2016 Democrats, 2016 General Election, Uncategorized

Is Joe Missing His Window?

October 1, 2015

So Joe’s not gonna go.  Yet.  He is skipping the first debate on the 13th.  It appears the new in/out/ask me again later date is late October.

Is this a mistake?

Assuming he just isn’t mentally ready yet, it doesn’t matter.  I’ve been rooting for him to jump in for two months because I like the guy and think he could get the nomination and who doesn’t like a spectacle.  But it’s still only 4 months since he lost his son.

We should assume that he didn’t have the energy to get started now.  It could be a tactical move, but the simplest explanation is he’s not ready yet.  How badly, if at all, does this hurt his chances? If he is able a month from now, and does compete, will we look back on a missed opportunity?

Depends how you look at it.  The longer he waits, the more time Bernie has to establish himself.  As time goes on, more Sanders votes become votes for Bernie, not against Hillary.

How can you tell?  Almost all pollsters are including Biden in the top line published result.  In the more detailed breakouts you can often find results if Biden is not included.  This other option is being asked about half the time.

In early August, removing Joe usually divided his vote pretty evenly between Sanders and Clinton.  Now 2/3 to 3/4 of his vote goes to Hillary.  This indicates Bernie supporters are increasingly for him and not just using him as a protest vessel.  He’s not interchangeable with Biden.

The VP is more popular overall than Bernie. There is a noticeable difference among the entire voting public.  While Bernie is +3 according to USA Today/Suffolk, about equivalent to Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio, Biden is +17, better than any other candidate they surveyed.

Biden also has the highest favorables with Democratic voters, though Sanders has very low negatives himself.  Deciding to vote for Biden because he has better general election numbers is an insider move.  Only a slice of voters do this, assuming both candidates are viable.

If you’d told someone three months ago that Bernie Sanders was a more viable GENERAL ELECTION CANDIDATE than Hillary Clinton, they would have suggested adjusting your meds.

He might not be when voters are more aware he’s in favor of $100 trillion in new spending (mild exaggeration), but if the election were tomorrow, he would do better.

Until he has Trump-like negatives (and he won’t hit those depths) you can’t really make the unelectable argument to his average semi-committed supporter.

Almost two months ago, I wrote my first piece on the Bernie-Biden-Hillary triangle.  At the time, I thought the email/server issue would quickly start to wear on Hillary’s campaign and viability, opening a legit path for Biden.

So far, so prescient.  But, I also thought Sanders had a limited chance of winning the nomination.  By putting a non-zero probability on it (7-10 days later, I figured it was 5-10%), I thought I was being bold and gave myself credit for being more bullish than most.

As a result, I assigned Biden about a 30-33% chance of winning, thinking there was a way he could win even if Hillary didn’t completely self-destruct.  Thinking about the Biden we’ve become used to over the years, I thought he’d opt in by Labor Day.

Well, this Biden, the one Americans like more than his boss, more than his potential competitors, is a bit more disciplined.  He decided to dip his toe in the water before making a decision.

People responded very well.  His Colbert appearance went over tremendously.  Biden’s numbers have consistently improved over the past several weeks.  If you add in the voters choosing him as their second option in polls, using it as a proxy for openness, a lot of Democrats are willing to consider him.

After some review, I set a new entry time of approximately now.  Logic was there was just enough time to get in, pull his share of support, some from Bernie, a fair amount from Hillary and start building a case for himself, ideally locking down some union endorsements.

A great debate performance and he’d potentially even jump in to the national lead, giving him some necessary momentum to make up for lost time in Iowa, a state where he barely registered in 2008.

Made absolute sense at the time.  Polls backed me up and have continued to.  Where in early August, most columnists urged Joe to stay out, lately most have requested his inclusion.

Smugly, I complimented myself on knowing better than the people who get paid to make wild ass guesses.  As of this morning, betting markets had him at an 83% chance of getting in at some point.  CNN had given him extra time to opt in to the debate.

Yet I find myself agreeing with his decision to wait, even for tactical reasons.  Even if it’s completely opposite from what I thought 72 hours ago.  For two months, the idea was that it was Biden v. Hillary, with a slight collateral chance that Bernie could sneak in if one couldn’t defeat the other quick enough.

Not anymore.  Bernie continues to make progress.  Democrats award delegates proportionately for the entire contest.  Biden and Hillary have vastly more constituency overlap.

It is now far easier to create an equation where Bernie wins, or even more likely, a three-way race goes to the convention.  If Hillary is weakened but not indicted, Biden is a bit bruised from a long campaign and Bernie’s negatives are much higher, it’s an absolute mess.

Yes, Biden looks better compared to Hillary by the minute.  Two months ago, the argument made by Ryan Lizza and others was that they were virtually identical on policy but Hillary was female, younger and a far better candidate in 2008.

Now the argument is they are still almost the same on ideology, similar in age, and Biden is also running better with Democratic women than men (Bernie’s supporters skew male).  The only difference is Americans like Joe.

Whike it’s great that Biden went from seemingly inferior to interchangeable to superior in 8 weeks, it still doesn’t mean there’s really room for both of them in the race.  In 1972, Hubert Humphrey challenged the weakened Ed Muskie.  George McGovern won.

Biden doesn’t want a Sanders nomination for his legacy.  He doesn’t want a convention bloodbath.  In August, those who suggested Biden stay out to avoid a mess or embarrassment thought he couldn’t beat Hillary, he could only play spoiler.

Today, I don’t think Hillary can beat Biden, she can only play spoiler.  But, why should Biden leave himself open to that?  He may have the energy to fight Sanders.  He may have the energy to fight Clinton.  He may not have the energy to fight both and then the GOP nominee.

Had he listened to me and announced he was in by Monday, Biden would have chosen between a great roll-out week or really preparing for his first debate in 3 years, first several candidate tilt in almost 8.

He also would have jumped in before Hillary was mortally wounded.  She’s taken some hits, but she’s not finished yet.  In urging him to run, I made the reference to Bobby Kennedy waiting for Gene McCarthy to take down LBJ in 1968 and how it hurt RFK with liberals.

Wrong example.  Biden won’t grab many Sanders voters anyway.  With Bernie this strong, he needs Hillary’s voters, not a few, not some, most.  He’s already taken 25% of them, but he needs the majority of what’s left.

If the party infrastructure unifies behind Biden, if he gets an endorsement from Mr. Obama and Mrs. Obama, he can probably defeat Sanders regardless of how much money Bernie raises and how many volunteers he has.

Probably.  Not definitely.  I’m done underestimating Bernie.

That isn’t happening yet.  By waiting, Biden runs the risk of Bernie adding to his foundation.  He runs the risk of Hillary righting the ship, of Republicans overplaying their hand and making a martyr of her, at least among Democratic primary voters.

If both of those things happen, he may stay completely out.  He may stay out because he’s not up to it.  By not entering the race before the debate, Biden’s chances of winning the nomination have shrunk.  Not ridiculously, but they’re less than yesterday.

But his chances of winning the presidency are greater.  Months ago, Jeb Bush said he was willing to lose the primary to win the general.  Though Jeb is hurting his general election chances as he stumbles through the primary, the principle is sound.

Candidates are running for president, not nominee.  You don’t get in to this to lose in November, especially if you’re Biden.  He wants to be president, not fail to continue what his president started.

My mistake was basing my assumptions on what Biden needed to do to get nominated, not win the whole thing.  If he plays the reluctant warrior a bit longer, it could help him with the nomination, but it will help him in the general.

Running more against Sanders than Clinton (in this scenario, her hearings go badly, the FBI gets pushy and there’s a mini-draft of sorts to get Joe in just fast enough to get on the ballot in most states), Biden appears more centrist, even as he tacks left to get nominated.

All Biden would need to do is ride a momentum and endorsement wave to finish 2nd in Iowa ahead of Hillary, repeat in New Hampshire and win South Carolina.  If he did that, finishing ahead of her in the first three states, she’s done and he can run against Bernie.

Better to risk not entering at all to have the chance to play savior and conserve even a slight amount of energy for next fall, remaining popular after a long, but mostly positive, issues-driven race against Bernie.

Did Beau tell him to run, or did he tell him to try to win? I’m thinking the latter, that he thought his dad could win the presidency, not just spin his wheels.

Joe has never lacked courage.  In this case, it may take more guts to wait than jump in.

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