The Memo: GOP banks on Biden falling in primary

Republicans are banking on former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE losing the Democratic presidential primary because they worry he would be the strongest candidate against President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE in a general election.

Biden is widely expected to enter the 2020 race this week, with several reports suggesting he will make an announcement Wednesday.

The rationale for a Biden candidacy is clear.

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His advocates say his blue-collar roots, his cultural familiarity with voters in crucial Midwest states, his experience and his comparatively centrist positions would make him a formidable Trump foe. 

Supporters of the president don’t exactly disagree. They just don’t think he will get that far.

“I think Joe Biden is probably more dangerous than any of the others,” said Brad Blakeman, a fervent Trump supporter and a veteran of former President George W. Bush’s White House. “He would be a danger in a general election — and I just don’t see him getting there. He is way too moderate.” 

GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said of Biden, “I really believe he is their strongest candidate, with the possible exception of [Sen.] Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues MORE, in the general election.”

But within the Democratic Party, Mackowiak said, “I don’t see what his constituency is. He really seems like the wrong fit for that party at this time.”

The Trump campaign itself is taking a different tack, however. They are loath to concede that Biden is a moderate — or that he can remain one under the pressures of a primary contest. 

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The people working to reelect the president are aiming to tar any Democratic candidate, including Biden, with the “socialist” brush that might be more easily applied to rivals such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel Biden wins Hawaii primary Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPentagon charts its own course on COVID-19, risking Trump's ire Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE (D-Mass.).

A Trump campaign official told The Hill that it “doesn’t matter” whom the Democrats pick because the party’s choice will be “saddled with all of the socialist policies they will have adopted in order to win the nomination.”

The official added, “There is no centrist lane in the Democrat primary, and anyone who runs as a moderate is doomed. ... Because of the demands of the leftist activists in the Democrat primaries, whichever candidate emerges will be running on a socialist agenda, whoever that turns out to be.”

Biden’s boosters insist that he can maintain his political identity even amid the turbulent dynamics of a 20-person primary field.

Some anti-Trump Republicans acknowledge that Biden’s long track record makes it tough to cast him as a radical outside the American mainstream. 

“He is not going to be vulnerable to the ‘he wants to turn America into Venezuela’ thing,” said John “Mac” Stipanovich, a longtime GOP consultant and lawyer in Florida. “That’s a dumb thing to say, but about 30 percent of Americans will believe that about many of the Democrats running for president.”

Stipanovich cast Biden as a potentially reassuring choice for voters who are unnerved by self-described democratic socialists like Sanders or other progressive icons such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez challenger drops out of GOP primary Ocasio-Cortez posts experience getting antibody tested for COVID-19 The continuous whipsawing of climate change policy MORE (D-N.Y.). 

The former vice president, Stipanovich said, held appeal "for guys like me who are center-right, and for others in the Democratic Party who are center-left, who find AOC only slightly less frightening than Donald Trump.”

Biden is for now performing strongly in polls. He leads the Democratic field in almost every survey. But there are real concerns about whether polls taken at such an early stage are measuring anything beyond name recognition.

The former vice president’s nascent campaign was also hit around three weeks ago by accusations of excessively tactile behavior with women.

In response, Biden released a two-minute video in which he admitted no wrongdoing but insisted that he would be “more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space” in the future. 

The imbroglio underlined concerns about Biden’s potential vulnerabilities in the race.

Those perceived weaknesses also include a propensity for verbal gaffes, the fact that he has twice before run for the White House with little success and a political history that includes support of the Iraq War as well as backing for 1990s anti-crime measures that are now contentious with many Democratic voters. 

Then there is the question of whether a party adamant about showing its diversity really wants a white man who would be 78 on Inauguration Day 2021 as its standard-bearer.

Some Republicans are already homing in on Biden’s age as a weakness.

“We’ve seen ‘peak Biden,’” said one GOP consultant who requested anonymity. “He won’t be able to take on Trump. He doesn’t have the intellect, the stamina or the fight.”

Biden backers say he is up for the fight and knows better than most what it will take to defeat Trump.

The president’s GOP skeptics, such as Stipanovich, suspect Biden’s supporters might be right.

“If he were able to win the Democrat nomination — which is questionable — he would have as good as, or better, a chance than any of the others to defeat Donald Trump in the fall,” Stipanovich said.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.