Daniel R. DePetris

Joe Biden’s bid for the top job could tear the Democrats apart

Joe Biden's bid for the top job could tear the Democrats apart
Text settings

The old dog has announced. And he is in it to win it. After endless rumours about whether he will throw his hat into the ring for one last campaign, former vice president Joe Biden officially declared his presidential candidacy this morning with the customary video.  The supporters who have been chanting “Run Joe, Run!” for years will be pleased that the personable veep is giving it one last try before retiring from politics altogether.

Others, like the loud progressive movement that is increasingly steering the Democratic party, are vowing to tank Biden’s nomination bid as a matter of principle. Justice Democrats, one of those progressive groups, blasted Joe Biden as if he were the next incarnation of Donald Trump: “While we're going to support the Democratic nominee, we can't let a so-called 'centrist' like Joe Biden divide the Democratic Party and turn it into the party of 'No, we can’t.'”

The 76-year old Biden recognises that while he may lead in the polls, it would be an act of self-destruction to take the race for granted. The Democratic party of 2019 is not the Democratic party of 2008. It’s not even the Democratic party of 2016, when Bernie Sanders’ insurgent challenge to Hillary Clinton took the country by storm and shocked a core group of Democratic donors, strategists, and party operatives who since the Bill Clinton era were used to dictating from above. Biden’s primary opponents will scour his four decades in politics for hammers to hit hm over the head with.  

For the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s of the world, there are plenty of hammers available. Biden’s opposition to busing desegregation in the 1970s; support for a crime bill in the 1990s that is now viewed as unfair to the African American community; his sub-par treatment of Anita Hill during her publicly televised hearing in 1991, in which she recounted allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee (and now associate justice) Clarence Thomas; and his vote in 2002 for the Iraq war will all be used against him on the campaign trail and in the dozens of debates that follow.  

None of this history looks great in the eyes of millennials who want a fresh-faced, diehard liberal in the mould of a socialist democrat (or maybe an old-faced, white-haired, 70-something year old socialist democrat named Bernie Sanders).

Biden’s campaign will be an intensely personal one for the candidate himself. It’s abundantly clear that the former VP looks at Donald Trump the way many Democrats and disaffected Republicans do: as a highly unqualified, reckless, shallow, and unpresidential New York con-man who is swindling the country of its unity, violating norms left and right, and using the powers of his office to stonewall congressional inquiries and obstruct criminal investigations into his conduct.

The fact American politics smelled worse than a New York sewer long before Trump entered the White House is immaterial to Biden and his fellow Democrats. What matters is the man in the Oval Office right now—a man who is deft and skilful at exploiting grievances to his own political advantage.

Joe Biden will be banking on his appeal as a tested, experienced elder—a throwback to better times. “Vote for me,” Biden might say, “if you want a rerun of the Obama presidency or want to forget the last four chaotic years happened.” It might be an attractive message for Americans in the suburbs who voted in droves for Democratic candidates during the 2018 midterm election. But will it be enough to catapult Biden into the top job?

On that, we haven’t a clue. And anybody who tells you any differently is either lying or has an agenda.