New York Times conservative syndicated columnist Ross Douthat recommends that Joe Biden be Joe Biden if he runs for the Democratic nomination for President. He believes that the Delawarean should take
ownership of his record: not defending everything, not avoiding all apologies, but arguing explicitly that some tough-on-crime policies were a necessary response to a destructive multi-decade crime wave, that some moderation on abortion should be acceptable in the Democratic Party and that the Ocasio-Cortezan turn on economic policy should be questioned or resisted. And, yes, defending his personal familiarity, hugs and nose-rubs and hair-kisses and all, and in the process questioning some aspects of #MeToo.
Otherwise, he argues,
in a primary where Biden is just an old white dude running away from his record, the party’s various moderate voters will almost certainly fracture and go to fresher candidates with cleaner pitches — to the Texan Jesus or the South Bend Meritocrat or the Mean Minnesotan or the Racial Optimist. (That would be Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, respectively — none of whom are likely to challenge the Great Awokening directly, but all of whom offer something to Democratic voters wary of the left.)
To run the way I’m suggesting, on his record rather than against it, would exact a possibly extraordinary cost. Just to campaign this way would make Biden hated by many liberals in a way that would make today’s Twitter animosity look mild. To win the nomination this way would produce fury on a scale that far eclipsed the pro-Sanders anger in 2016 and guarantee a strong 2020 showing for Jill Stein’s grifter left (if not a more sincere alternative). And to lose the nomination this way — which would remain, obviously, a strong possibility — would ensure that Biden exited the stage of liberal politics not as an elder statesman but as a wrong-side-of-history bad guy.
Naturally I’d still like Biden to try it — not least because some of the party’s Reagan and Clinton-era compromises were Actually Good, and it would be good for today’s Democrats if a prominent Democrat defended them.
This is all very interesting but is little applicable to former Vice-President Biden's chance at gaining the nomination. There is a reason that Democratic presidential aspirants are spending more time than ever before in South Carolina.
It's the same reason Democratic ad and communications strategist Danny Barefoot was in South Carolina a month ago on behalf of a Democratic hopeful (whom he definitively stated is not Bernie Sanders). All of his tweets from the focus group he conducted are here and the most relevant are below:
We will be asking voters their opinions about individual candidates, showing them short clips, and asking them their thoughts on potential negative messages. We won’t be doing much horse race stuff but hopefully we’ll still get some good insights. Follow along/mute as you see fit— Danny Barefoot (@dannybarefoot) March 5, 2019
Now we’re on to Biden. One woman says it’s the closest we can get to a 3rd term for Obama w/o electing Michelle. Lots of chuckles but also lots of heads nodding in agreement. Another says she would vote for him today but isn’t sure if he’s too “old” or “sloppy” to take on Trump.— Danny Barefoot (@dannybarefoot) March 5, 2019
Yeah…most of these hits just aren’t landing. In response to a short description of Biden’s opposition to integration efforts one woman asks if we’re honestly asking her to believe he is a segregationist. https://t.co/yoAxPHBa4J
The Anita Hill hit is better. [After being shown a quick explainer] When asked if Biden owes her an apology the room is unanimous that he does. A few people haven’t heard of Anita Hill.— Danny Barefoot (@dannybarefoot) March 5, 2019
This isn't just name ID. These SC women really like Biden. They don't want to take chances in 2020 and feel like he's a sure win.— Danny Barefoot (@dannybarefoot) March 5, 2019
Extrapolate as you wish but it's reasonable to conclude, from this one isolated event coupled with common sense, that black women in South Carolina1- want a third Obama term;2- believe that the best way to a 3rd Obama term is with Biden;3- believe that Biden is electable;4- are unimpressed by criticism of the former Vice-President, except maybe as it applies to Anita Hill.Criticism of Senator Biden because he mishandled the Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings is potentially explosive, not only for Biden but also for his opponents. Although I don't recall a breakdown by gender, southern blacks at the time of the Judiciary Committee hearing generally supported the nomination of Thomas to the Supreme Court (disturbing, but true). Of course, times have changed, values about women's place in government and society have improved, and Thomas has been a dreadful Justice, including on voting rights.Obviously, #2 may be undermined if Barack Obama, choosing to remain nominally, publicly neutral (most likely scenario) or to endorse another candidate, fails to endorse the ex-Veep.African-Americans, however, are the most significant portion of the Democratic base and, arguably, middle-aged and elderly black women are the core of that base. (Does a base even have a core?) They may form the group most determined to see Donald Trump defeated.In the 2008 primary campaign, blacks initially generally favoredHillary Clinton, then perceived as the candidate of the party establishment, over Barack Obama, who had positioned himself somewhat as an outsider. It was only when Obama demonstrated that he had a serious chance of winning the nomination that the sentiment of the black community swung toward the first black with a legitimate chance of becoming President. As that occurred, not coincidentally Obama became, if not a party insider, recognized as being in the mainstream of the Democratic Party establishment.It's not surprising, then, that Joseph Robinette Biden at this early stage would be the favorite among black voters and that criticism of the guy who loyally served President Barack Obama for eight years would fall on (mostly) deaf ears. So far. It is tenuous approval, wide but not deep, and very much vulnerable to any one of a number of changing circumstances.Policy will take center stage in Democratic debates, as it has in Douthat's analysis. Nonetheless, if Barefoot's experience is representative of a critical subset of voters- black women in South Carolina- other factor(s) may prove even more important in determining who gains the nomination.