Given his nearly 50 years in American politics, Biden can authoritatively make the case that he is best equipped to step onto the global stage and be a competent, get-shit-done president after dispatching Trump. He would be wise to focus on his stature and what he would do in office, because Democrats have a fondness for thinking about what’s next. Somewhere inside Biden’s theory of electability is the hazy idea that 2020 will just be a do-over of 2016, only with a more inspiring candidate atop the ticket. Bernie Sanders is offering a similar promise with the Revolution 2.0: that the essential malfunction of 2016 was Clinton and her failure to inspire key voting groups in the right states. Electability means re-running the same program with a new input, like that scene in Wayne’s World 2 when Wayne swaps out the D-list actor at the gas station for Charlton Heston. But that feels like a miscalculation. The next presidential election will not be like the last one. They never are. So who knows what “electable” really means? Does it mean playing it safe with a seventysomething white man when the country just elected a raft of millennials, women, African-Americans, Muslims, gays, and bisexuals to governor’s mansions, city halls, and Congress, many of them in suburban swing districts and others in districts long held by Republicans? Legions of new Democratic voters were activated by Trump’s election and last year’s midterms. If you’re one of those Democrats, it’s difficult to look at the results of 2018 and not think that pretty much anyone, regardless of race, gender, or background, has a shot at winning.
“We don’t know what it’s going to take to beat Trump,” said Amanda Litman, a former Hillary Clinton aide who co-founded Run For Something, a group that recruits Democrats to run for down-ballot offices. “To assume that we do and act on that assumption, that’s a dangerous risk. Part of electability is to inspire people, to pump people up, and also get their friends to show up. To cultivate a sort of fandom. Excitement and passion are contagious. Candidates who can do that will do better than those who can’t.” Or, as Ben Smith from BuzzFeed tweeted on Monday, “Bizarre the extent to which the ‘electability’ conversation leaves out the fact that the only Democrat elected in two decades is black.”