Daniel McCarthy

Could Joe Biden be the Hillary Clinton of 2020?

The 2020 struggle for the White House is shaping up to look a lot like the 2016 contest. Once more the Democratic field is narrowing to Bernie Sanders and an establishment Democrat who lays claim to Barack Obama’s legacy—this time Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, rather than his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. And now, as before, the establishment looks to have the edge, though not as much of an edge as last time.

Sanders is far from beaten and the prospect of a contested convention still looms. Democrats should stop to think for a minute, however, about what a rematch in the primaries might mean for a rematch in the general election. Clinton, the establishment Democrat, vanquished Bernie in 2016 only to lose to Trump that November. Will a second establishment Democrat, one who had a much harder time in the early primaries, be a stronger champion against Trump? Hillary Clinton had biography on her side: she could have been the first female president. Joe Biden’s biographical claim for the record books is that he would be the first president to turn 80 in office. Octogenarians are not quite the electoral force that the women’s vote is.

But Biden undeniably had a very good Super Tuesday, blowing past expectations and winning states like Massachusetts and Minnesota outright. Everyone expected him to do well in Southern states—with the possible exception of Texas—after his easy victory in South Carolina last Saturday. Biden has also routed Sanders in the liberal North, however. Sanders’s underwhelming popular-vote wins in New Hampshire and Iowa should have been a clue to his weakness: he could prevail against three or four moderates splitting the vote, but once the anti-Sanders vote was consolidated (while the left remained split by Elizabeth Warren), he would lose. The consolidation happened more quickly than Sanders, or pundits like me, ever expected.

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