Biden’s Campaign Will Test These 4 Ideas

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Matt Flegenheimer, your temporary host. Lisa Lerer is on vacation, filming her own campaign video about the promise of America.

[Get On Politics delivered to your inbox.]

So, Joe Biden is in. Break out the aviators and finger guns.

For months, his will-he-or-won’t-he-but-he-probably-will routine has hovered over the race like a low-flying aircraft: There was little doubt where it was headed, but it seemed worth keeping an eye on just in case.

Yet Mr. Biden’s prolonged deliberations have also created a vacuum as the field has taken shape, filled inevitably by the projections and predictions of pundits, reporters and other assorted political types. (I, of course, have never been wrong about anything. But it sounds very unpleasant.)

Today, let’s take a swing through a few different — and potentially contradictory — assumptions surrounding Biden 2020 that will be tested in due time:

Assumption No. 1: His support is shallow and often tepid.

While Mr. Biden has led in many early polls, some professional Democrats view him as a bit of a paper-tiger favorite, coasting on name recognition and warm feelings about the Obama administration but doomed to stumble under deeper scrutiny.

Recent presidential primary history features several such candidates. You may have noticed that the 2008 campaign, which included solid early polling leads for Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, did not culminate in a New Yorker vs. New Yorker general election. You may have also noticed that Jeb Bush is not our current president.

But it is also possible that some voters’ attachment to Mr. Biden is being dismissed too readily. “My sense is that elite chatter is negative on Biden and underestimating his strengths,” said Howard Wolfson, a top adviser to Michael Bloomberg who oversaw extensive polling and focus groups on the 2020 field as Mr. Bloomberg considered a run of his own.

In particular, Mr. Wolfson said, voters are keenly aware of Mr. Biden’s personal losses and “the ways he has overcome adversity.” “It humanizes him,” he said, “and allows voters to form a fairly intense emotional connection.”

Assumption No. 2: Gaffes don’t matter in the Trump age.

Mr. Biden’s blunders can seem almost quaint now: cursing near a live microphone; asking a paraplegic to stand and be recognized; mistakenly suggesting that the mother of Ireland’s prime minister had passed away.

But it is still broadly assumed that Mr. Biden will soon say something that gets him into trouble, possibly by the time you’ve read this. The bigger question: Will anyone care for long?

Rival campaigns seem to doubt it — at least for superficial offenses like vulgarity or awkward speechifying. If his first day as a candidate is instructive, Mr. Biden’s skeptics are likely to focus instead on areas of his long record that have not aged well with the party’s base. Justice Democrats, a left-wing group aligned with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, greeted his announcement on Thursday with a blistering statement on the “so-called ‘centrist’” they would proudly oppose.

And Mr. Biden’s early efforts to move beyond elements of his own history, like his treatment of Anita Hill in the confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas, have been less than successful.

Assumption No. 3: Mr. Biden is actually quite terrible at running for president.

Perhaps the simplest case against Mr. Biden’s prospects is this: He has run twice for president without coming remotely close to becoming president.

His 1988 bid collapsed in a heap of plagiarism accusations and other assorted dramas, encapsulated in a famous-for-C-SPAN exchange with a New Hampshire man over Mr. Biden’s law school record. “I think I have a much higher I.Q. than you do,” Mr. Biden fired back. This is not generally considered best practice for converting swing voters.

His 2008 campaign rollout was marred by ill-conceived comments about Barack Obama (“the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean”). He won zero delegates before later joining Mr. Obama’s ticket.

The biggest difference this time is Mr. Biden’s starting position. He enters as a front-runner, buoyed by two terms as vice president and a reservoir of good will from many in the party. The biggest similarity: He remains Joe Biden.

Assumption No. 4: Democratic voters view President Trump as an aberration.

Mr. Biden’s most interesting bet, laid out in his announcement video, is the decision to frame Mr. Trump’s presidency as an “aberrant moment” in history.

While it may not seem risky or unusual for a Democrat to describe Mr. Trump this way, it actually places Mr. Biden at odds with others in the field, who have often portrayed Mr. Trump as a symptom of a long-term rot in national politics and the Republican Party. Mr. Biden’s approach bears a stronger resemblance to Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. She characterized Mr. Trump as a singular menace and reinforced the point by highlighting her campaign’s strange-bedfellows-support from longtime Republicans who were horrified by Mr. Trump.

Obviously, it didn’t work in 2016. But a lot has happened since then.

[Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox.]


Drop us a line!

We want to hear from our readers. Have a question? We’ll try to answer it. Have a comment? We’re all ears. Email us at


Thursday morning, shortly after Joe Biden released his announcement video, he posted a second video to Twitter, this one entirely in Spanish. Our colleague Isabella Grullón Paz (who writes the morning On Politics newsletter) broke it down for us:

Joe Biden released a separate announcement in Spanish alongside his main announcement video, a tactic that few of his Democratic rivals have tried in the 2020 election.

The Times’s Alex Burns has already written about the message of the main campaign announcement video — you can read his annotations here — but in sum, it was all about President Trump, white supremacy, and getting both of them out of the White House.

The second video was not a translation of the first, but a whole new clip, with an entirely different message. Spanish-speaking actors emphasized “opportunity,” “optimism” and “equality” — the “words that define what it means to be an American.”

It was a short and simplistic ode to the American dream, with a very different tone from the vitriol and urgency in the first ad. It did not mention immigration, the wall or family separations, issues affecting the Latinx community in particular right now.

But even if Mr. Biden’s Spanish video was a bit generic, especially compared with his English video, the fact that he released one at all seems like a smart strategy: Latinx voters are projected to be the largest minority voting bloc in the 2020 electorate, making their support critical for any candidate.


Flint’s water crisis started five years ago. For people in the city, the problems have not gone away.

Federal judges ruled that congressional and state legislative districts in Michigan were extreme partisan gerrymanders, and ordered lawmakers to redraw them in time for elections in 2020.


Were you forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox.

Thanks for reading. Politics is more than what goes on inside the White House. On Politics brings you the people, issues and ideas reshaping our world.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at

Source link