If the election were held today, Joe Biden would crush President Donald Trump. Almost any other Democrat — including one named Generic Democrat — would also beat the man who runs an administration of kooks, quacks, criminals, drunks, wife-beaters and grifters.
Sadly, there remains a sizable constituency for incompetency on this scale.
But you can’t beat nothing with better-than-nothing. Not-Trump is not enough.
Surprisingly, the Democrats are thinking big for once. The ideas being tossed around are risky enough to be called bold: a guaranteed-jobs program, universal health care, a public option for banking, free community college.
But the best-known carriers of that message have problems. Nancy Pelosi is toxic in many a targeted red-to-blue district. Chuck Schumer sounds too much like a party hack. The presidential contenders all have weaknesses.
If you were to go into a lab and create a perfect candidate for 2020, along with a popular policy prescription for this anxious decade, what would that look like? It would be a big-hearted, progressive person whose appeal crosses class lines. It would be someone very much like Biden — a younger Biden.
Your candidate would need to be ethically clean — no Wall Street speeches, no foundations that serve as backdoor ways to do well while doing good, no sexual misconduct.
It might help if your candidate was not from the political class. Oprah? She’s not interested, so she says. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook showed some promise until we all realized that social media had been weaponized to destroy democracy. The entrepreneur Mark Cuban? Haven’t we had enough of a reality show star playing at being president?
This gets you to the bench of elected officials. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior senator from New York, is a whirlwind of Big Ideas of late. She just unveiled a financial first step for paycheck-to-paycheck Americans: a plan to require every post office to offer basic banking services — an alternative to predatory payday loans.
She is coldbloodedly #MeToo, having shoved her former colleague Al Franken and the Clintons under the bus. And she has gotten ahead of the one-note socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders on the idea of a job guarantee for everyone who wants to work.
Much of the party’s energy is coming from the Sanders wing; Sanders himself will be 79 on Election Day 2020 and is not getting any less cranky. But don’t overlook the enthusiasm generated by the Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke or Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana. They’ve stood up for the basic right of health care, and against the wrong of more tax cuts for the rich — foundational positions favored by a majority of the country.
Another prospect is the Senate’s resident vegan, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. He’s got some Wall Street problems and is less populist than the mood of the country. But he has terrific political skills.
In the same class is the rookie Sen. Kamala Harris of California. She’s sharp, dynamic, with the right balance of ego and intellect. But how would a California liberal play in Scranton, Pa.?
That brings us back to Scranton-born Biden. A new study suggests that fear of cultural displacement was a greater driver for Trump voters than economic anxiety — identity politics for aging white males. It would seem to take some of the working-class-savior reasoning out of Uncle Joe’s candidacy.
But that analysis still doesn’t adequately explain the millions of people who voted for both Barack Obama and Trump. That’s where Biden comes in. The problem is that he will be 77 on Election Day.
Trump will be 74. He’s old and he’s angry, and will only get older and angrier. Build a better Biden, from our political lab, and you win. But maybe the current Biden is built to last, with just enough septuagenarian strut to end the dark age of Trump.