As Democrats, both well-established and up-and-coming, jockey for position in an unusually crowded primary field in anticipation of the 2020 election, Joe Biden has emerged as an especially familiar player, which may not be a good thing, as Vox details. That’s because, according to Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, the similarities between Biden and his party’s last presidential contender, Hillary Clinton, might lead American voters to deliver the same result as they did in 2016, namely a victory for Donald Trump.
The temptation among establishment Democrats, Yglesias writes, is to believe that Clinton lost in 2016 largely due to the fact that she wasn’t liable enough. If you share that point of view, you might indeed see Biden as an ideal follow-up candidate. He has a similar background, similar policy positions, and similar national appeal. But on top of that, supporters argue, he’s also generally likable. Could that dynamic, a more likable version of a candidate who previously fell short, actually work?
“What brought Clinton down was public exposure not to her personality — which was sparkling enough to make her the most admired woman in America for 17 years straight before losing the claim to Michelle Obama in 2018 — but extended public scrutiny of every detail of a decades-long career in public life,” Yglesias writes.
“This, in turn, is the exact same problem Biden will inevitably face as a presidential candidate. Americans like outsiders and fresh faces, not veteran insiders who bear the scars of every political controversy of the past two generations.”
Joe Biden spent years promoting “tough on crime” policies that fueled the war on drugs and mass incarceration.
He may have to backtrack to win over 2020 primary voters. https://t.co/KtNXSTksGN
— Vox (@voxdotcom) April 25, 2019
Not only does Biden share a long public record that is open to scrutiny from opponents and voters alike, but much of that record is firmly in step with Clinton, particularly on issues that were harmful to her during the campaign. Trump, a political outsider with no clear record to embrace or defend, enjoyed the ability to attack Clinton on a number of positions which had fallen out of favor over the years, namely the war in Iraq.
Whereas Barack Obama had been able to run as one of few politicians who had spoken out against the war in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, when Clinton ran she was, in fact, one of few remaining players who had been a high-profile advocate for it. Now, much of the Democratic field is on the younger side, meaning that they have the luxury of having avoided taking a stand on that issue at all when it took place. Contenders like Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Cory Booker each joined the Senate well after the Iraq debate had taken place, eliminating the danger of having to defend unpopular policy positions on the matter. Biden is not so lucky.
The question going forward for him is whether or not there is more to his candidacy than an enhanced version of the Clinton campaign, and if that will be enough to defeat Trump this time around.