The Corner

Elections

The Democrats Made Two Joe Biden Miscalculations

Joe Biden joins Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at a campaign stop in Los Angeles, Calif., May 8, 2019. (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)

I think it’s safe to say that there are many, many progressive Democrats who are more than a little surprised — and a lot chagrined — at Joe Biden’s polling dominance. Look at FiveThirtyEight’s polling roundup. Aside from a few high and low outliers, he leads the race by a solid 20 points (at least). Even better for him, he’s dominating with nonwhite voters, and after Iowa and New Hampshire — where he leads — the race is heavily weighted towards states with substantial numbers of black voters.

Look, I know it’s early. I know Hillary had massive leads in 2008 and 2016, only to lose and almost lose. I know that Biden has been a terrible campaigner in his two previous presidential races. But Biden is already demonstrating enough strength that Politico has a long piece today asking, Did the Left Misread the 2020 Democratic Primary? Here’s a key paragraph:

It’s not just Biden’s rising poll numbers that suggest that the activist left is out of step with most Democrats; it’s the ideological makeup of the entire Democratic Party. Fifty-six percent of Democrats self-identify as “moderate” and 9 percent even embrace “conservative,” according to an April poll from the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. While leftist activists pine for the end of the legislative filibuster to grease the skids for partisan legislation, a December GW Politics poll found that 66 percent of Democrats said they prefer elected officials who “make compromises with people they disagree with” over those who “stick to their positions.” Only 36 percent of Republicans said the same.

NR’s own Rich Lowry made a similar observation, also in Politico:

[A]s Harry Enten of CNN, among others, has been insisting for some time, the average Democrat is older, more moderate or conservative, and less likely to have a college degree than you’d guess from following Twitter or cable TV.

These voters were underserved by the rest of the field, and Biden is taking dead aim at them with the simple message that he can beat Trump.

The Democrats didn’t just underestimate Joe Biden’s personal appeal (at least so far), but it appears they also underestimated the size of his ideological lane. As Democrats stampeded left, with even more moderate candidates like Beto arguing for tearing down existing border walls, Biden was left largely alone to position himself as the ideal candidate for a whopping 65 percent of the Democratic electorate. Which of the woke candidates is best-positioned to challenge Biden for that enormous slice of the Democratic voting public? Meanwhile, the progressive (mostly white) wing of the primary is crowded and competitive.

Moreover, key candidates have made such extreme statements in the effort to appeal to what turned out to be the Democratic minority that they’ve rendered themselves more vulnerable in the general election. It’s hard to walk back pledges to wipe away private health insurance or tear down border walls, for example. It turns out that dreams of a united, energized progressive tidal wave may well die in the face of a more-moderate electorate that mainly seeks a return to normalcy, modest reforms, and an end to daily political drama.

We’ll see, of course, and I freely acknowledge this take could age badly, but at the very least there is a real recognition that the Online Left is out of step with the bulk of the Democratic electorate. That fact alone could help diminish the power of angry online activism and the reduce the influence of Twitter tirades. If that happens, win or lose Joe Biden will have made an important contribution to American political discourse.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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