BY SUSAN ESTRICH
There is still time to be president of the United States. After all, Biden would be 78 at the inauguration. Bernie Sanders, his elder, would be 79. An 80-year-old in the White House? And, of course, Trump, should he win again, would be a youthful 74.
I like Joe Biden. Most people who have been around Democratic politics for a while do. He is a good guy. He treats people well. He has enormous empathy. He loves this country. He surrounds himself with people of enormous talent.
He would be a far, far better president than Donald Trump.
But can he beat him?
Can he even win the Democratic nomination?
Biden’s entry in the race puts many middle-aged Democrats between a rock and a hard place.
The 20- and 30-somethings don’t have this problem. They simply can’t understand why Biden, a two-time loser who ran for president at the right age, should now be more desirable because he will be in his 80s. They might vote for him against Trump – if they vote. But against younger or more liberal candidates? Not likely. “Why is he even running?” they ask.
Of course, it has long been the rule in electoral politics that the younger you are, the less likely you are to vote. But that is not necessarily true in caucuses and even primaries. Young people form the backbone of most primary-campaign organizations. Remember how annoyed the Hillary Clinton campaign was at all the young women who were working for Sanders, and how totally off-tune it was to suggest that the young women were interested in the young men who surrounded Sanders, not Sanders. Condescension? Arrogance? Insulting? All of the above.
It was the kind of thing you might say if you’re in your 60s or 70s. And you would be wrong.
If there is a youth brigade for Biden, it will only be the product of a lot of organizing and a lot of money. That is not his base.
As for people like me, it’s a tough one. Because I like Joe. I just don’t see how he wins.
Last time he ran, Biden got one delegate in Iowa. The time before, he had to withdraw before the caucus because of questions of plagiarism, mistakes on his resume, stupid stuff that should never have happened but did.
As vice president, Biden was a reassuring older sidekick to the youthful President Obama. Even there, however, there were careless mistakes along the way, which don’t matter so much when you’re vice president but matter a great deal when you’re on the trail every day with every word you say recorded on someone’s cellphone.
And Donald Trump, who viciously called him “low IQ” Joe, always hits where it hurts. No one has ever suggested that Biden has the intellectual horsepower of Barack Obama. Trump’s joy in castigating Biden, as well as concerns about how Biden would react in a debate, create further concern.
It’s unfair, in many ways. Biden waited his turn. Obama urged him not to take on Clinton. In retrospect, he might, as a traditional white male candidate, have done better than she did with Trump.
He paid his dues. There is hardly a Democrat who he hasn’t helped over the years – fundraising, campaigning, lending staff and support. He earned their support.
In many respects, he is the least risky Democrat running, the one who could probably draw the most independent votes, the one who is positioning himself for a general election.
But that doesn’t matter now. Independents don’t go to caucuses.
When you’re the front-runner, you can rarely afford to lose. Lose Iowa and you haveto win New Hampshire. Lose them both and the money dries up; the media finds someone else to write about; and the best you can hope to do is literally crawl to the nomination, as Walter Mondale did in 1984. But that was in the days of superdelegates – the party leaders and elected officials (“PLEOs”) who, in 1982, were made automatic, uncommitted delegates to the convention – when the conventional pols who could put a conventional candidate over the top. This time, there are no superdelegates to save a conventional candidate like Joe Biden.
I wish him well. But I’m not placing any bets.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer