With the 2019 Virginia elections in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to start looking ahead to 2020, including the Democratic campaigns for president. So far, Cindy and I have looked at Michael Bloomberg, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg. Today, I’ll focus on the pros and cons of former VP and Sen. Joe Biden’s campaign.
First off, since this is a Virginia-focused blog, it’s worth noting that Biden campaigned here a couple days before the 11/5 elections, along with former Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, Del. John Bell, Loudoun County Board Chair Phyllis Randall, and many other elected officials and candidates in the crowd. Thanks to Biden for doing that, and to all the other 2020 Democratic candidates who helped out as well. Also worth noting is that Biden’s been endorsed by Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA04).
Now, some general thoughts on Biden and his campaign for president.
- At 77 years old, Biden obviously is not a young man, which means he has a ton of experience, but also sometimes shows his age in various ways (e.g., losing his train of thought and mangling the English language at times during debates, talking about having the record player on at night, etc.). On a related note, since Biden was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, a LOT of things have changed in this country, such as the country becoming a LOT more diverse (i.e., it was around 84% non-Hispanic white in 1970, while today it’s only around 60% non-Hispanic white) and sometimes Biden can seem stuck in the past or like a throwback to another time in this country’s history.
- Also, related to Biden’s age and long career in politics, this means that there are numerous positions Biden took in the past that seem jarring or wrong today. For instance, recall the controversy over Biden’s record on school busing. The question is, how does one judge someone with such a long record in public service? By their positions *now*? By looking at their entire record? By cherry picking specific moments, good or bad, from that long record? Other?
- If I had to boil down the core arguments for Biden’s campaign, they are as follows: 1) Biden was President Barack Obama’s loyal, trusted, valuable Vice President for eight years; 2) he has enormous experience, both with domestic politics and also on the world stage; 3) he can return the country to “normalcy,” after the bizarre, disturbing, destructive Trump presidency; 4) that he could work with Republicans (note: I’d argue that the evidence points towards Republicans absolutely not being willing to work with a Democratic president); 5) that he’s, above all, ELECTABLE – as he says, “you have to look at who is going to win”; and 6) on a related note to #5, Biden would argue that he’s progressive, but not too far left, and with enough appeal to blue-collar white voters to win back states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan and voters who went for Obama in 2008 and/or 2012, but who turned to Trump in 2016.
- The polling since late 2018 has had Biden in the lead for almost the entire period, ranging from a low of about 26% to a high of 41%, and currently at 27%. Right now, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, Biden’s 27% share of the Democratic primary electorate puts him in front of Bernie Sanders (18.3%), Elizabeth Warren (15.8%), Pete Buttigieg (11.0%), Kamala Harris (3.8%) and Andrew Yang (3.3%). In Iowa, Biden is currently at 16.3%, behind Buttigieg (23.5%), (18.3%) and Warren (17.8%). In New Hampshire, Biden (13.7%) trails Buttigieg (20.0%), Sanders (17.0%) and Warren (14.3%). In contrast, in South Carolina, where the Democratic electorate is heavily African-American, Biden leads with 35.3% of the vote, compared to Warren (16.3%), Sanders (12.8%), Buttigieg (6.5%) and Harris (6.3%).
- On a closely related note to Biden’s lead in South Carolina, note that Biden has a huge lead nationally among African-American voters. For instance, in the latest Quinnipiac poll, Biden has a whopping 43% of the black vote, compared to just 11% for Sanders, 6% for Warren, 5% for Harris, 4% for Buttigieg, 3% for Booker, 3% for Bennet, etc. In contrast, Buttigieg leads among white voters with 23% in the Quinnipiac poll, compared to 19% for Biden, 18% for Warren, 12% for Sanders and 5% for Amy Klobuchar.
With that, see below the video for some key Biden positions on the issues, as well as some “pros,” “cons” and “mixed” for Biden’s 2020 candidacy – starting with the positive stuff.
- As noted above, Biden has enormous experience, on both domestic and foreign policy issues, and a close partnership with President Obama during their eight years in White House.
- Biden generally has very strong, progressive scores on the issues. For instance, Biden has a lifetime rating of 96% from the Alliance for Retired Americans; 86% from the ACLU; 86% from the AFL-CIO; 95% from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; 83% from the League of Conservation Voters; a 95% rating from the Human Rights Campaign in 2007-2008; NARAL ratings of 100%, 100%, 100% and 75% in 2004-2007; a 100% rating from National Latino Congreso in 2007-2010; a 100% rating from the NAACP in 2005-2006; etc.
- On healthcare, it really depends what you want; if your preference is “Medicare for All,” then you’re probably not going to like Biden’s approach, which is to build on the Affordable Care Act (aka, “Obamacare) – something that Biden helped get through Congress, and that he famously called a “big f’ing deal.”
- Some highlights from Biden’s career include: he was a leader in passing the Federal Assault Weapons Ban and Violence Against Women Act; he was a long-time member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he “was generally a liberal internationalist in foreign policy… meeting with some 150 leaders from nearly 60 countries and international organizations”; he “oversaw infrastructure spending aimed at counteracting the Great Recession”; and “His ability to negotiate with congressional Republicans helped the Obama administration pass legislation such as the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, which resolved a taxation deadlock; the Budget Control Act of 2011, which resolved that year’s debt ceiling crisis; and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which addressed the impending fiscal cliff.”
- Biden doesn’t quite get an “A” grade, but he’s strong overall on the climate crisis, with a B+ grade from Greenpeace. According to Greenpeace, “Biden’s climate plan has a lot to like, including investments in clean energy, an enforcement mechanism to get us to net-zero emissions, promises to hold polluters accountable, a strong international focus, and making sure we don’t leave workers or communities behind in the transition to a renewable energy economy.” Greenpeace adds: “He recently told a Greenpeace activist he supports phasing out coal, oil, and gas — including banning fossil fuel exports. He signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. But he still has a ways to go when it comes to confronting the fossil fuel industry.”
- Biden argues that he can beat Trump, and so far the polling seems to agree with that claim: per Real Clear Politics, a recent SurveyUSA poll had Biden up 13 points (52%-39%) over Trump, compared to +12 points for Sanders, +7 points for Warren, +7 points for Buttigieg and +5 points for Harris. Also: a recent poll by Fox had Biden +7 in Nevada and +2 in North Carolina; a recent poll by Morning Call had Biden +9 in Pennsylvania (Warren was +5, as was Sanders); a recent poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had Biden +8 in Georgia (compared to +4 for Sanders, +3 for Warren, +3 for Buttigieg and +1 for Harris); etc. As this Salon article points out, “it is obvious that Trump believes Biden poses a threat to his presidency,” and for good reason, as Biden “regularly outperform[s] other Democrats in head-to-head contests against Trump” and “also is ahead of Trump in more of the crucial battleground states than either Warren or Sanders, suggesting that his Electoral College path to victory is stronger than either of theirs.”
- Also worth noting: “Biden is something of a role model for individuals who struggle with disabilities. He has said he was bullied as a child for having a stutter. ‘Trump is a bully, and Joe has been standing up to bullies his entire life. Joe’s stuttering, I think, is one of the principal reasons — a major, major, major reason — that he is the good and compassionate and kind man that he is,’ Valerie Biden Owens, the former vice president’s younger sister, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. He has recalled how the stutter caused him to be ridiculed by his peers and led to his mother standing up for him on more than one occasion.”
OK, now how about some negatives?
- As noted above, Biden’s not a young guy, and sometimes it really seems to show, with gaffes (although he’s always made those, and most people don’t seem to care that much), lack of “message discipline,” and anachronistic comments. I’d argue that if Biden’s the nominee, he really should pick someone (much) younger, perhaps someone like Stacey Abrams, as his running mate.
- Also, as noted above, Biden has a looong public record, which means that at some point, you’re almost certain to disagree with *something* about his positions, rhetoric, etc. For instance, over the years Biden: “supported a measure sponsored by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), that forbad the use of federal funds to transport students beyond their closest school”; “voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, justifying the Iraq War”; “presided over two of the most contentious U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings in history, those for Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991…Biden was strongly criticized by liberal legal groups and women’s groups for having mishandled the hearings and having not done enough to support [Anita] Hill”; He spearheaded the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, also known as the Biden Crime Law,” which had good stuff in it like the landmark Violence Against Women Act, but which also “created 60 new death penalty offenses under 41 federal capital statutes,” “overturned a section of the Higher Education Act of 1965 permitting prison inmates to receive a Pell Grant for higher education while they were incarcerated,” “included a three-strikes provision addressing repeat offenders,” etc.
- Biden also, in his long career, “worked with Ronald Reagan to reduce the top income tax rate, opposed school busing as a means of achieving desegregation, supported a freeze on Social Security spending, opposed antitrust legislation, backed Clinton’s deregulation of the financial markets, which contributed to the Wall Street crash of 2008; and supported laws that helped the lending industry over debtors.”
- There also have been “multiple photographs and videos of Biden engaged in what commentators considered to be inappropriate proximity to women, including kissing and or touching,” and “By early April 2019, a total of seven women had made allegations of inappropriate physical contact regarding Biden.” More on this: “At a conference on April 5, Biden apologized for not understanding how individuals would react to his actions, but stated that his intentions were honorable; he went on to say that he was not sorry for anything that he had ever done, which led critics to accuse him of sending a mixed message. He also proclaimed—with each public embrace he gave during the event—that he had received permission for it. Some critics interpreted this as Biden jokingly deflecting criticism, while other observers considered his change in tone responsive to the criticisms received.”
- Then there’s this: “after delivering a well-received speech at the 1985 Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Iowa, [Biden] was then revealed to have ‘borrowed’ a portion of a different speech from Neil Kinnock, then the leader of the British Labour Party. This accusation of plagiarism dogged Biden’s campaign, even though he had previously given Kinnock credit and neglected to do so due to a memory lapse.”
Finally, here are a few items that are kind of “mixed” – not definitively positive or negative.
- Let’s be clear: there is zero actual evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden in the case of his son, Hunter Biden, serving “on the board of Burisma Holdings, a major Ukrainian natural gas producer, from 2014 to 2019.” Still, this could be problematic politically, and also could be argued presents an *appearance* of some sort of impropriety or conflict of interest, even if there wasn’t any.
- The verbal meanderings of “Uncle Joe” Biden can be either endearing or maddening – or both? But do they actually hurt him politically? Given his long political career, it doesn’t necessarily seem like it, although of course Biden wasn’t successful in his two previous runs for president, in 1988 and 2008, so…maybe the gaffes are a problem when he’s running for the top job (albeit not, apparently, in Delaware or as VP to Barack Obama).
- Biden is considered a relatively “moderate” Democrat, so if you like that, it’s a positive, but if you want someone further to the “left,” then you probably don’t.
Again, Biden has a VERY long career, with plenty to like and also plenty not to like, and this is just a quick summary, really. Personally, I have mixed feelings, but could see myself being enthused if Biden picked Stacey Abrams – who I’m a huge fan of – as his running mate. So…what do you think of former VP Joe Biden’s candidacy for President in 2020?