Handicapping the 2020 Democratic Primary, Part Two: Joe Biden

The year 2016 is never going to end. While the Republican Party owns every level of government — from Congress, to the Senate, to the White House — the Democratic Party remains in complete disarray. The same ideological battle that was fought between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Dem Primary continues on to this day, with no apparent end in sight, and will continue in 2020. 

The field of 2020 Democratic candidates is going to be enormous, potentially featuring from the jump as many as 15 or 20 warm bodies. In reality, though, the race will only involve two individuals: the establishment-backed, corporate-friendly candidate, and the Progressive candidate. No one else matters. The only questions are (1) who will be the establishment choice, and (2) who will be the Progressive choice?

Here are the current odds, listed in order of likelihood, according to 5dimes:

Kamala Harris: +600
Joe Biden: +600
Bernie Sanders: +700
Elizabeth Warren: +800
Gavin Newson: +800
Joe Kennedy III: +1400
Kirsten Gillibrand: +1400
Oprah: +1500
Hillary Clinton: +3300

Part Two: Joe Biden (6 to 1)

At age 79, Joe Biden would be the oldest Democrat running in the 2020 field. I say “would be” instead of “will be,” or “is,” because to this point it is unclear if Biden is willing to put on his campaign shoes and get back in the game. The fact that oddsmakers have made Biden the (albeit very slight) co-favorite — along with California Senator Kamala Harris — is telling about the kind of popularity the Obama Era generated within the Democratic Party.

Biden was, of course, President Obama’s Vice President for eight years, and before that he was Senator of Delaware for 36 years. He served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and was part of the International Narcotics Control Caucus. These are all things Biden was apparently involved with according to his Wikipedia page.

But none of that matters. The only thing people know, or care, about Joe Biden is that he is married to the Barack Obama Presidency. It’s been three paragraphs and I’ve already mentioned the former president as many times, which is appropriate because it’s damn near impossible to separate the two. Even if Biden was behind the scenes for most of those eight years, popping up for air only in time for photo opportunities and barn-burning campaign rallies, there is no escaping the legacy of the Obama years.

In Democratic circles, Biden was part of an extremely popular presidency. Per Real Clear Politics, Obama’s approval rating among Democrats was at an average of about 87 percent, compared to just 10 percent who disapproved. It isn’t inconceivable that Biden could ride those coattails straight into a primary fight against Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren — either of which would make for an interesting finale.

At this point, though, it’s unclear just how strongly Joe Biden feels about running, or what policies he would support even if he did. While other previously corporate-funded Democrats like Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker, have said they won’t accept corporate PAC money, we have been offered no such promise from Biden. And even as 16 Democratic senators claim to be in support of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All bill, Biden offers little more than platitudes on the matter.

Here, again, like I recently mentioned with Hillary Clinton regarding the 2016 general election, Biden is confronted by a Catch 22: He absolutely could come out and say he won’t accept corporate money, and he absolutely could come out and say he supports Medicare For All. It would be a strong political move to take those popular stances. However, if Biden did decide to do those things, he would essentially be admitting that Obama — and Bill Clinton before him — went about running the Democratic Party all wrong. It would be an admission that the neoliberal business model has failed. It would mean getting on board with the idea that Obamacare — Obama’s main domestic accomplishment, if you want to call it that — clearly did not go far enough to help the people.

Despite this problem of Biden’s, he for some reason remains among the frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic nomination. While politicians like Bernie Sanders have made their policies crystal clear, and while some corporate candidates have seen the writing on the wall and shifted their positions to the left to keep up, Joe Biden appears content to let his Vice Presidential resume do all the talking.

From the angle of identity politics — since it’s hard to divorce the Democrats from identity — Biden would seem a worthwhile foil to Bernie Sanders in the rust belt states. Being from Delaware, the former Senator has broad appeal in the blue-collar areas of the midwest, places where Bernie was popular and where Donald Trump inevitably toppled Hillary Clinton during the general election. The workers who were left behind from Bill Clinton’s free trade agreement, NAFTA, who liked Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump since they both ran against a Clinton, are the same voters who would be on board with Joe Biden.

But again, I’m talking only about identity politics. In reality, Joe Biden is no more on the workers’ side than was Obama, or Bill Clinton before him. During campaign season they all speak the populist language of the left, of promising workers a better deal. When they get in office, though, they seem more comfortable passing legislation to give tax breaks to the rich, or to deregulate the banking and telecommunications industries, or giving handouts to Big Pharma.

If Biden is at all concerned with being a slam-dunk candidate that can defeat Trump, he will get on board with what politicians like Harris, Gillibrand and Booker have already done. In other words: he will have to copy Bernie Sanders’ fundamental platform from 2016.

Because of his alliance with the Barack Obama presidency, and because he has yet to say he won’t accept PAC money or that he will support single payer healthcare, I put odds at no better than even money that Joe Biden will put his hat in the ring. There are just so many other candidates who will be vying for the spot, and I’m not sure if Biden feels it’s worth it to put a chunk of his legacy on the line for, at best, probably a 20 or 25% chance he gets the nomination.

In 2016 the American people gave a swift repudiation not only of the Clinton family, or the Obama years, but of the modern Democratic Party as a whole. And as much as the corporate media wants to push candidates like Joe Biden as dark horses, or serious contenders, the issue is he cannot in any way escape his direct tie to a party so clearly disdained by so many people. Biden could certainly run against Donald Trump and win, but at the moment it would seem that is the only thing the former vice president has going for him — that the other guy is just easily beatable.

People voted for Trump, largely against their own interests, because he was not an operating member of the American political machine. After noticeable declines from the Bush and Obama years, workers above all else were disinterested in voting for more of the same. Only under those conditions could some wahoo like Trump get so popular, or how some 75 year-old socialist Jew from Vermont could effectively start his own party.

Joe Biden does not offer anything different, as Joe Biden is part of the establishment. That not only leads me to believe it would be a gamble to run him against Trump in the 2020 general, but it leaves me with serious doubts if he would even make it to the Final Two of the Dem Primary. There can only be one establishment-backed choice; Biden will not run unless Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren has a legitimate chance of winning.

From a gambler’s perspective, this is a stay-away. If I was going to throw money at an establishment pick, right now it would have to be Kamala Harris — notably because she is so young and doesn’t have the comparative baggage, but also largely on the idea that she seems to have some understanding of the direction of left politics.

I still believe Bernie Sanders — and to a lesser but worthwhile extent, Elizabeth Warren — is the true people’s champion. Unlike Harris, or Gillibrand, or Booker, his social policies didn’t change when it became politically convenient. You can tell a lot about an elected official based off their track record, and for me it’s easier to trust someone who has been fighting for the same things for 30 years than a politician who suddenly decides to change with the tide.

Joe Biden hasn’t even feigned interest in the ideas that many of his corporate-funded brothers and sisters have paid lip service to in preparation for the 2020 primary. That, as well as the obstacles of being attached at the hip to the Barack Obama presidency, makes me feel like Biden is not the candidate to bring the Democratic Party to the promised land.

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