Bi­den has the best shot at beat­ing the pres­i­dent

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY EUGENE ROBIN­SON

Joe Bi­den begins his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign with a lead over the crowded Demo­cratic field and a sim­ple mes­sage the na­tion can im­me­di­ately grasp: I can stop the mad­ness. I can beat Don­ald Trump.

That doesn’t mean Bi­den will nec­es­sar­ily win the nom­i­na­tion, which depends on a host of fac­tors, in­clud­ing how well the 76-year-old for­mer vice pres­i­dent per­forms – and whether a party ea­ger to turn a gen­er­a­tional page is will­ing to em­brace him. Age is an is­sue for Bi­den, no ques­tion. But at least he can boast of be­ing younger than his clos­est com­peti­tor in the polls, Sen. Bernie San­ders, who is 77.

As he makes his an­nounce­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age of na­tional polls, Bi­den leads all com­ers with the sup­port of 29.3% of Demo­cratic vot­ers. San­ders is sec­ond at 23% – with ev­ery­one else far be­hind.

Fa­mil­iar­ity has a lot to do with it – Bi­den has been on the na­tional stage since be­fore most Amer­i­cans were born, and San­ders came close to beat­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton for the nom­i­na­tion in 2016. Things could change dra­mat­i­cally af­ter the de­bates be­gin and vot­ers get to know the cast of char­ac­ters.

But my guess is that electabil­ity, or perceived electabil­ity, is also play­ing a role in boost­ing Bi­den to an early lead. The one thing that must be ac­com­plished in 2020 is the de­feat of Pres­i­dent Trump. In the an­nounce­ment video he posted on so­cial media Thurs­day, Bi­den called it a “bat­tle for the soul of this na­tion.” He said the ques­tion was whether Trump’s ten­ure would turn out to be an “aber­rant mo­ment in time” or an eight-year pres­i­dency that “for­ever and fun­da­men­tally” coars­ened, cheap­ened and di­vided our so­ci­ety.

Bi­den’s video fo­cused on Trump’s re­ac­tion to the 2017 rally of white su­prem­a­cists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan mem­bers in Char­lottesville, which led to the mur­der of an in­no­cent coun­ter­protestor, Heather Heyer. Trump re­acted by say­ing there were “some very fine peo­ple on both sides.”

At that point, Bi­den said, “I knew the threat to this na­tion was un­like any I had seen in my life­time.” He said that is why he is run­ning for pres­i­dent.

Con­ven­tional wis­dom holds that the Demo­cratic can­di­dates can’t just be anti-Trump – that they must talk pri­mar­ily about bread-and-but­ter is­sues such as health care, the opi­oid crisis and the hol­low­ing out of the work­ing class. In­deed, Democrats do have to of­fer so­lu­tions. But to be silent about Trump is to tip­toe around the elephant in the par­lor. The sin­gle big­gest is­sue, for the health and pros­per­ity of the na­tion, is get­ting him out of of­fice.

We will hear much in the com­ing months about which can­di­dates ap­peal to which com­po­nents of the elec­torate. Bi­den potentially could do very well with two widely dis­parate groups in par­tic­u­lar – the white work­ing-class vot­ers in the Rust Belt who gave Trump his 2016 vic­tory; and the African Amer­i­cans with­out whose sup­port no one can win the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

But is he too mod­er­ate for a party that has moved left­ward in re­cent years? I think Bi­den should in­vite a group of the fiery first­term Demo­cratic women in the House to lunch. In­stead of try­ing to hug them, he should lis­ten to what they have to say.

There’s nothing wrong with his cal­cu­la­tion of the stakes, how­ever. The Demo­cratic nom­i­nee has to be some­one who can stand up to Trump and beat him. Bi­den says that’s what he’ll do.

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