While Democrats of the progressive camp argue over how far to the ideological left their party should go in 2020, old-style liberals and moderates insist that should not be its principal focus.
The focus, they say, should be excising the poison injected into the American political bloodstream by President Donald Trump, who is running roughshod over the nation’s historic commitments to racial, ethnic, religious equality and freedom of the press.
Hence the primary question has emerged from the start: Which of the 20-odd Democratic presidential aspirants has the best chance to defeat him in the next election? The first obvious yardstick is the numerous public-opinion polls, but they are hardly foolproof, given the variety of measurements with which voters weigh their options.
From the outset of the current political cycle, former Vice President Joe Biden has been the polls’ consensus front-runner, whether from his wide name recognition or long public service. At the start of his 2020 candidacy, he offered himself as the Democrat best qualified for the presidency and best positioned by experience and temperament to oust Trump.
Probably unwittingly, the sitting president cooperated by targeting Biden as “Sleepy Joe” at age 76 who “has lost his fast ball.” Rival Democrats in the progressive camp, meanwhile, occupied themselves striving to be that bloc’s candidate, for a time largely leaving Biden to focus on Trump.
In that process, two of the progressives running closest to Biden in the polls, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have been vying to be their wing’s alternative to the front-runner, with Sanders slipping and Warren inching upward in the various voter surveys.
One lesser-known poll, by Monmouth University last week, showed Biden falling out of the lead, dropping to 19 percent support behind Warren and Sanders at 20 percent each, yet but still comfortably ahead in three other major surveys.
But late last week, The Washington Post reported Biden misremembering the dates and details of several earlier campaign events in which he interreacted with American combat heroes in the Middle East. The report flew in the face of his oft-recited assurance of “my word as a Biden” that it could be taken to the bank. He defended the essence, if not the literal account, of a recipient of the Silver Star declining having Biden pin it on him because the colleague he had sought to save died.
This latest bump in the road came after his campaign had run a television ad in which former second lady Jill Biden sold her husband as the best Democrat to beat Trump, though other party contenders might be better than Joe on certain issues.
Much can happen in the months leading up to the first state primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina starting in February, and then a blockbuster Super Primary in 13 states including California on March 3, which in the past took place in the last weeks of the primary season.
In 2008, Barack Obama seized on the Iowa state caucuses, upsetting Hillary Clinton there. But in 1987 in Iowa, Biden saw his first presidential bid collapse amid allegations of plagiarism and the pressures of chairing the failed Supreme Court nomination of conservative jurist Robert Bork.
In 1991, Biden was criticized for his handling of the high court nomination of Clarence Thomas, who won narrow confirmation. Biden voted against confirming Thomas in the wake of testimony of sexual improprieties from Thomas employee Anita Hill, who later contended she was treated unfairly, though she herself decided against giving further testimony.
Such old episodes and the latest account of his garbling his account of a Silver Star recipient no doubt will be revisited once more in the press in days ahead. In the meantime, the former vice president will be better served touting his own current agenda for saving “Obamacare” and the country by getting rid of President Trump.