Arguably true, but definitely impolitic to claim — especially in the Democratic Party these days. The New York Times reports that Joe Biden is tuning up his 2020 pitch by casting himself as the best shot for unseating Donald Trump. And not just the best shot, but perhaps the only shot:
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.
There are two general schools of thought at the moment about Democrats’ chances in 2020. The first school is that the midterms proved that Democrats can still win in the blue states Trump flipped in 2016, as long as the campaign can turn out the base. Hillary Clinton failed spectacularly at that in the “blue wall” states — or in even showing up — but that anyone other than Clinton would be a big enough improvement to fix the problem.
Biden’s team apparently wants to rely on the second school of thought, which is that Trump has the advantage of incumbency and will be tough to dislodge. Increasing the measure to which Democrats affiliate with voters already in their urban/academic/media bubble might feel good, but that’s already safe territory. However, making that argument will require Biden to actually say that the progressive clique can’t appeal to voters in the heartland, and the NYT thinks that will be, er … problematic:
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.
More broadly, debate around Mr. Biden’s possible candidacy illustrates the dueling visions in the party and particularly the divisions between its pragmatic and liberal wing. Some Democrats are skeptical that a relatively moderate candidate like Mr. Biden, who has baggage like supporting the 1990s crime bill that is loathed on the left, would prevail in the primary with a message of unity and national healing rather than the fiery and uncompromising brand of populism that Democratic primary voters elevated in the midterm elections.
Unfortunately for Biden, Michael Avenatti might have pre-empted any debate on this issue. Two months ago, the shooting star suggested that the Democratic nominee had “better be a white male,” saying that having “a white male making the arguments” allowed them to “carry more weight.” That hypothesis created a firestorm on the Left, even before Avenatti flamed out for other reasons later. As Allahpundit concluded in October, that rendered Avenatti “dunzo” on arrival. Or before.
The real problem with the second school of thought isn’t related to race or gender, but more to insider/outsider status. Nominating a Beltway denizen gives Trump full rein to inveigh against the establishment and the “swamp.” That’ll be true of anyone coming out of the Senate, but also true of Biden, who’s been in Washington since before the first Godfather film. In that sense, Biden’s the equivalent of Mitt Romney — the man who could have won the previous election, perhaps, but who’s out of the lane in the present one. Biden’s got the right argument but perhaps the wrong solution.
So who would be the right solution? Democrats should look to the governors. John Bel Edwards knows how to win in deep-red country and has real connections to middle America. John Hickenlooper might not be a very good candidate on the trail but he might be someone worth watching. Deval Patrick might have been the Democrats’ best hope in School #2 thinking, but he’s wisely bailed on the project.
Of course, School #1 might well be the closest we get to sizing up 2020. If that’s the case, then all Democrats have to do is not nominate Hillary Clinton. Let’s see if they can screw that up.