Joe Biden’s front-runner status is causing a lot of angst among Democrats and people who want something different in a candidate. Biden is running, as The Atlantic’s David Graham pointed out in May, on a restoration platform. He wants to take America back to where it was before Trump and he believes Trump is an aberration instead of a symptom of bigger problems. His main rivals are all looking for solutions to fix America, not just defeat Trump.
In The Atlantic this morning, Jemele Hill says that Biden, himself, is a symptom of the damage that Trump has done to the American psyche. “This is perhaps Trump’s most crucial victory yet,” she writes, “Successfully persuading Democrats—especially African American voters—not just to lower the bar, but to abandon the idea that inclusion and bold ideas matter more than appeasing the patriarchy.”
Those bold ideas include free college, single-payer health care, anti-trust laws that break up companies like Amazon and Facebook, a new model for selecting a reconfigured Supreme Court, an end to the Electoral College and other institutional changes that give more power to an emerging majority. The left believes the country needs big changes to reshape our society and our politics. Joe Biden, in their view, is standing in the way.
Maybe they’re wrong about the country and what voters want. Maybe people aren’t thinking about big changes but are thinking about stability. Maybe Biden reflects the Democratic electorate more than the more progressive wing of the party.
Biden is talking about incrementalism. He’s focused more on pocketbook issues than the bold ideas promoted by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He says he’ll hold Trump accountable for failing to improve health care, not that he’ll transform the health care system. He promises to raise the minimum wage, not break up monopolies.
Pundits on the left are ridiculing him for believing the GOP will return to normal after Trump is gone. Maybe so, but his sentiments also reflect those of a lot of voters. At a time when the economy is humming along nicely, maybe people see Trump and his crassness, not the GOP as a whole, as the problem. They want to see the parties work together regardless of any broader truths about the Republican Party. They also want to believe that Americans share broad values that transcend political parties or partisan persuasion. Just watch a Chevy commercial.
Biden’s not trying to convince people that the Republicans are a threat. He’s trying to convince them that he can bridge the divide that is separating our country. Pundits and activists are skeptical of his message but Biden believes his campaign is a reflection of the hopes of middle America, not aspirational America. He’s betting that people are more concerned about their own well-being than transformational programs. They want stability and opportunity, not a revolution.
Right now, he’s owning that space. Other candidates share his view and some may even be better messengers. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, former Colorado John Hickenlooper and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand all share Biden’s vision to some extent. With the exception of Gillibrand, they’ve all won elections in purple states and Gillibrand once represented a conservative Upstate district in Congress. No one, though, has been able to break through. The debates give them an opportunity to shine and maybe one of them can convince voters that they are better suited to deliver that message than Biden.
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 >