As a Canadian I shouldn’t be much concerned about the internal affairs of an American political party, the Democrats, as they go about nominating their candidate for president. But I am, and others like me should be too. The reason is that the nominee will, almost certainly, be taking on Donald Trump. From where I stand, writing in early May 2019, the best choice would be Joe Biden.
I am not a Joe Biden fan per se. Among the 20+ who are campaigning for the job, I am sure I could find a dozen whom I might prefer as the Democratic nominee over him. Were this an ordinary contest, were the Republican candidate William Weld, or John Kasich, or even Mitt Romney, I would urge Americans to look carefully at the programs of all the Democratic candidates, especially Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.
But this no ordinary election. There is only one overriding issue for the United States and, indeed, for the democratic world, and that is getting Donald Trump out of office. The consequences of giving him another four years are simply too horrible to contemplate. It amounts to removing a cancer so as to restore the body to health. Admittedly, as is often the case, the cancer goes deeper than the visible lump that is Trump; there will be Trumpites after Trump in the American body politic. Nevertheless, leaving it in place is too risky an option.
In this context, the fundamental theme of the Democratic presidential campaign must be to restore normality. Biden put it eloquently in announcing his candidacy on April 25: “We are in the battle for the soul of this nation … History will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.”
Biden is wrong in the sense that Trump is a symptom as much as an aberration. But it is nevertheless this message that will find the most resonance in the key, largely white-working-class, states that got Trump over the top last time. Biden, with all his flaws, indeed because of them, constitutes the best expression of this message.
There are younger candidates – Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke come to mind – whose messages run along the same lines. But they do not incarnate this normality in who they are, as Biden does. Indeed, many of the other candidates have articulated useful policy proposals that will emerge in the primary debates. One thinks of Bernie Sanders here, but Sanders represents the greatest risk. His record makes him anything but a return to normality, reminiscent – in only this sense – of Trump.
If Democrats insist on choosing a candidate from a different generation, they will have no shortage to choose from. And someone may emerge in the process, especially if Biden runs a poor campaign. Still, it is riskier, since Biden’s long public record means that with all their resources, the Republicans won’t be able to paint him as other than he is. Can we be sure of the same about the other candidates?
As David Brooks of the New York Times, who has covered Biden for years, put it, “He came from a principled family, and he and his wife have nurtured a principled family.” The contrast with Trump could not be more apparent. Moreover, any attempt to draw attention to his faults, typical of a male of an earlier generation, will only draw attention to the same faults, magnified 10 times, in Trump.
Hence, from my perspective, the best outcome in 2020 would be four years of Joe Biden working with a Democratic Congress to explore and, where appropriate, to apply the best ideas emerging from the campaign. I only hope Democratic activists will show the needed patience to accept such a scenario.