Age and sex could undercut Joe Biden and give a long shot a sudden chance
If I were an ambitious and canny Democratic politician right now, one with a sort of mid-level public profile, well known to activists if not the general public, I would start planning to make a big splash early this summer.
There is a real chance, still small but growing, that the national Democratic Party might need to shove aside Joe Biden and engineer the party’s presidential nomination for someone else. If so, the only way to do it while pulling the party together rather than splintering it would be to choose someone widely acceptable, but without the enemies a prior contender naturally makes during bitter party primaries.
In other words, there are already factions within the Democratic Party that are strongly anti-Bernie Sanders or strongly anti-Hillary Clinton. There are plenty of Democrats who now think Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris are proven losers who had every chance to win the nomination but instead showed glass jaws.
But if you are, for example, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, former New Orleans Mayor and former Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, or Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, you’ve impressed most factions within the Democratic Party in one way or another while making few enemies. You could be a galvanizing breath of fresh air (forgive the cliché) for a party that seems earthbound. And while the odds are that you will not somehow finagle the presidential nomination for yourself, you might just put yourself into the running for vice president.
If you are Wolf or Landrieu or Raimondo or someone else with ambition, there are two considerations here. First, how likely is it that Biden could be cast aside? Second, how could you make the right sort of splash to put yourself in the mix, without looking like it’s merely a brazen bid for attention?
As for the first question, Biden isn’t yet in major political quicksand, but he certainly isn’t on firm bedrock. He faces problems related both to age and alleged sexual misconduct.
Granted, many people (myself included) are not inclined to believe the sexual assault allegations made against him by former staffer Tara Reade, because it just doesn’t square with what Biden’s 47 years in the public eye have demonstrated. Still, Reade’s allegations continue to attract apparent corroboration that exceeds the level of corroboration Biden himself has accepted when Republicans were accused. This could get very dicey.
As for age, it almost certainly isn’t fair for pundits to say Biden has dementia. Even in the vernacular, the term “dementia” has a specific meaning, describing a sort of debility Biden has not (yet) evinced. Still, an aging person need not have dementia to lose focus, mental sharpness, or agility more easily than before. Many observers say they see some level of lesser capacity in the 77-year-old Biden. A few more blunders, especially if combined with any more indices of sexual misconduct, and Biden could become fatally damaged political goods.
The time is now, therefore, for other politicians to plan a splash. They get only one chance, and they need time to plan it meticulously. That’s why June 1 or so, not next week, is the best target date.
The splash absolutely must be on a subject that seems both big and timely. For example, if you are Landrieu and lead an existing, ongoing project on race relations, then maybe you throw together a study on why the coronavirus is disproportionately hurting black people and announce the findings with a major media push. (Don’t say it’s because of “racism,” because you’ll be laughed at, but do highlight the socioeconomic factors that clearly do put black people at greater risk.)
Or if you are Wolf, with a long background in business, perhaps you might want to release a bold plan for economic recovery from the pandemic.
Whatever you do, it needs to be something in your wheelhouse — something that grows organically from your background and expertise. Whatever it is, it needs a huge, well-planned rollout.
In the event that Biden collapses, Democrats will be desperate. The resulting scramble might be more akin to nomination battles from the late 1800s, with tremendously fluid possibilities swirling and eddying as national party insiders and delegates from the hinterlands all search for a political savior. A splash at just the right time might just have effects as astonishing as, say, William Jennings Bryan’s famous “cross of gold” speech that earned him the unexpected 1896 Democratic presidential nomination.
Even if actually securing the nomination is a long shot, the very effort could thrust the politician into the national conversation in ways that are of political benefit for years to come. The upside is huge, and the risks are minimal. It’s time for politicians to dive into the deep end of the Democratic pool.