Will Biden lead a ‘return to normalcy’ in 2020?

Twitter: Lily Adams

If Donald Trump is poisoning American politics, Joe Biden may be the antidote. Biden offers voters something they are longing for that they are not getting from President Trump: normalcy.

Normalcy? That sounds kind of, well, boring.

Voters, especially Democrats, usually look for a candidate they can fall in love with like John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Someone who will sweep them off their feet. After Donald Trump, however, what they may want is not a great lover but a good provider.

Progressive contenders for the 2020 nomination like to call themselves “transformational.”{mosads}

When he announced his candidacy in February, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “Our campaign is about transforming our country.” Support for Sanders seems to be driven by something even more powerful: a desire for revenge. Many Sanders supporters are furious at the Democratic Party establishment that they believe used unfair tactics to give Hillary Clinton — a candidate with little populist appeal — the nomination in 2016. 

Populism has always had two faces. Trump’s populism is right wing. He demonizes immigrants. Sanders is a left-wing populist. He demonizes the one percent. If you are looking for a Democratic counterpart to Trump — tough, feisty, aggressive — Sanders is your man.

But after four years of Donald Trump, a lot of voters don’t want tough, feisty, aggressive. They want calm, reassuring, familiar, comfortable. 

If that’s what you want, Biden’s your man. He’s the un-Trump.

“Return to normalcy” doesn’t sound like an inspirational message for 2020. But it has worked before. Exactly 100 years before, in 1920, Warren Harding won a historic landslide (more than 60 percent of the vote) by promising a “return to normalcy” after World War I.  What that meant was a return to America’s longstanding tradition of isolationism. President Woodrow Wilson worked feverishly to persuade Americans to join the League of Nations and embrace a world leadership role. But the country wanted none of it. 

Why should Americans want normalcy in 2020? Because the Trump presidency has been so chaotic and disruptive. Every day brings new shocks: firings, sudden policy reversals, insulting tweets, blatant lies, angry threats, personal vendettas, provocations, court challenges, unpresidential behavior, embarrassing revelations, shady characters, rampant bigotry, alienated allies, inhumane policies.

The president and vice president are the only officeholders elected by the entire country. But Donald Trump has shown no interest in healing America’s painful political division. Instead, he exploits it. He governs exclusively for the benefit of his base. For most voters, it’s exasperating. And anything but normal.

So far, Biden does not appear to have suffered much damage from the allegations of unacceptably familiar behavior toward women. Biden’s favorability ratings have declined a bit, but he still tops the field of 2020 Democratic candidates, according to this month’s Morning Consults poll of more than 13,000 Democratic primary voters. Biden comes in first among Democratic women as well. He is weakest among younger and more liberal Democrats, i.e., Sanders supporters.{mossecondads}

Biden will be 78 years old on Inauguration Day 2020, which would make him the oldest president in U.S. history. (Ronald Reagan was 69 when he took office in 1981.) If Biden were to win the Democratic nomination next year, his choice of running mate will be unusually important. Were Biden to get elected president, he might decide not to run for a second term at age 81. His vice president would then be set up as the next Democratic nominee for president. Biden would face enormous pressure from progressives to name a running mate who offers diversity — not another straight white male — perhaps Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a fast-rising star in the Democratic race.

There’s an old Chinese proverb: If you sit by the river long enough, sooner or later the bodies of all your enemies will come floating by, one by one. That’s how Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination in 2012. Every week, the race had a different frontrunner — Newt Gingrich! Rick Santorum! Michele Bachmann! Herman Cain! Rick Perry! Ron Paul! One by one, their bodies came floating by, while Romney waited patiently by the river. 

Next year, there may be two Democrats sitting by the river as the other candidates float by — Biden and Sanders. The race would then turn into a steel cage death-match between two septuagenarians, if you can imagine such a thing (Biden age 77 and Sanders age 78). 

Sanders’ ideas — Medicare for all, tax the rich — are gaining support among Democrats. But other signs point more in Biden’s direction. When the Morning Consult poll asked Democrats what quality was most important for their 2020 nominee to have, the top answer was “decades of political experience.” A majority of Democrats said nominating “a political insider” was important. The least important quality was “a political outsider,” cited by fewer than a third of Democrats. A political insider with vast experience? That’s Biden.

A Monmouth University poll taken earlier this year asked Democrats which type of candidate they would prefer to see the party nominate — “a Democrat you agree with on most issues but would have a hard time beating Donald Trump” or “a Democrat you do NOT agree with on most issues but would be a stronger candidate against Donald Trump?” Electability beat ideology hands down (56 to 33 percent). 

When voters prize electability over everything else, it can be taken as a sign that voters aren’t looking for thrills and excitement. They want a return to normalcy.

Bill Schneider is a professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and author of ‘Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable (Simon & Schuster).

Tags 2020 campaign 2020 candidates Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Donald Trump Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Joe Biden Michele Bachmann Mitt Romney Politics of the United States Rick Perry

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