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 ObamaGOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Politics must accept the reality of multiracial America and disavow racial backlash To empower parents, reinvent schools MORE, the most popular figure in American politics who has become Biden’s key validator and President TrumpDonald TrumpHillicon Valley — State Dept. employees targets of spyware Ohio Republican Party meeting ends abruptly over anti-DeWine protesters Jan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth 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 DemingsSununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority Democrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Rep. Brown to run for Maryland attorney general MORE (D-Fla.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassFor Democrats it should be about votes, not megaphones Proposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy Bass calls 'Black pastors' comment during Arbery trial 'despicable' MORE (D-Calif.) to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamTensions emerge over redefining the fully vaccinated Connecticut governor says boosters needed for people to be fully vaccinated New Mexico governor says full vaccination must include boosters MORE (D) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerMichigan prosecutor calls state gun laws 'woefully inadequate' 65M women could lose abortion rights in Supreme Court case Judge orders pro-Trump election lawyers to pay 5,000 in sanctions 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 RushHillicon Valley — Amazon draws COVID scrutiny Democrat pushes for pipeline reliability standards Bottom line MORE (D-Ill.), a race he lost, and then by Sen. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion 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 BidenPfizer CEO says vaccine data for those under 5 could be available by end of year Omicron coronavirus variant found in at least 10 states Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles 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 McConnellUS could default within weeks absent action on debt limit: analysis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal 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 BookerMaternal and child health legislation must be prioritized now Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 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 SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan Sanders urges Biden to delay Medicare premium hike linked to Alzheimer's drug 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 WarrenWarren calls on big banks to follow Capital One in ditching overdraft fees Crypto firm top executives to testify before Congress Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker won't seek reelection MORE (D-Mass.) for economic policy advice, and he has even built a rapport with outsiders like Andrew YangAndrew YangAmerican elections are getting less predictable; there's a reason for that Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run At 28 percent approval, say goodbye to Kamala Harris being Plan B to an aging Biden 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.