Former vice president Joe Biden did not appear with the mass of presidential candidates at the California Democratic convention two weekends ago. This past weekend, he was missing from the annual Hall of Fame event in Iowa. Last week, he stumbled on the Hyde Amendment.
On one level, these issues are purely matter for media chatter. Most voters are not going to hold it against Biden that he used to be in favor of the Hyde Amendment; they care more about what his current position is and whether he seems sincere about it.
However, Biden and his team may want to consider six questions that may be the difference between winning the nomination or winding up as the Jeb Bush of the 2020 race.
What if he's not the only electable Democrat? At least for now, polling shows that several Democrats could beat President Trump. For Democrats fixated on electability (a subjective and elusive concept) that may detract from the argument Democrats need Biden to beat Trump. Rather, Biden must figure out how to communicate that Democrats and the country as a whole needs Biden to govern.
Why isn't he elevating foreign policy? It's the one arena in which few if any candidates can claim more experience than Biden. The rest of the field has been shy about even discussing foreign policy, and Biden should make more of the gap in foreign-policy bona fides. Trump has ruined U.S. credibility, turned his back on human rights, emboldened illiberal regimes and lost influence in the Middle East. His China policy is a muddle and has yet to bear fruit. Who's going to right the ship?
Could Biden make his relationships with Republicans into an advantage? He annoys the left when he says he gets along with Republicans--or worse, likes some of them. Biden, however, has a powerful case that he knows how to unify Democrats and pick off enough Republicans to get the progressive agenda through Congress. What's President Bernie Sanders going to do when not even all the Democrats support Medicare-for-all? When Republicans block President Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax, how's she going to pay for all her creative plans? Biden needs to convey that it's one thing to give a campaign speech or to roll out a legislative wish list, but what most candidates are proposing won't survive contact with the real political universe.
Can Biden reassure women voters he's on their side? Women are disproportionately Democratic, and African American women are the most loyal Democrats out there. Biden needs to put his Hyde Amendment stumble in the rear-view mirror and gain an upper hand with critical female voters--no easy task with multiple female candidates. It might seem gimmicky to some, but he could flat-out promise to pick a female running mate and to make half his judicial and executive picks (including his Cabinet) women.
How does he keep himself above the scrum of candidates (making Trump his primary focus) without seeming to take the nomination for granted? Biden needs to get out more, submit to interviews, go to town halls, keep a more vigorous schedule and show that he is hustling for every single vote. He can still focus on Trump, but the lackadaisical schedule needs to end.
Is "rebuilding the middle class" too nebulous a campaign message?
Biden can make an impression by promising to eliminate not just the income and wealth gap, but the skills, productivity and education gaps as well. (Promising to go after a college admissions system rigged in favor of the wealthy would get him a ton of good will from millions of college students and their parents.)
He's still the front-runner and retains major advantages over the Democratic field. However, Biden's status is far less secure than he and his staff might imagine. It's time to make the case why he is the best person to govern in the post-Trump world.
If he cannot, he'll wind up losing his advantage over other endearing and accomplished competitors who will have an equal claim to electability.
Editorial on 06/12/2019
Print Headline: Six questions for Team Biden