Joe Biden’s success in the 2020 primary shows just how little faith Americans have left in electoral politics. Democratic voters are so tired after having listened to Donald Trump ramble for four years that they’ve decided to vote for a candidate that literally can’t fucking speak. Joe Biden, far from the fighting shape he was once in, has benefited tremendously from his campaign’s “low visibility” strategy, in which the staff demands that the candidate is never under any circumstances to be put in a situation where he has to think on his feet. Voters across the country saw how badly it fared for him just last week when his chaperones let him out in public to interact with a few blue collar workers, the very demographic Joe Biden boasts he relates to so intimately. Biden couldn’t make it 10 words without having a meltdown, telling the voter he was “full of shit” and a “horse’s ass” after being confronted over his position on gun control. Not exactly presidential rhetoric for a candidate running on little more than their proclaimed moral high ground.
However his campaign strategy has paid off in a way no other candidates’ has. Instead of attempting to galvanize first time voters like the Sanders campaign or setting out to create compromise amongst progressives and centrists like Elizabeth Warren, Biden built no coalition and only said, “I can beat Trump.” That message, paired with his position in the Obama administration and his proximity to the former President, who remains by far the most popular Democrat on the planet, led voters to say good enough for me. Obviously Joe Biden had every advantage going into this election but after a series of gaffes and much speculation regarding his mental health, Biden faded into the background of the political conversation even as he maintained a national frontrunner status all the way up until the first contest in Iowa.
Even after what he described as “gut punch” finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire (in both instances failing to even surpass the threshold of viability for delegates) Biden still remained untroubled in the face of mounting odds. He continued hammering away about his long time in the Senate, his proximity to President Obama, and his electability over Trump. His wager that if he could only hold on until Super Tuesday, the party would eventually get behind him, paid off. Now the media will lean fully into the inevitability narrative, as Biden continues to lean into the shadows out of public scrutiny.
The Coronovirus has only accelerated the uncertainty for voters going into the election, fostering an increased craving of stability and leadership among the electorate. The last time voters went to the polls, those who listed the virus as their chief concern overwhelmingly supported Biden. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as those voters were also over the age of 65, a demographic that has been as unilateral in their support for Biden, just as the under 30 support has been for Sanders. The question is, now that the situation has devolved into a nationwide panic and the anxiety surrounding the virus is no longer isolated to older voters, will the electorate still view Biden as the man for the job?
Likely so, the reasons for which are complicated and nuanced. For most voters, it is not so much that they think Joe Biden is the man for the job, but that they trust the Democratic establishment and the bureaucratic oversight they remember from the Obama era. Which is where the trouble lies for Sanders moving forward. Just as many Republican voters were willing to overlook all of the obvious flaws of Donald Trump, Democratic voters seem to be completely willing to overlook the flaws of Joe Biden. Even if Sanders is able to highlight Joe Biden’s utter incapability filling the role of president, he won’t be exposing anything new to voters who have already agreed to look past his flaws. The Democratic base does not have the faith in the government to enact the policies proposed by the party’s left flank even if they themselves theoretically support them. In practice, they turn out for the best choice they think they can get, not what they individually want. In order for Sanders’ to turn the tides at this point, it will likely take a total meltdown by Biden on the debate stage. What would be a laughably low bar for any other politician, presents a formidable hurdle for the former Vice President; but if he can clear it, it’s an open road to Milwaukee.