The Best Shot for Democrats Is Biden/Beto
With far too many Democrats dreaming of running against President Trump in 2020 and their unthinkable outcome -- a second loss to him – still very thinkable, the party should accept that its strongest chance at victory lies with the nomination of former Vice President Joe Biden and Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Sure, liberals will laugh at the idea of running a ticket of two white men, following a tsunami for Democrats on Nov. 6 that brought -- after more votes were cast than in any midterm ever -- the percentage of white men in the House Democratic caucus to 38. But Cher isn’t laughing. Before this column was completed she tweeted Wednesday: “Biden [American flag emoji] Beto.”
To the dismay of dozens who have been toiling away in pre-launch mode, Beto-mania hardly paused when Sen. Ted Cruz defeated him last month and is now surging by the day. The 46-year-old’s loss was only by 2.6 points, and the enthusiasm he generated helped Democrats win House and state legislature seats and position him as not just the most exciting potential candidate in the field but one who could transform the path to victory by winning 38 electoral votes in the Lone Star State. In this week’s MoveOn straw poll, he edged out all Democrats, including Biden, for the first time in any survey. There are party officials in Iowa and New Hampshire who are levitating with excitement in hopes that Team Beto will answer their emails imploring him to visit their early voting states. The third term El Paso representative is now enjoying Abraham Lincoln comparisons and being assured that brief service in the House and a Senate defeat is no obstacle to a presidential campaign.
After adamantly ruling out a run, O’Rourke is now making some kingmaker rounds, visiting recently with President Obama as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton. Obama has said O’Rourke reminds him of himself. “What I like most about his race was that it didn’t feel constantly poll-tested,” Obama told David Axelrod, his former senior strategist, in an interview. “It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed.” This description would also describe his vice president.
And while cults aren’t preferable, we are where we are -- Trump has a cult following and so does O’Rourke. Beto can already boast 800,000 donors and a 50-state list of supporters. LeBron James has his Beto cap and Beto signs and T-shirts popped up all over the country during the Texas Senate race. Perhaps political combat in 2020 requires fighting cult with cult. Cruz’s chief strategist, Jeff Roe, said there is clearly no Democrat “of his caliber on the national stage. I pray for the soul of anyone who has to run against him in Iowa.”
Many will argue that in post-2016 campaigns, particularly this one against Trump, the old metrics no longer apply -- he chose rallies over retail campaigning, he had no political experience, he relied on earned media. So Beto and other upstarts can win, but the task of governance – confronting deepened debt, numerous international threats, likely unresolved and escalating problems with health care and immigration, and a probable recession -- will call for more than great campaigners.
Implicit in the choice of Biden, who will turn 78 in 2020, would be that he is unlikely to serve a second term and will train Junior and get him up to speed. Biden’s appeal as a quasi-incumbent is his ability to slide into office with an experienced staff, ready to reset relationships with allies around the world he already has relationships with, and prepared for the challenges from adversaries like the supreme leader in Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung Un in North Korea.
After Trump was elected to “shake up things in Washington,” it’s likely voters will turn to yet another opposite force (as Trump was to President Obama, the cool and way-too-calm law professor) and seek a seasoned, competent hand to clean up after the bull that pulverized the china shop. Beto, and other neophytes lining up to run, aren’t likely capable of this complicated repair job.
Biden also remains, as most Republicans will admit privately, the biggest threat to Trump. Because of this, voters at his events often beg him to run. Many Democrats talk about his “obligation.” His endorsement rate was more successful in 2018 than Trump’s or other Democrats, and his crowds in Iowa, where he stumped for Rep.-elect Abby Finkenauer, were larger than those who showed up to see Sens. Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris.
As the debate still rages over whether the party should attempt to win back voters who switched from Obama to Trump, Democrats should try to at least not turn them off. “Middle-class Joe” is their best contender in the Rust Belt. Rich Lowry wrote in National Review that Biden “would almost certainly be impossible to render hateful or threatening to the working-class voters who sensed the Clinton campaign’s disdain for them.”
Biden’s old but not much older than Trump, and up against the president’s lies (let alone his legal baggage), his gaffes, plagiarism, treatment of Anita Hill, sponsorship of the 1994 Crime Bill -- and even a bit too much hugging -- are hardly disqualifying. Who cares if Biden falls asleep at funerals if he knows the Oval Office job better than anyone vying for it?
The formula for the sturdiest victory in 2020 should also include winning over anti-Trump Republicans, which would strengthen the party’s governing coalition. Biden would be able to win many of them -- Sanders, Booker, Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, Julian Castro and Rep. Eric Swalwell could not.
Biden, ever tortured by this question about his future plans, may not run. Despite being haunted by his retreat from a run in 2016, he remains undecided and will spend Christmas mulling one last bid with his family. Democrats should keep begging him, because while he and O’Rourke aren’t their only chance, they’re the best chance.