who could chip away at Trump's base and have a decent shot at matching Democrats' 2018 performance in the 'burbs would present an enormous obstacle to Trump's re-election.  Elsewhere, there's additional 2020 sweepstakes news.  Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat who lost somewhat narrowly to Ted Cruz in Texas, appears to be preparing something of a dry run for a national campaign:

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke is reportedly planning a solo road trip that will take him out of the Lone Star State — but not to any early-nominating states. O'Rourke has asked aides to map out a speaking tour for him, so he can “pop into places” like college campuses, according to the Wall Street Journal. The three-term ex-congressman from El Paso will likely not be accompanied by staff or the press, instead relying on social media to document his journey...The Journal reported on Monday his decision regarding whether to contest the Democratic presidential nomination won't come until at least February. While O'Rourke has remained quiet publicly about his intentions ahead of 2020, he reportedly met last month with former President Barack Obama.


Does that sound like a man who's getting ready to get in?  It does.  There's even been some early Biden/Beto buzz, but that potentially strong pairing would again raise alarms among the progressive wing, which also views O'Rourke as too centrist (it's complicated, but the glove may partially fit) and as another white guy (I guess the whole "Hispanic" thing expired after it was no longer useful against Cruz).  Still, I wouldn't underestimate Beto.  He put a real scare into the GOP in Texas, he has a massive database of donors, he's consciously emulating the Obama model, and he's cultivated a savvy social media presence.  This tweeted video from late December about the president's wall reached millions, and whether you agree with it on substance or not, it's a smart framing of the issue:

And as we wrap up this snapshot of early 2020 jockeying, it looks like Elizabeth Warren's stock is down.  Having to repeatedly assert that you're neither a member of a tribe, nor a person of color, in order to tamp down a controversy is not a spot where a politician typically wants to be.  But that's where she's placed herself.  And it's especially awkward, considering that she clearly had no problem self-identifying as a Cherokee, and being falsely touted as a woman of color by previous employers who were eager to demonstrate their commitment to 'diversity.'  


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