Biden doesn't match the Democrats' base

Biden doesn't match the Democrats' base
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Joe BidenJoe BidenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE’s problem is he’s currently unqualified to be Democrats’ presidential nominee. And Democrats’ problem is even larger: Like Biden, none of their actual past presidents would be an acceptable nominee to their current base supporters. These current and past contrasts with Democrats’ 2020 desires underscore the party’s impending pell-mell plunge out of the political mainstream. 

By all historical criteria, Biden is more than qualified to be Democrats’ 2020 presidential nominee. He was vice president for eight years in Democrats’ last, and popular, administration. He was a senator for 36 years. Combined, he held elective office as a Democrat for almost half a century. He is arguably more qualified than Democrats’ 2016 nominee, and it would take combining several of the 19 Democrats currently running to match his qualifications. 


However, in 2020, Biden is not going to win and likely will not come close. It may happen quickly. It may happen slowly. But it is going to happen. 

How can such prognostication be so certain? There is no way to show how Biden can get the delegates needed to win. By contrast, it is very easy to demonstrate his exit. 

A recent Morning Consult poll showed Biden leading with 30 percent of the registered Democratic primary voters questioned. Sixteen other Democrats cumulatively had 68 percent of the vote (2 percent undecided). 

When the relatively moderate former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn Wright HickenlooperThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (polling just 1 percent) drops out and, should he pick up all the 2 percent undecided, Biden climbs to just 33 percent. In comparison, 2016 second place finisher Sanders won 45.5 percent of the awarded delegates. 

That means the remaining 67 percent of the voters backing candidates to the left of Biden will be coalescing around some candidate on that end of the political spectrum. Even should it be more than one such candidate on the left, and they split these voters, under Democrats’ primary rules that award delegates proportionally, Biden will not get them, and without them he cannot get to a majority.

Biden can win battles, but not the war. He can “win” states —  grabbing the most votes. He can even win the most delegates of any candidate. But he cannot win enough to get the nomination. 

Amazingly, Biden’s current predicament would hold true for all other past Democratic presidential nominees — even the liberal George McGovern in 1972. And it would certainly hold true for all past Democratic presidents. That includes the last Democratic president, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report Forget conventional wisdom — Bernie Sanders is electable 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care MORE, who was also arguably America’s most liberal. 

Even the  Democratic Party’s past idols — FDR, JFK, LBJ and — wouldn’t come anywhere close to being liberal enough for this moment’s Democratic electorate. 

First, for establishment moderate and conservative (yes, they still exist) Democrats, Biden’s candidacy will demonstrate how thoroughly separated they are from where their party is now. Biden’s candidacy will put a quantitative value on this clear qualitative separation. 

Second, Biden’s candidacy will disappoint his supporters. His potential one-third of the Democratic electorate — more in certain states — are in for a rude awakening at how inconsequential they figure in picking their party’s nominee.  

Finally, Biden’s candidacy will risk their departure. No, they might not leave their party. But they may seek to vote elsewhere, as did many establishment Republicans in 2016 when Trump won the nomination. 

Even if they do not, they may not participate as vigorously as they normally would. That could be especially costly in terms of Democratic fundraising needed to match a well-funded incumbent in the general election. 

Make no mistake: Democrats desperately need Biden’s constituency. While liberal support can and will win Democrats’ nomination, it is not enough to win the general election. According to 2016 exit polls, just 26 percent of voters labeled themselves as liberals. Even considering that liberals have grown in number in 2020, they will not allow Democrats to get back to the 48 percent of the electorate that Clinton won then... yet, still lost. 


That difference between the liberal core who will nominate Democrats’ candidate and the amount Clinton won in the previous election is precisely where Biden figures. It is also where the discouragement from his defeated candidacy will factor most.

The real impact of Biden’s candidacy will be as a yardstick. It will measure how far and how fast the Democratic Party have gone to their left. It will also show how far away they have rushed from their own — even recent — past. And it will also raise the question as to how much of a future there is in continuing this course. 

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987-2000.