Biden’s ‘allies’ gearing up to sink his campaign
In politics your friends are more trouble than your enemies. Joe Biden is experiencing this phenomenon right now. Even though Democratic voters and interests detest President Trump to an unprecedented degree, the squabbling factions of their coalition continue to impose demands on Biden and parse every word, making sure he doesn’t violate ideological norms and sensibilities — potentially costing him the presidency.
America’s two-party system forces candidates for president to cobble together a big coalition of interests and demographics that sit uncomfortably under a big tent. The result is competing demands and constant jockeying for influence. These interests often lose sight of the need to win on election day and focus narrowly on their own demands.
Past winning presidential candidates overcame factionalism with charisma (Reagan, Clinton, Obama) and force of personality (Nixon, Reagan, Bush the Younger, Obama, Trump). But Biden is lacking in both. It is a testament to the problems of the Democratic field that the candidate with the combination of charisma and strong personality, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was ideologically unacceptable.
As a result, Biden will continue to be buffeted by the shrill demands of the myriad factions in the Democratic Party. His nature is to placate and agree with whomever is present at any given moment — which is the source of many of his verbal contradictions and gaffes. A Reagan or Obama would establish himself and have the stamina to limit compromises and compromising language.
The Democrats have a particularly toxic brew which includes not just the typical differences on policy both parties experience, but a dangerous woke-progressive culture that dictates how people are permitted to act, speak, and engage. A poorly chosen sentence or even the wrong word sends the “wokest” of them into fits of rage. Social media, especially Twitter, amplifies the outrage to a fever pitch.
The controversy over Biden’s attacks on China are a perfect example of how factions in the Democratic Party could easily derail the campaign. China is an easy target, and the Biden team’s move to outflank Trump is a fairly standard (and smart) move. According to a recent Politico poll, a plurality of respondents (35 percent) and independent voters (31 percent) pinned the blame on China for the coronavirus. The Economist polling puts China at fault for coronavirus at 65 percent with majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans. Politico polling shows 61 percent of respondents rate China as an enemy or unfriendly. Polling consistently shows majorities of Republicans (71 percent), Democrats (54 percent) and Independents (59 percent) agreeing that China is either an “enemy” or “unfriendly.”
If Biden is not permitted to launch an attack on a soft target like China — or has to “nuance” his message down to mush — his campaign is in for a world of internal problems.
Even more dangerous are the progressive economic policy and personnel demands. The economy is the number one issue for Americans according to The Economist/YouGov polling — and Trump is winning on it with 49 percent approval (47 percent among independents). Even worse for Biden, 38 percent of respondents expect the economy to get worse in a Biden administration (37 percent among independents). Respondents — 39 percent — expect an improving economy under Trump.
The economy is the only issue area where Trump has a positive approval, but it’s the most important one. As long as Trump keeps his lead on this issue, he is in position to win. If Biden becomes a danger to jobs and the economy, his campaign is over. Progressives are playing a dangerous game pushing Biden to the left.
As if messaging and issue position were not trouble enough, fissures are forming over the selection of a running mate. Latino and African American factions are circling each other warily, trying not to get into open conflict, but each is demanding the second slot on the ticket. Biden cannot satisfy both groups, but he needs both to win in November. Biden will have to do something to placate the Latino pressure groups after he picks Kamala Harris.
Just like Hillary Clinton, Biden remains stuck under 50 percent with Trump, lurking near the margin of error. For all their hatred of Trump, the activists in the Democratic base cannot resist hectoring Biden and his campaign away from doing what he needs to win.
In 2016 Trump won in large part because he ran hard and aggressive while a complacent, unlikable, gaffe-prone Hillary Clinton thought she was already president. In 2020 history is repeating itself.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, is a public affairs consultant who specialized in Pennsylvania judicial elections. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.