By Arab News
By Dr. John C. Hulsman*
It is easy to be unkind to former Vice President Joe Biden; his virtues are deeply unfashionable, just as his weaknesses are glaring to the modern eye. Devoid of irony, plodding, past his prime, rambling, and having a major blind spot about the vicissitudes of his family (especially his n’er-do-well son Hunter), Biden seems almost manufactured to be the butt of American late-night television.
But, on the other hand, his timeless virtues might just be the saving of his party. For Biden is also personally decent, earnest, experienced, patriotic, and a man for whom public service has been the calling of his life. This steady pair of hands — resurrected by his incredible comeback in this past week’s Super Tuesday primaries — at least holds the possibility of rescue for the Democrats from the electoral oblivion to which they were hurtling.
Before Super Tuesday, the narrative for the coming 2020 presidential campaign seemed set. While President Trump coasted to re-nomination, the Democrats (and at the height of their lunacy over 20 of them were vying for the nomination) were engaged in a brutal civil war, even as the party’s base moved ever leftwards.
As we put it in my political risk firm, the Democrats seemed intent on “going the full Trotsky,” advocating Medicare for all and free college (hang the enormous expense), reparations for slavery, doing away with the notion of illegal immigration, and pandering over any number of social issues to their Politically Correct brigade.
All of these leftist positions, while emotionally satisfying to their base, were bound to rile a country whose general political tradition places it on the center-right. Particularly in the must-win and socially conservative states in the Midwest (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin), the Democrats seemed to be determined to alienate the very voters they needed in order to vanquish the hated Trump.
All of this was epitomized in the person of Bernie Sanders. An avowed radical from the 1970s, Sanders is no lifelong Democrat in the Biden mold.
Rather, he is a fervent democratic socialist in a country where, according to a February Gallup poll, over half the voters would never vote for someone with such an ideological leaning under any conditions.
So far, in this campaign, Bernie has inspired the young, the very left-wing, and Latinos. He has inspired a movement, but one that is nowhere near to being a majority of American voters. If he were to win the nomination, the Democrats, through this act of self-harm, would be merely gifting the presidency to Trump, endanger their majority in the House, and allow the Republicans to retain the Senate.
But then along came Biden’s miraculous Super Tuesday recovery, supported by two distinct pillars. First, and unlike the Republican establishment’s failure to stop Trump in 2016, other Democratic moderates departed the field following Biden’s pivotal convincing win in the South Carolina primary, unclogging the heretofore crowded moderate lane in the race.
Rather than Sanders triumphing by winning only a plurality of the votes as he did in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, with the exit of Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, Amy Klobuchar of Minnestoa, and Mike Bloomberg of New York, quickly and all at once, Biden has his desired one-on-one race with Sanders at last.
The second pillar of Biden’s comeback is his strong support in the African-American community, long a bedrock constituency in the Democratic Party. Loyal to the man who served as Barack Obama’s closest political ally, over two-thirds of African-Americans in the south voted for Biden on Super Tuesday, allowing him to win the whole of the region, including Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama and North Carolina.
With over one-third of all Democratic delegates at stake on Super Tuesday, Biden’s southern bastion allowed him to come out on top, even as he decisively lost California — the single most populous state — to Sanders.
But while Biden’s amazing comeback might just save the Democrats from themselves, some caveats are in order. First, and there is no nice way to put this, Biden remains an indifferent campaigner, often rambling, off-point, and sheltered from answering anything approaching a hard question. It remains an open question as to whether he can take on the feared Trump attack machine come the autumn.
The second even more vexing problem is what to do with Sanders if Biden retains his narrow lead in delegates and ekes out the nomination. Sanders’ supporters are only nominally Democrats at best; they love his movement and not the party.
If he and his followers are ignored by Biden, they could well bolt the Democratic Party altogether, opting for a third party run for the White House, or simply not bother to vote. Either of these outcomes in a close race would enable Trump to win re-election.
But the other danger is for Biden to try to accommodate Sanders by drifting ideologically to the left. While doing so might just keep Sanders and his followers on board, it would doom Biden’s efforts in the critical Midwest, still gifting the White House to Trump.
So the Democrats are far from out of the woods. But, following the surprise of Super Tuesday, at least in Biden they finally have a glimmer of hope.
- Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via www.chartwellspeakers.com.