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Monday, September 2, 2019


I have three questions about Biden.  The first is a snap to answer, the second and third not so much.  The first question is, Do I want him to get the nomination?  Easy peasy.  The answer is NO.  Unfortunately, my preference counts for zilch.

The second question is, Will he get the nomination.  To be honest, I thought he would fade, but as John Malkovich as Teddy KGB says to Matt Damon in Rounders, Biden keeps hanging around, hanging around.  In this RealClearPolitics poll average, Biden gets 28.9%, Sanders gets 17.1%, Warren gets 16.5%, and the rest fall away from that.  The rules of the delegate selection process being what they are, these are the only three candidates currently scoring high enough in the polls to win delegates in state primaries.  But they only get 62.5% of the total vote in these polls, so the question is, where do the other 30+% go after the candidates at the bottom drop out?  I would like to think that those voters will go to Sanders or Warren, but I have no evidence at all for that belief.  The single most important factor is the preferences of Black voters, who now choose Biden so overwhelmingly that they are all by themselves propping him up.

I do think no one coming into the Convention will have a majority of the delegates, in which case we are in for quite a bumpy ride.

Finally, the third question is, If Biden gets the nomination, will he win the election?  There are two plausible answers, and I haven’t a clue which one is right.  The first answer is that the Democratic electorate is so fired up, so eager to vote Trump out of office, that the Democrats could nominate a plastic lawn ornament and it would win.  The second answer is that Biden inspires no excitement or loyalty whatsoever, and is therefore the only one of the top four or five contenders who could actually lose to Trump by failing to get the voters to the polls.

I am terribly fearful that some version of the second answer is true, which means taking the nomination away from Biden is crucial.


Dean said...

Judging from this story, Biden is as unclear about his ambitions as you are about his prospects:

I laughed out loud at "plastic lawn ornament." PLOOTUS=POTUS

David Palmeter said...

I agree with you that the key is where the supporters of the candidates who drop out go. Here's a link to an analysis of polling data by The Economist which suggests strongly that Warren will be the Democratic candidate.
Scroll down to the end of the article where they look at the second choice of supporters of Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, and O'Rourke. Warren is the second chose of those whose first choice is Biden, Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg. She is the second choice of O'Rourke supporters; Harris is their first choice. Neither Biden nor Sanders is anyone's second choice. Biden is the third choice of Sanders and Harris supporters.
It’s hard for me to see where either Biden or Sanders could pick up votes. They entered the race as the two most well-known candidates. People already had opinions about them. Not many of them would change. If this analysis is correct, the signs point to Warren.

When I’m feeling optimistic (which isn’t all that often) I console myself with the thought that 2020 will be a high turn-out election. Both sides are motivated, but Trump’s base, by most polls, is around 40% or even lower. The “anyone but Trump” cohort has always been above 50%.

The appalling thing to me, is that 40% or so of literate, adult Americans approve of Trump’s performance in office. Nothing has ever shaken my faith in democracy more than that. It’s very depressing.

Alex said...

The more this campaign goes on the more I find myself asking the unavoidable question: doesn't this situation have pretty strong parallels with the doomed Clinton 2016 effort? Why is her name *never* mentioned by the press in connection with the Biden candidacy?

The lack of enthusiasm, the inability to articulate why they are running besides "I'm not Trump" and "Vote for me if you like Obama" (see the nyt article Dean posted). The failure to see and speak to the deep, deep rot that has been growing in the country for a long time. The resulting complete lack of preparation for Trump's campaign and media strategy, being caught off guard and never being able to get ahead of it.

It seems like the least we should be doing right now is at least ask if we can learn anything from Hillary in 2016. But I'm afraid the media exhibits complete amnesia, is not willing to even mention her name. It's so painful to think about what happened to us last time -- but I think we better face it if we don't want a repeat.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Alex. I'm likewise astounded that there's so little mainstream media attention to the dangers of a lackluster Democratic candidate and the risk of a repeat of 2016. Like Alex, this worries me... I'd love to hear Wolff and others' take on this. said...

Biden is depleted of intellectual resources, not to mention verbal resources. He continues to stumble all over himself in interviews---perhaps the reason he now gives so few of them. It truly is strange that Trump commands a 40% approval rating, but is it no less strange that Biden, given his incoherence (approaching that of Trump's), still commands a preponderance of Democratic votaries? It is, as Palmeter says, "very depressing".

Jerry Fresia said...

Agree with all your points, especially the last one. Biden would be a rerun of inauthentic, elitist HRC. Let's remember: Biden was put on the ticket to placate nervous whites - ie, because he was racist or nearly so. Talk about irony.

Howie said...

It is doubtful any computer or person or think tank knows for sure how Biden will match up against Trump, except Trump who believes he is the greatest and can whip any comer,
There are the questions of sizing up Biden as a candidate and the question of how the public will respond to the race in their current mood and given the state of the world and the economy.
Then there are the intangibles; how would Biden and Trump go toe to toe? How would Biden motivate the base and spar with Trump; in TV sports it was a given that some teams would match up well against other teams superior in some regards.
Then there is the question of who we really want, and in an ideal and justl world Trump would be in a federal prison somewhere.
Nobody knows no matter how sure they feel; everybody trusts their gut as infallible.
So I'd ask people what they think based on something other than a hunch

s. wallerstein said...

I agree with Howie. No one knows how Biden will match up against Trump.

It surprises David Palmeter that 40% of the voters like Trump and it may well be that another 40% like Biden or that some of the 40% who like Trump also like Biden, maybe even more than they like Trump. It's dangerous for intellectuals like ourselves, people who spend a goodly part of the day informing ourselves about politics, about the issues, and about the candidates to assume that people who don't inform themselves about politics think like we do.

What's more, we don't know for sure why Hillary lost to Trump. She seems inauthentic to us and a corporate liberal hawk, but maybe people rejected her or didn't bother to vote for her not because they saw her as inauthentic and a corporate liberal hawk, but for other reasons, reasons that we don't see because being very politicized, we see her (accurately) as a corporate liberal hawk and being children of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Sartre, we see her negatively as inauthentic, but after all, turn on the TV and you'll all kinds of media personalities who are as inauthentic as Hillary or more and who are beloved by the public.

So far the polls give Biden lots of support. The polls may be right this time. Biden is not my candidate, but beware, he may turn out to the best vote winner against Trump.
Reality has an ugly habit of not behaving as we want it to.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

I'll take Dr. Wolff's third question first. 2018 turnout among millennials was 35.6 %, up 15.7% over the last midterm election. This was the greatest percentage increase of any demographic group. If this election is to be a meaningful realignment of the two parties then there is little more important than ensuring the high turnout of millennials. Seventy percent of women millennials voted D, and my hunch is that millennials are, as am I, sick of holding their noses and voting for the lesser of two evils.

I heard Biden say that he wants a V.P. who thinks like him. He is apparently not concerned with improving his electoral chances with a Veep choice that would increase his odds of winning. Somebody needs to remind him that half the party is moderate and half is progressive. A ticket like Biden/Klobuchar would be appalling, and a strategically stupid choice. And, keep in mind when looking at horserace numbers that the progressive vote is split between Sanders and Warren. Add them up and it's a tie with Biden, more or less.

The indications are that the blue wave will be huge, and while Biden would depress turnout, all things being equal he would still win. All things may not be equal, though.

The possibility of a unconventional convention is real, as Dr. Wolff notes. One thing the left needs to be doing is researching the procedural rules of the democratic convention and preparing for floor battles. When I did electoral politics, the the most conservative group campaigns had to deal with were the party officials.

Mr. Wallerstein, we do know why HRC lost. The only debatable point is the extent of Russian impacts. Clinton was the most unpopular democratic candidate in modern history with unfavorable ratings rivaling Trump's. She had no message, no reason she could express to tell us why she should be president (and she had the worst slogan ever, Stronger Together, which is meaningless compared to Make America Great Again). Trump relentlessly and effectively played up her negatives and successfully drove down turnout. Most importantly, she did not replicate Obama's field organization, which was the best in the last 50 years. As a result her campaign did not know it was in trouble in MI, WI and PA. Canvassing would have revealed the problems she had in those states and would have presumably moved her to campaign there. If I recall correctly, she did not campaign in WI or MI after the convention. Trump did.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein,

I see Trump as sui generis. I didn't agree--by any stretch of the imagination--with the supporters of either Bush or Reagan or Nixon etc. But Trump, in my view, is of a different order of magnitude. I know very, very little about the Presidents of the 19th Century, but from what I do know, I'd say you have to go back to the 15th president, Andrew Johnson to get any one who might be as bad. And Johnson, so far as I know, was not ignorant. He was a racist bigot. But so is Trump--and Trump is much, much more, all of it on the negative side. Trump not only is a racist, a misogynist, a religious bigot, and a mocker of people with disabilities. He is an inveterate liar, of both the important and the trivial. An example of the latter: his assertion that his wife and Kim Jun Un are good friends, though they've never met. How anyone, let alone 40% of the voters in this country, could approve of him is beyond my comprehension. I think the importance of who wins the Democratic nomination is trivial compared to the necessity of beating Trump. I would--and will--unhesitatingly support any of them, including Biden--who gets the nomination.

Carl said...

Andrew Johnson was the 17th president.

Chris said...

D.P., Professor Wolff, and others,

I'm going to provide one usual response and one maybe unusual response. Let's start with the unusual.

I think Jerry, and others, are quite correct that the rise of both left wing and right wing populism (aka Trumpism versus Sanders/Corbyn/Progressivism), is a RESPONSE to the failure of Neo-liberalism and centrist triangulation. One thing all populists agree on, right and left, is that the status quo isn't working, droves of people have been left behind and forgotten in society, and only something outside the norm, outside the consensus, can possibly improve our social situation. I think most readers of this blog might agree too.

Here's what kind of bugs me about this idea that Trump is the pinnacle of evil and must be stopped at all costs: as gross, rude, inconsiderate, stupid, bigoted, and vile, as he is in terms of being a member of the human species, in terms of policy this man is nowhere near the wickedness of a George Bush Jr. Trump has yet to establish a globalized network of torture and pillage, nor has he decided to start several wars that lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people across the globe (American or otherwise), nor has he invented his own patriot act (although Democrats are quick to vote for its extension).

So why is it that Trump engenders this unprecedented hand wringing, as if he is a complete and wicked aberration from an otherwise workable and sensible body politic? As much as I loathe the man, he hasn’t done anything nearly as awful as what Jane Meyer documented about the Bush-Cheney regime
[Please note, I'm not defending the guy, I'm not saying I want him in office, or anything positive about him, but if we bracket out his personal character, as a president, we have had remarkably more destructive actors].

Now for the obvious platitude: If left and right wing populism is a response to the failure of Neo-liberalism and the status quo, isn't the principle that "I'll elect anyone that isn't Trump", going to seriously risk electing someone who just exacerbates the very conditions that give rise to the need for a Trump or Sanders in the first place? Clinton, Biden, Obama, etc., all these people while perhaps preferable to Trump for a 4-8-year stint, will only exacerbate the larger historical trends – political and economic – that allows Trump and his kind to actually have a shot at the white house. Thus, anyone but Trump is perhaps just another way of saying "Trump next time".

David Palmeter said...


I agree with you about Bush Jr. He was once the worst president of my lifetime. Now he's the second worst.

I'm one of those who hopes the Democrats don't nominate Biden, but if they do, I'll vote for him. Biden won't put a Gorsuch or a Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, just as Gore would not have put a Roberts or Alito on the Court.

Biden would try to put us back into the international system, like the Paris climate accord. He won't eviscerate EPA or offer pardons to Federal employees who may break the law in following his wishes, e.g., builders of The Wall on Southern border.

Further, while Biden is too old the job, IMHO, he will be surrounded by staff and cabinet appointees who are all adults and would be able to step in to prevent catastrophe. Trump, the man who can start a nuclear war, seems clearly to be coming unhinged and no one around him does anything about it.

Chris said...


Nothing you stated actually addresses either of my two points.

First, why is Trump the second worst? I'm not saying he isn't, but I'm thinking of the body counts generated by Nixon, Kennedy (sort of), and LBJ. So I would like to expand upon this point. We both agree as a human being he may well be the most vile person to occupy the oval office. But as a president, why is he second worse?

Second, you didn't address anything in my "Now for the obvious platitude" contention.

David Palmeter said...


It looks like we’re using different standards for evaluating presidents. Body count isn’t the only one. The damage Trump has done to national and international institutions will be long lasting, if it isn’t irrevocable. For example, his statements regarding the need for other NATO countries, Japan, and Korea to take care of themselves is an invitation to them to develop their own nuclear weapons. Right now, among US allies, only Britain, France, and Israel have them. For generations, Germany, Japan and Korea have been told that we have their backs, they don’t need to develop their own nuclear arsenals.

Regardless of who wins the next election, Trump has shown that the US is capable of electing someone as irresponsible as he is. I would be very surprised if in the governments of Germany, Japan, and Korea right now they are looking into how they might go about that secretly--and, of course, eventually the secret would out. When that happens, the Anti-Proliferation Agreement would be a useless piece of paper. Countries like Brazil agreed not to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for reductions among the existing nuclear powers. If Brazil develops them, Argentina won’t be far behind. S. Wallerstein knows far more than I whether Chile would join them, but my guess is it would. After that, it’s only a matter of time before someone uses them. As bad as Bush was, he didn’t do anything like this.

I’m not clear on your second point. Are you saying that, while Biden et al might be preferable to Trump for four more years, they would only make the underlying problem worse and that we should accept Trump in the short term in order to avoid something worse in the future?

At bottom, perhaps, we appear to have very different views on what can be accomplished by a Sanders or a Warren in the White House. They certainly would not be destructive of the institutions of government in the way Trump has been. But on the positive side, in so far as having their policies enacted into law is concerned, I cannot see how anything but incremental progress is possible. Medicare for All is a pipe dream in my view. Not only would all the Republicans vote against it, but many Democrats would as well. Even a public option to ObamaCare is probably dead unless he Democrats win the Senate, and that’s a long shot best.

A friend gave me a blue baseball cap with the slogan "Make America Sane Again." I'll settle for that.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

When was America sane?

How can we make it sane again if it hasn't been sane, if it ever was, in my lifetime (I'm 73)?

By the way, that it isn't just my crazy viewpoint. You probably remember books from the 50's like Erich Fromm's, the Sane Society. Fromm didn't consider America to be especially sane either.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein

It's a comparative term.

RobinMcD said...

Pardon me for butting into the Chris-David-s.w. exchanges.

I’d agree with David, that a body count isn’t the only standard for evaluating US Presidents. At the same time, it seems to me David is skipping over Chris’s point (at 2:09 PM) respecting neoliberalism and the reaction against it, for aren’t the national and international institutions Trump is damaging in large part neoliberal in nature (though since neoliberalism is but its latest manifestation, it doesn’t take much imagination to come up with a more general term for what has guided these national and international institutions). One could go on from there to suggest that that the various body counts allotted to American presidents going way back into the past have been the consequnce of trying to create and preserve these same institutions.

One of my worries respecting an anyone-but-Trump approach is that his replacement might precisely attempt to revive the same old institutional and substantive system of US global domination. I actually think such an attempt would be doomed to failure, but the attempt to effect it would surely lead to some more massive body counts somewhere (which most of us will, as in the past, go on ignoring).

Anonymous said...

Trump will destroy Biden in a general election, and in national debates, using his usual tricks - democrats better wise up quick and come up with a real alternative to Trump. Blacks don't turn up at the polls unless Obama is on the ticket...