Readers may laugh, but Joe Biden might just be the short-term patch for what ails the Democratic Party. Longtime Democratic strategist Mark Alderman advises Democrats to put the 4o-plus-year denizen of DC on the road to connect with Middle America, calling the outgoing vice-president “the party’s best asset” for the task. The problem is that he may be their only asset for the task:
As they struggle with the challenge of the most unpredictable—and unpresidential—president in American history, Democrats face a vexing problem. The leader of the other party is strangely charismatic, intensely verbose, apparently gaffe-proof, and constitutionally incapable of “politicalspeak,” the preferred lexicon of Washington, D.C.
This isn’t just some noteworthy personality quirk: It’s a central aspect of Trump’s appeal—key to his connection with blue-collar Democrats in places like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. It gives him an air of total authenticity in the eyes of a great many voters: What you see is what you get—whether you like it or not.
By setting off Twitter firebombs that go directly to the people, President-elect Trump not only dominates the news (and in particular the fake news) cycle, but also stymies his opponents. Democrats can’t process his spontaneous messages fast enough to counter with thoughts of their own, and they are further hampered by their own political considerations, which prevent them from engaging down on his level. (There’s little advantage for Chuck Schumer, for example, to call the next president of the United States “a clown,” even as Trump labels Schumer exactly that).
But there is one prominent Democrat who can match Trump blow for blow. Someone who speaks candidly and honestly. Someone with media savvy, policy expertise that his plain-spokenness makes accessible. Someone who, if my party is smart, they will find a way to deploy in a quasi-official role: It’s time to unleash Joe Biden.
Republicans continually underestimate Joe Biden, focusing more on his undeniable ability to produce humorous gaffes and not-so-humorous creepy moments on camera. Even after Trump’s success because/despite his controversial statements, most Republicans don’t or won’t acknowledge that Biden has a similar talent for connecting with middle America. He helped Barack Obama win that first election in 2008 by going out to “bitter clinger” territory and convincing those voters that they could feel safe with Obama in the White House. Biden also delivered the best speech at the 2012 Democratic convention, calling together the old coalition that reinforced the Blue Wall that Hillary Clinton so blithely tossed aside in favor of her team’s analytics and constant messaging on “diversity” that seemed obsessed with marginalizing those voters.
The problem for Democrats, though, is that they don’t have anyone else with national stature to replace Biden. House Democrats squandered a huge opportunity and did Republicans a big favor by freezing out Ohio’s Tim Ryan, and keeping the status quo in place with Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn as their leadership triumvirate. They’re in the middle of doing Republicans another favor by narrowing down their DNC leadership fight to progressive Tom Perez and far-Left extremist Keith Ellison.
Alex Seitz-Wald has a must-read analysis of the decline of the Democratic Party that’s far too long to fairly excerpt here, but this point is key:
Obama lost non-college educated whites by large margins in both 2008 and 2012, but they were still crucial to his victory. In fact, he actually won more raw votes from non-college educated whites — because they are so numerous — than from African-Americans, Latinos, or educated whites. They remain the single largest demographic voting bloc, even as their share declines slowly over time.
But Obama’s success obscured his party’s decomposition further down the ballot as the Democratic Party completed its metamorphosis from a working class white party based in the South to a multiethnic one based in cities.
The last white Southern Democrat in Congress, Georgia Rep. John Barrow, wasn’t ousted until 2014. And it took until 2016 for Democrats to lose their final legislative chamber in the South, the Kentucky House of Representatives, which they had held without interruption since 1920.
The day after the election, Democrats woke up to a party that had lost most rural areas of the country, leaving behind a map that today looks like an archipelago of blue cities swimming in an ocean of red.
Seitz-Wald also makes a very strong point about demographics, which were supposed to save Democrats and bury Republicans — the changes are too centralized to matter in presidential elections. Latino voter growth? Most of it has come in California, which matters little in presidential elections. Youth vote and liberal-affiliation growth? That’s almost entirely in already-blue urban centers. Democrats needed the middle-America vote, and their obsessions with Academia-driven political correctness and lecturing on diversity has turned off voters outside those coastal and academic enclaves.
Biden seems to be one of the few people in his party who both understands that and understands those voters well enough to make emotional connections to them. He’s the only one that his party hasn’t marginalized with their pursuit of ever more extreme versions of the same ills that have led to the “Thelma and Louiseing” of the Democratic Party.
In that sense, Biden may well be the “Kraken” that Democrats need to unleash. Unfortunately for them, the Kraken was a doomed creature in mythology, and so is Biden, being too old to compete effectively for president again and locked out of party leadership with his retirement from office.