On the Trail: Joe Biden, party man

On the Trail: Joe Biden, party man

Former Vice President Joe Biden has leaned heavily on his close personal relationship with Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs O.T. Fagbenle to play Barack Obama in Showtime anthology 'The First Lady' Obama says reparations 'justified' MORE, the most popular figure in American politics who has become Biden’s key validator and President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE’s harshest critic.

But in one key respect, Biden differs substantially from Obama: The man who wants to be president has shown he is much more willing to embrace the structures and machinery of the Democratic Party than the man who was president ever did.

“I am a proud Democrat and I will be proud to carry the banner of our party into the general election,” Biden said Thursday, accepting the presidential nomination after half a century in party politics.


In both his vice-presidential search and the convention that formally bestowed him the presidential nomination, Biden has showed an affinity for party structures. He elevated a dozen or so women little-known outside of political circles, from Reps. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsHouse Judiciary split on how to address domestic extremism Demings on possible Senate, Florida governor run: 'I'm keeping that door open' Lawmakers remember actress Cicely Tyson MORE (D-Fla.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassBlack Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head George Floyd police reform bill reintroduced in House Six ways to visualize a divided America MORE (D-Calif.) to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico fines two megachurches K each over packed Christmas Eve services CHC urges Biden to choose Latinos to head Education Department, SBA: report Hispanic Caucus ramps up Cabinet pressure campaign MORE (D) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerTwo men charged with making threatening calls to Michigan officials Biden sparks Twitter debate over pronunciation of Midwest supermarket chain White Christian nationalism and the next wave of political violence MORE (D). His convention spotlighted 17 speakers for an unusual keynote address, from progressive state lawmakers to centrists like Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.).

“I am incredibly pleased by what Biden’s doing. He doesn’t come from my wing of the party, but he’s flexible,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D). “I think he’s on fire, to be honest with you, and I never thought I’d say that about Joe Biden.”

For all the electoral strengths he brought, Democratic strategists griped about Obama’s stewardship of the party he led. As president, he shunned the traditional party-building activities organized through the Democratic National Committee. Getting him to do fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or its Senate counterpart was a frustrating exercise for party leaders.

Obama went so far as to maintain his own version of an outside group, Organizing for America, that competed with the DNC for donor attention.

Obama’s skepticism of the party apparatus was borne of his early years in politics, as he grew up outside the traditional Chicago machine. He was an insurgent by nature, challenging an establishment first represented by Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushHouse Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms Over 40 lawmakers sign letter urging Merrick Garland to prioritize abolishing death penalty Woman who lived in church three years goes home under Biden deportation freeze MORE (D-Ill.), a race he lost, and then by Sen. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm Pelosi top fundraiser moves to House Democratic super PAC Mean tweets may take down Biden nominee MORE (D-N.Y.), a race he won.


Biden, by contrast, is practiced in the art of party politics, a product of his long career in Delaware, a state with a fine-tuned Democratic machine.

“Vice President BidenJoe BidenBiden 'disappointed' in Senate parliamentarian ruling but 'respects' decision Taylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Donald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' MORE came up through the ranks in a small state with an organized, tight party structure that he respected and cultivated,” said Martha McKenna, a former top official at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and now a Baltimore-based strategist.

If Democrats had any quarrels with Biden during his tenure as Obama’s vice president, it was that he was too willing to cut deals with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE (Ky.). Those deals illustrated Biden’s brand of politics, one built more on tactile relationships than on an ideological movement.

That brand has been on display during the Democratic primary, and in a convention that has demonstrated a unified party.

He is loath to hold a grudge, even against those who attacked him: Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerObama says reparations 'justified' Congressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill MORE (D-N.J.) has marveled that after launching a broadside at Biden during one debate, Biden joked with him minutes later when the network cut to commercial. Biden chose as his running mate the woman who took the most aggressive shot at him during the primary season.

His close relationship with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Sanders slams parliamentarian decision on minimum wage Parliamentarian nixes minimum wage hike in coronavirus bill MORE (I-Vt.) helped smooth Sanders’s exit from the race — and soothe the raw disappointment from Sanders’s progressive fans. He has relied on Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm Becerra says he wants to 'build on' ObamaCare when pressed on Medicare for All MORE (D-Mass.) for economic policy advice, and he has even built a rapport with outsiders like Andrew YangAndrew YangNYC's largest union endorses Maya Wiley in mayoral race Five things to watch in the New York City mayoral race Yang hits donation requirements to get city funds in NYC mayor's race MORE.

Biden may never be the liberal champion that Sanders or Warren backers want in a president, but he has shown them his door is open.

“What Biden has done that has pleased me to no end is to listen to where the party is going,” Dean said. “Obama was inspirational and Clinton knew politics better than most people that ever played the game. Biden understands the party, and he understands that he has to listen to people, and he’s a great coalition-builder.”

On The Trail is a reported column by Reid Wilson, primarily focused on the 2020 elections.