There was always an outside chance former Vice President Joe Biden would be able to come back after losing Iowa and New Hampshire, and now, with a bounce from South Carolina and wins in Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas, he is the Democratic frontrunner to take on President Donald Trump in November.
It’s the greatest political comeback since 1992, when Bill Clinton was able to win the Democratic nomination after losing Iowa and New Hampshire.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, however, may still have enough momentum to force a showdown for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party at the convention in Milwaukee, after winning California, Colorado and Utah convincingly.
After Super Tuesday, Biden leads in delegates 453 and 382, and next up are Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota and Washington on March 10. Of those Sanders carried Michigan narrowly and North Dakota and Washington handily in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, who won Missouri narrowly and Mississippi overwhelmingly. For Sanders to remain competitive, he needs to repeat that success and at least hold what he won last time. To gain momentum, he needs to win in more areas he lost last time, like Missouri.
Both Biden and Sanders have the potential to once again divide Democrats no matter which candidate they select. Democrats in the east and south largely rejected Sanders’ socialism and deferred to Biden after Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobachur dropped out and backed him.
But a younger and more radical Democratic Party in the west dominated on behalf of Sanders, creating an effective check against the old establishment guard, who still feel betrayed by the party after Sanders’ 2016 loss.
So far, the race is close enough for Fivethirtyeight.com to project, at least as of now, the high likelihood that neither Sanders nor Biden will accumulate enough delegates in time for the convention — benefitting none other than President Trump, who gets to spend the next several months highlighting the negatives of both opponents, and capitalizing on Democrats’ division in the 2020 landscape.
Both candidates have obvious flaws, first and foremost, their age. Sanders is 78 and Biden 77. If elected, both will be in their 80s running for reelection in 2024, and as their second terms would end, nearing their 90s. Ridiculous. President Trump is only 73 years old in comparison.
Go with Sanders, and most Americans would probably reject socialism in the general election. Sanders has not proven he can unite his own party, let alone the entire country around that message.
On the other hand. with Biden, enough Sanders supporters could stay home, or even vote for Trump owing to his renegotiating NAFTA and hitting China with tariffs, coupled with Biden’s past votes in favor of NAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China and proposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership alongside President Barack Obama.
Biden’s greatest weakness may come from his role in the Obama White House at the very time the Justice Department and intelligence agencies were spying on the Trump campaign in 2016. Further revelations could come to haunt the former Vice President as a picture of an incumbent party willing to do anything to win emerges, including sabotaging the incoming Trump administration in 2017 with an unprecedented, top secret investigation into the new President. It’s a thorny issue for Biden.
Then, there’s Biden’s role in Ukraine, including helping to foment the civil war there when supported the overthrow of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 — Biden bragged about it in his book — which led directly to Russia’s annexation of Crimea on his watch. All that, to get a trade deal between the European Union and Ukraine ratified.
Meanwhile, Biden’s role as Vice President helped get his son a sweetheart deal working for former Yanukovych minister Mykola Zlochevsky’s Burisma Holdings. Biden even helped get the prosecutor general there fired who says he was investigating Burisma at the time Hunter Biden served on the Board of Directors there. Ironically, these dealings were cemented in the minds of voters during the Democrats’ hapless attempt to impeach and remove President Trump from office earlier this year.
Either way, President Trump appears ready to capitalize on Biden and Sanders’ apparent weaknesses. The thing to watch will be the attacks Biden and Sanders make on each other, opening wounds the Trump campaign will surely exploit in the coming months. The longer the Democratic contest goes on and the more divided Democrats become, the more likely it will appear that President Trump is on his way to being reelected.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.
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