U.S. Presidential Elections: How the Democrats Left Joe Biden Behind

In November 2020 Americans will once again head to the ballot-boxes to elect their next president. With over a year and a half to go, the primary cycle has already begun.

This six-month process allows the two major parties to each nominate a candidate to contend for the presidency in the general election. So far, the republican primary is essentially uncontested, as Donald Trump remains the presumptive nominee. In contrast, more than 20 contenders crowd the democratic primary field. One of them has held a wide lead ever since he announced his campaign in April 2019. That candidate is former Vice President Joe Biden. From the beginning of Biden’s campaign it was clear that his platform would rely on Obama’s legacy to a certain extent, touting Obama’s achievements as his own. What remained unclear was whether Biden himself had anything new to offer to the American public. The answer to that question became clear in June of this year when he faced nine of his rivals in the first round of the democratic primary debates.

Politics of yesterday

Next to younger and more progressive contenders like Senator Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, both Biden’s age and agenda stood out. It was as if he hadn’t noticed the Democratic Party’s shift to the left ever since Bernie popularised more socialist-leaning proposals during his run for president in 2016. Socialism is no longer the dirty word that it had been just four years ago. In 2019, Biden’s hedging, centrist agenda now seems like
the politics of yesterday, not today. Perhaps in earlier elections, taking credit for Obama-era achievements might have won Biden the nomination, but now, when the Democratic Party is in dire need of, and hungry
for, a more progressive agenda, it will take more than an out-of-place LGTBQ reference here and there for Biden to win over a Democratic Party that might have left him behind. The debates highlighted just how much of a Washington old-timer Biden is and how much of his past he will have to overcome, as he was attacked for votes he had cast over his 36-year Senate career on numerous occasions. Biden’s baggage may prove to be crippling, forcing the former Vice President to defend his multi-decade voting record at every turn, while his campaign is boxed into an apologist corner.

This democratic primary’s biggest question is which candidate has the best chance of beating the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, in the general election. Is it Biden, the embodiment of the status quo and Democratic Party establishment? Perhaps Andrew Yang, a complete new-comer with innovative proposals? Or someone in between, like Mayor Buttigieg or Senator Harris, who represent a more progressive agenda, though they too are politicians by profession.

Biden’s lead will diminish

Trump’s election in 2016 seems to have been a protest vote against the previous president (foreign interference aside). For the Democratic Party to now nominate a candidate who embodies a continuation of the Obama-legacy without any added-value of his own would be a two-fold mistake, one that would likely lose the party the general election.

So far Biden’s campaign has been riding a wave of high name recognition. Once the democratic electorate has had more time to acquaint itself with the other candidates, Biden’s lead will surely diminish. His perfunctory and uninspired performance at the debate highlighted to what extent his early lead in the polls was the result of the name recognition he earned as Vice President. When the other candidates become better known and their policy proposals more widely discussed, Biden will have to do something more to capture and hold the public imagination.

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