Joe Biden may be a transitional figure to a much broader, more centrist and more dominant party. Conservatives disaffected by Donald Trump seem to be warming to his candidacy. They’ve been some of his main defenders against attacks on Biden from the left. Pundits and intellectuals who may have shunned the former vice president just a few years ago, increasingly see him as the alternative they can accept.
In Commentary Magazine, conservative columnist Noah Rothman correctly writes that social media warriors on the left don’t understand the broad support for Biden. Throughout the campaign, pundits and twitter have predicted his demise because of some perceived slight or verbal fumble that made him sound out of touch. But while twitter raged against Biden, the polls remained remarkably stable.
Rothman says, “If Biden’s mouth was going to ruin him, he’d have been ruined long ago. His campaign may yet collapse, but sinning against the inviolable nostrums preferred by the social-justice left won’t be what does it.” He’s exactly right. Biden has been sticking his foot in his mouth for decades and he’s still standing. The people who are not in a perpetual stage of outrage look beyond the verbal miscues and see his humanity more than his ideology.
And it’s not just Rothman. Historically reliable Republicans like Bill Kristol, George Will, Charlie Sykes, and David Brooks seem ready to support a Democrat, especially if it’s Biden. Even the editor of the conservative Washington Examiner defended Biden for urging bipartisanship, calling his argument “persuasive.”
Last week, when three Republican members of the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners announced they were leaving the party, their departure reflected the views of these conservative pundits. They’ve lost influence in a GOP that’s embracing homogeneity, populism and nationalism while rejecting more traditional Republican values like respect for institutions, free-trade and individualism.
While they’re hesitant to embrace the candidates promoting rapid institutional change, Biden, and Buttigieg and Klobuchar to a degree, offers them an alternative to the man who has destroyed the party they considered their political home. Biden fundamentally believes in a vibrant two-party system. Right or wrong, he believes that the American people will ultimately reject Trumpism and turn toward politicians looking for consensus instead of dominance. It’s an appealing message to people who believe they’ve lost their party.
As a country, we’re in the midst of a political realignment akin to the Reagan Revolution in the early 1980s, the New Deal in the early 1930s and the Populist movement of the 1890s. The educated population that once leaned toward Republicans is now supporting Democrats. Business-friendly leaders that made up the backbone of the free-market movement are leaving the GOP over tariffs and discriminatory rhetoric and policies. Democrats, for their part, are losing the blue-collar workers in the Midwest that kept the region blue as unions lose influence and manufacturing moves overseas. People who once considered themselves conservative Democrats in small towns and rural areas are aging and leaving the party as they watch an influx of immigrants replace the young people who leave for college or work and then never return.
Biden offers a gateway for people who historically have rejected Democrats but no longer feel at home in their party. When the former vice president tells them “Vote for me, but stay a Republican, because we need a Republican Party,” he’s appealing to their sense that they can take back the party after Trump. It’s a good pitch, but Biden, whether he knows it or not, is wrong. Once they start voting for Democrats, they’ll seldom go back. The GOP is no longer the party of Reagan. It’s the party of Trump and will stay that way until the next realignment forty years or so from now.
The centrists in the Democratic field that Biden leads could attract a broad middle that makes Democrats the dominant force in politics for a generation. The left flank, of course, will balk. They believe that Biden is naïve and they want to force their will through sheer might as they believe Republicans have done in stealing a Supreme Court seat and rigging elections so they can govern with a minority.
The primary is about competing views of government more than significant issues. Biden and the centrists want a return to a functioning government where carefully forged coalitions slowly drag the country to consensus. In this scenario, Democrats need the moderate, educated conservatives to give that coalition the numbers they need.
On the other side, the left flank of the Democratic party sees modern politics as a winner-takes-all endeavor. They believe that they are engaged in a righteous crusade to stop authoritarianism and rising white nationalism. They are ready to impose their view of a more just and equal society on the country to thwart Trumpism and move us forward.
The battle for the primary could shape our politics for decades to come.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >