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Democrats Sleepwalk Into the Nomination of Joe Biden

Fueled by fear of Trump and assurances of electability, primary voters have gone all in on a very big blind.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

There are millions of votes left to be cast in the Democratic primary contest, but the outcome appears fairly set. Joe Biden will likely be the Democratic nominee for president, having won a blowout victory in Mississippi and victories in Missouri and Michigan. As expected, Biden continued to dominate with black voters—in Mississippi, he won 87 percent of black voters—but he also won white voters and voters without college degrees.

Biden finds himself in the ascension thanks to the insidious concept of electability. Voters are not flocking to the polls because they are moved by the dazzling prospect of a Joe Biden presidency. In many cases he’s winning states in which he’s barely shown his face. But a majority of the Democratic base is convinced that Biden is the safe bet to win against Trump, and they value the way that certainty feels more than policy.

In every state that has voted so far, majorities have come out in favor of Medicare for All (specifically, replacing private insurance with a single government plan). They won’t get it anytime soon. In an interview this week, Joe Biden was asked if he would veto Medicare for All if it were sent to his desk; he said that he would “veto anything that delays providing the security and the certainty of health care being available now.” He went on to criticize the price tag of the policy, naturally without noting that the increased government spending would replace private, individual spending on things like insurance premiums, copays, deductibles, and a slew of surprise bills that drag Americans from the sickbed into bankruptcy. In Mississippi, 62 percent of voters support the plan; the candidate who has taken the most contributions from the health care industry is on track to win the state by massive margins.

Biden has also locked up the nomination with shockingly little support from voters under 40. The electorate this time around was old: More than one in three voters in Missouri was over 65. In 2018, 17 percent of Missouri residents were over 65. Missouri seniors make up almost twice as much of the voting population as they should. In that state, voters between the ages of 18 and 44 went for Sanders—by 42 points, 68 percent to 26 percent. Can being shunned by the young but loved by the old carry Biden to a general election win? He will have to hope so.

Despite Biden’s clear success in convincing voters that he has the best shot at defeating Trump, there are already troubling indications that those in his own camp are worried this might not be the case. South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn, whose endorsement of Biden was likely crucial to his wide margin of victory in the Palmetto State’s primary and the ensuing media narrative of Biden’s resurgence, told NPR tonight that the Democratic National Committee should “step in” and cancel debates, since Biden appears to be the “prohibitive favorite.” He added that a longer primary makes it more likely that Biden “gets himself into trouble” before the general. James Carville, too, called for an early end to the primary. It is reasonable to conclude that senior Democrats are worried about Joe Biden’s increasingly baffling speech patterns—or, put more honestly, the fact that he sounds like he is in the midst of a worrisome decline in mental acuity.

In a debate last year, Joe Biden was asked a question about the legacy of slavery and ended up talking about record players and how he knows Nicolás Maduro. He was more recently made to walk back a claim that he was arrested in South Africa while visiting Nelson Mandela—a flap that didn’t receive much media attention at the time, in all likelihood because he looked far off the pace for the nomination during the controversy. We may be lucky if these end up in the top five strangest things he will say by November.

Biden has been limiting his media appearances and the length of his public rallies; Clyburn’s commentary suggests that a more extensive mothballing of the Democratic nominee may be in the offing. A candidacy that is based on hiding the candidate as much as possible does not seem destined for success, even if his opponent is also a babbling geriatric—which won’t stop Trump’s campaign from endlessly highlighting Biden’s loose grasp of the concept of a sentence. Democrats emerged from their 2016 scrap with a decent claim that they’d been wronged by the media, which provided fulsome coverage of Trump’s traveling geek show that far exceeded the airtime that Hillary Clinton received. It’s perplexing that they might concede this battle in advance, four years later. Trump’s ability to manifest enthusiasm cannot be matched with a camera aimed at an empty space. Furthermore, a stashed-away Biden will be unable to respond to the attacks that are surely coming his way.

And the prospect of a Joe Biden nomination conjures dizzying images of Trump’s blitzkrieg to come. There is, obviously, everything Hunter Biden did wrong, the appearance of a corruption that will only be magnified by all the inaccurate implications and suggestions that the Trump campaign will make out of his Ukrainian dealings. There is also, incredibly, another avenue of Biden family corruption stories: His brother, James Biden, is also implicated in an investigation into fraud at Americore, a health care company. According to Politico, James Biden told potential investors that “his last name could open doors and that Joe Biden was excited about the public policy implications of their business models.” This is not to say that Trump would have put on the kid gloves against Bernie Sanders; merely that Biden’s pitch to voters, that he was the safe bet against Trump, had as much honest truth behind it as a commercial promising that a skin cream “helps” to fight aging.

Trump, nonetheless, is unpopular for an incumbent president. Biden could absolutely win, particularly if the coronavirus outbreak dramatically damages the economy. But a sane gambler would avoid casting bets on this election at the moment. The larger problem with Biden is that his candidacy doesn’t acknowledge the existence of multiple examples of inequality and injustice in the country. He has not offered a comprehensive rebuttal to the sickness in America that existed before Trump became president, or a plan to ameliorate it if elected. Rather, he clings tightly to the idea that the Trump presidency is a historical aberration and persists in claiming that Republicans are reasonable people with whom compromise and comity are possible. These are categorically dangerous assessments of the current state of American politics. Nevertheless, Democratic voters have upheld them, opting against real change—against ending medical debt, against ending student debt, against dramatic action to save the world from climate catastrophe. The consequences of this decision will be felt for years to come, for those lucky enough to survive to feel them.