Biden may not be woke enough
In politics, good gets better and bad gets worse. This axiom perfectly illustrates what we are witnessing in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Since Thursday’s debate, former vice-president Joe Biden has been on his heels as a spectre of doom surrounds his candidacy. Kamala Harris, the California senator, meanwhile, has emerged as a real contender. When you consider how we got here, it is important to take note both of the forces that are trending against Biden and whether they will serve to unite the party behind a winning ticket in 2020.
Biden is facing a trifecta of troubles. He may soon be outflanked by Harris among African-American voters and may lose the goodwill he had earned from the party’s female activists. Historically, these two constituencies have been Biden strongholds. Meanwhile, Biden has a generational problem: at a time when it is fashionable — especially among young Democrats — to be “woke”, Biden is anti-woke.
Biden’s long history of working to improve civil rights in the United States, not to mention his role as vice-president to the first African-American president, earned him a natural constituency with the African-American voters who form a vital bloc in Democratic primaries. Yet the tin ear he displayed by referencing the pride he holds for work done early in his career with long-dead segregationists, combined with his opposition to school busing in the 1970s, have formed an opening that Harris, the only black woman in the race, deftly exploited in the debate.
Next, the touchy-feely Biden was never a great fit for the #MeToo era. Female voters supplied much of the energy that swept Democrats into control of the House last autumn and tipped plenty of state and local races as well. This just isn’t the moment to be the old white man with a history of getting a little too close.
Finally, to the tricky matter of wokeness. According to Merriam-Webster, woke is defined as “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues — especially issues of racial and social justice”. But “woke” has come to mean something more, connoting a preference for standing apart from those deemed to be unwoke, retrograde or worse. That hints at a cultural and generational split inside the Democratic Party that may be difficult to bridge.
Does anyone think the typical Biden voter is among the “woke”? Even if Biden were to wake up “woke” some morning this month, does anyone think his base would applaud the move? I doubt it. Which means, Biden may be boxed in.
Taken together, these challenges could be too much for the Biden campaign. If his support among African-Americans is softening, and if Democratic women are newly ambivalent about his candidacy, and if the woke part of the party cannot identify with Biden or his base — and vice versa — then the basic proposition of the candidacy may not be sustainable. Keeping these three constituencies happy will be key for any eventual nominee; whether it is enough to beat the President is another question.
So far, the polls have shown that Biden still enjoys a lead among Democrats, but we are about to find out if his support has any depth. In a party that is changing rapidly, Joe Biden could just be the wrong guy at the wrong time.
• Ed Rogers is a contributor to Post Opinions, a political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour in 1991
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