Many Democrats think that Biden might not be their best shot to run for president.
Often they cite his age, other times his polling. The only one who can decide is Biden.
The last time people told Biden not to run, they were catastrophically wrong and he’ll not forget that.
Many Democrats are skittish ahead of the 2024 election when it comes to President Joe Biden. He will be the top of their ticket, barring a sudden health issue or something else that might trigger the very unlikely announcement that a sitting president will not seek re-election.
The skittishness about Biden usually comes down to the president’s age (80) or his modest polling. But the gist is that many within the Democratic Party realize that Donald Trump could actually win this thing and the stakes are too high to gamble on it, and want to find someone more electable to run.
This desire misses a critical thing: Joe Biden has been in this situation before and has heard that advice, and listened to it against his own instincts. Then the worst loss for the Democratic Party in decades ensued, and the legacy of the Obama-Biden administration was trashed. When this happened in the lead-up to 2016, Joe Biden was objectively right on the money and everyone who told him not to run was utterly wrong. Not only that, but Biden then went on to win and triumph over Trump just four years later in precisely the manner he had pitched originally and been ignored.
He, somewhat understandably, has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about this.
‘Biden can’t win,’ they said. ‘There are other candidates,’ they said.
Ahead of the 2016 election, it’s important to recall that Biden, not former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was seen as the foremost successor to Obama. A 2015 NBC/WSJ poll found Biden was largely considered to be well-liked, with 40% of Americans with a positive impression of him and a +12 percentage point net favorability, 20 percentage points higher than the -8 point net favorability then dogging Clinton.
But then-President Barack Obama and others encouraged Biden to drop out, and following the devastating death of his son Beau, the vice president acquiesced.
The early polling had Biden doing vastly better against a nominated Trump than Clinton would have. The same NBC/WSJ poll found Clinton beating Trump by 10 percentage points had the election been held in September 2015, while Biden was found to beat Trump by 19 points. The eventual election was decided by less than a point in several key states.
This isn’t to say that Biden would have won, only to argue that Biden really was considered a strong candidate at the time, and the establishment pressure campaign to keep him out of 2016 overruled his then-correct instinct that he’d be a serious contender.
Biden was vindicated immediately
Biden gamely worked for Clinton’s 2016 run, saying that year he was practically going to live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan to help her. The man, to his political credit, was monomaniacally focused on talking about the middle class.
This was not necessarily the popular view of the election: Many Democrats believed a more resilient coalition would result from sacrificing white, working-class voters in order to juice turnout among college-educated white people and increase turnout among minority voters.
In 2016, those people were wrong, and Donald Trump became the president.
“I regret it every day, but it was the right decision for my family and for me. And I plan on staying deeply involved,” Biden told a Connecticut NBC affiliate in January of 2016.
After the 2016 election went the way Biden had feared, he didn’t hesitate to make his case. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Clinton’s failure to capture working-class voters was a fundamental error in her campaign.
“I mean these are good people, man, these aren’t racists, these aren’t sexists,” he said.
“What happened was that this was the first campaign that I can recall where my party did not talk about what it always stood for,” Biden told an audience at the University of Pennsylvania in March of 2017, “and that was how to maintain a burgeoning middle class.”
In 2016, Biden thought he could win. In 2016, Biden was told he should not run. In 2016, Biden didn’t run.
He regretted that mistake and resented the people who doubted his ability, and then in 2020, he proved all of them wrong.
Biden was right. For now.
Among likely voters who backed a third-party candidate in 2016, polls found they broke for Biden over Trump in 2020 more than two-to-one. Biden won back enough white, working-class voters to shore up the breached “Blue Wall” by enough of a margin to deliver him the presidency. He raised the percentage of moderate and conservative Democrats who voted for the Democratic nominee by six points, maintained the African-American vote, and did 10 percentage points better among Independents than Clinton.
Biden did it. His assessment of 2016 was so decisively accurate that it formed the blueprint for victory in 2020. And that can be an intoxicating feeling.
There is a saying that generals are always fighting the last war, particularly the generals that won the last war.
Biden is arguably in this situation. He fought 2020 the way he would have fought 2016, and won, and now he wants to fight 2024 the way he won in 2020. Whether or not that will be enough is unclear.
That said, the positions are slightly switched. The very establishment core that was wrong in 2016, the ones who pressured Biden not to run and to bow to Clinton? That’s the very same Democratic establishment pushing back on calls to swap someone else in, the ones arguing he ought to remain at the top of the ticket.
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