For eight years, Joe Biden sat at Barack Obama’s right hand, loyally serving the administration, promoting its agenda and providing advice and counsel in the development and implementation of policy initiatives, global and domestic.
Now, as he reaches for the White House himself, it must be frustrating and galling for him as he begins each day confronting news accounts of the Democratic Party establishment’s votes of “no confidence.”
Maintaining a lead in national polling since he announced his candidacy in April eases some of the sting of what must be a demoralizing level of anonymous sourcing and analyses of his campaign, but concerns over his ability to close the deal with voters has become a persistent narrative thread.
The establishment nervousness is two-fold:
- Despite his lead, Biden is in danger of losing the nomination to either Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, both of whom share far left fringe positions which will doom their chances of defeating President Trump.
- Even if Biden secures the nomination, his campaign has been marked by gaffes and stumbles, raising serious doubts about his ability to compete with Trump. Lurking in the background is the alleged conflict of interest posed by his son’s accepting a $50,000 per month position on the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukraine energy company, while his father served in the White House.
The concern runs so deep that for months party leaders have searched for alternatives, a quest which has resulted in former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg re-assessing his decision to forego a candidacy and in former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick going all in on his.
Biden has occupied the ideological center lane largely alone, resisting the pull of the far left toward multi-trillion-dollar spending programs touted by Warren and Sanders. He’s portrayed himself as a reasonable and pragmatic centrist devoted to achieving bipartisan solutions rather than embracing ideas that stand no chance of winning congressional approval.
While it’s largely been a three person contest - Biden, Warren and Sanders - Peter Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., has muscled his way into the top tier. But he’s seen as someone whose star will flame out once the traveling road show makes its way into the Super Tuesday states.
The remainder of the field slides further into irrelevancy each week, failing to gain traction in polls and - more importantly - as fund raising dries up.
Where Bloomberg and Patrick fit into this equation remains to be seen. Both are in the centrist Biden mold and presumably will echo the pitch of the establishment figures whose entreaties brought them into the race in the first place, who claim Biden is a weak candidate whose intellectual agility isn’t what it once was.
Biden has given no sign that he’s considering standing down in favor of either Bloomberg or Patrick, and his polling level hasn’t eroded in light of the their entering the contest. Still, the anxiety persists that he could be overtaken by either Warren or Sanders, either of whom, it is feared, would fall to Trump.
Bloomberg or Patrick, the theory goes, could more effectively fend off the two senators, giving Democrats a nominee who could appeal to voters who abandoned the party in 2016.
Moreover, the nagging suspicions about the involvement of Biden and son in Ukraine would disappear from the campaign. A Democratic candidate whose name did not come up with regularity in any discussion of President Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine would be a plus.
It is understandable that Biden, with his long record of service in the Senate and the Obama Administration, would feel a trace of bitterness over the public efforts to snatch the White House from his grasp. He seems determined to soldier on, presumably comfortable in his standing in the party and the country and willing to test them against an ex-mayor and ex-governor.
Biden sees them as spoilers. Others may see them as saviors.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.