Elections are won or lost based on candidates and campaigns. The better the candidate and campaign, the better your chances are to win the election.
And that’s the problem for Joe Biden.
Biden does many things well but running for president isn’t one of them. He has run for president on two other occasions – 1988 and 2008 – never winning the nomination, let alone the presidency.
The reason Biden isn’t president is his poor performance as a candidate in his last two campaigns. Will the third time be the charm? Will he be a better candidate?
Alas, even after eight years of campaigning with Barack Obama, Biden is not a better presidential candidate, and there’s no sign he won’t commit the same mistakes that cost him those other two races.
That problem was on full display last week when several women accused Biden of inappropriate touching. It was the first test of the Biden for President campaign. Their response was to release three statements, one video, and a public appearance by Biden where he delivered several tone-deaf jokes about it. This was all immediately followed by a press availability for a clean-up on Aisle Biden – and everyone is still talking about it.
That one example shows the challenges Biden is facing and it’s not a promising start. When you’re explaining, you’re not winning. Joe Biden is explaining a lot these days and that fact alone makes this race an uphill battle for him.
What’s worse is that his campaign-in-waiting was so ineffective in dealing with a problem they had to have known was coming. And Biden’s performance only compounded it.
And it was only the first. There are more problems waiting in the wings that the Biden campaign will have to confront.
The controversy of this past week is a metaphor for the challenge Biden is going to face in the 2020 race: that his long tenure in politics is going to hurt him more than help him. There are many more topics that Biden will have to explain from the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s that don’t look good in 2020.
For example, Biden recently stated he wished he could have given Anita Hill the hearing she deserved when she testified against the nomination of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas with accusations of sexual harassment. Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time and he could have done it. He didn’t. The Anita Hill hearing, and Biden’s decision, looks worse in 2020 than 1991 and it was bad at the time. In fact, it was the response to that hearing led to the first wave of women elected to the Senate and the House in 1992.
Biden does not have a grassroots fundraising operation in place, which is critical to winning any campaign – especially a presidential campaign in 2020.
In addition, Biden’s positions on race, criminal justice, reproductive rights, and much more will have to be addressed. The historic victories in the 2018 election were fueled by women and voters of color. It is impossible to win the nomination, let alone the general election, without the support of women voters and voters of color – no matter how many candidates are in the race – and these issues are paramount to them.
Yes, Joe Biden leads the polls today because he is the best-known Democratic candidate. He is also one of the most popular candidates not only due to his service as Obama’s vice president, but also because of the lack of criticism or real scrutiny of him in the last ten years.
It is rare that any candidate is the front runner from the starting line to the finish line, and Biden is no exception. While it’s still early for any poll to be a reflection of what the race will look like a year from now, Biden’s best day may have been last week – before the controversy erupted – as his poll numbers were already starting to drop.
Everybody likes Joe Biden. He’s a great guy, and was a great vice president. But that doesn’t mean he’s in great political shape, thanks in large part to the fact that no one has laid a glove on him for over a decade.
Furthermore, Biden hasn’t had a campaign operation since his 2008 presidential run. He became part of the Obama operation, meaning he doesn’t have his own infrastructure that is up and running. Biden has also never been a great fundraiser and there are rumblings that he hasn’t changed.
Biden does not have a grassroots fundraising operation in place, which is critical to winning any campaign – especially a presidential campaign in 2020. The time, effort, and investment to build one are substantial. And it is not hard to imagine that Biden won’t have 65,000 donors by the first Democratic debates in June. It won’t preclude him from participating but that gives you an idea of where he stands getting into this race.
There’s no question Joe Biden has faced tougher challenges in his life than running for president. The loss of his first wife and daughter in a tragic car accident in 1972, just after winning his first Senate race, defines Biden’s life of triumph and tragedy. Sadly, that tragic legacy was further cemented when he lost his beloved son Beau to cancer in 2015. It is said that Biden promised Beau he would run for president again. If so then keeping a promise to his late son trumps traditional political considerations, including those outlined here.
A presidential campaign may not be the toughest fight in life but it is in politics. Nothing prepares you for it. Biden will take a beating and face all the problems a presidential campaign confronts you with, just like everyone else. How Biden responds will determine his fate. This past week showed once again that the biggest challenge to Joe Biden becoming president is Joe Biden.