The other theory is that people are tired. They’re tired of reacting; they’re tired of change; they’re absolutely sick of engaging, emotionally and practically. They don’t want to be glued to the news anymore. They want to be able to safely tune out. This is the group for which the inert gas candidate has some appeal. Trump’s presidency has, for many Democrats, been an unending emergency that has required voters horrified at his actions to throw everything they can—and it’s not much—against an out-of-control executive. The airport protests after the Muslim ban, the uproar over family separations, the Women’s March all reflected an enormous popular will to stop Trump’s government from doing what it threatened to do. With a government unable or unwilling to check or balance itself, the public has had to go into overdrive and react nonstop: People have had to plug so many leaks in this sinking boat that many simply feel depleted. That the plugging of the leaks isn’t really working only exacerbates the exhaustion.
I don’t know what percentage of the electorate wants to ignore the news without fear that the government is committing fresh atrocities in their name, but for them, Biden is the obvious candidate. Obama used to describe his politics in terms of Hope and Change; to plenty of people now, the message that might resonate is closer to Hope and Rest. Warren and Sanders argue, rightly, that there is no time to waste if climate change is to be addressed. They may have energy and anger and (in my view) truth on their side, but to much of the voting public, it may be downright reassuring to have a candidate who refuses to participate in politics on those gladiatorial terms. They just want someone to take charge and give them permission to tune out. If he tunes out a little himself—if he’s a little old, a little muted, and likely to nap—so much the better. Energy no longer feels like a prerequisite.