“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” former US vice-president Joe Biden declared when he finally ended a months-long game of ‘will he or won’t he’ and announced his candidacy.
“I believe history will look back on the four years of this President, and all he embraces, as an aberrant moment in time.”
In saying that, Mr Biden is preaching to the Democrats and some moderate Republicans who oppose Donald Trump and all that he represents — the ones who say the President’s ascent to office was some sort of blip.
But was it?
The problem is that the current President is a symptom, not a cause. To beat him, Democrats are going to have to face up to the reasons he won the election in 2016 and try to either swing some of his base or get apathetic constituents to the polls.
Good ol’ Uncle Joe wants to save the day
Mr Biden’s long-anticipated announcement video is anchored by the story of Charlottesville.
Remember when Mr Trump, in his roundabout way, referred to neo-Nazis as “very fine people” after a counter protester was run down and killed by a white supremacist in a car? Yep, that was about Charlottesville.
The 76-year-old Mr Biden appears quietly disappointed with an America that’s rebelled against its core values. Good ol’ Uncle Joe is framing himself as the man who can come in and save the day with his conventional, safe, ‘do the right thing’ wisdom.
However in a chronically divided nation, that crusading message will be read with a wave of eyerolls by Trump supporters. They will see it as emblematic of the arrogance of Democrats who still fail to accept that Mr Trump was elected by US citizens who are simply different from them.
“If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and let that happen,” Mr Biden says.
There’s some merit in that argument. Leaving aside the personality issues and the deeper cultural changes that Mr Trump’s presidency is fostering, another four years will allow him to entrench his policies on environment, immigration, crime and the economy and beyond.
But is Joe Biden the answer to Donald Trump? Not even the Democrats can agree on that.
The President has responded just the way you’d expect:
Mr Biden leads the most diverse field of candidates to date
Mr Biden’s announcement brings the count of 2020 democrats up to a coincidental 20.
Oh, and 20 is also the number of Democrats who will be allowed onto the stage for the first primary debate this June. It’d be a shock to us all if he wasn’t among them.
He emerged as the poll leader in January and, before even committing to the race, easily kept the top spot.
With more than 45 years in politics, Uncle Joe also has lots of history to trawl which will both help and hinder his campaign.
He’s already weathered a borderline #MeToo scandal without suffering a major setback in his polling numbers.
However this is also his third run for President, and it’s shaping up to be the most diverse field ever.
Just a sample of the folks Mr Biden is running against:
- An openly gay mayor who is less than half his age;
- A high-powered lawyer who’s also the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants;
- A teacher who had a child at age 22 and then clawed her way up from the middle class;
- A young Texan who plays punk music and boasts a cult-like following;
- Another septuagenarian career politician who ran for president before.
He will face countless questions about whether he can accurately represent a country in the throes of change. And as very much the moderate, the Democrats could risk losing support from voters who stand further to the left of him.
In part, he’s seen as the Democratic equivalent of Mr Trump. Notwithstanding the above “be nice to each other” message from Mr Biden, it’s a question of whether the best approach is to fight fire with fire. After all, they’re both 70-something, charismatic, white men.
But should the candidate give Mr Trump a taste of his own taunt-filled medicine? Or rise above the President like a moral authority and focus only on policy?
It’s the same question already facing congressional Democrats who are still working out how to respond to the inconclusive Special Counsel report on the questions of Russian collusion and presidential obstruction.
To impeach or not to impeach?
Robert Mueller found that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia, but he left some room for interpretation when it came to the question of obstruction of justice, citing 10 episodes that could meet the legal standard, depending on who you ask.
The Attorney-General cleared the President who in turn turned the affair into a new campaign strategy.
The weekend after the report, he tweeted 50 times in a 24-hour period.
So naturally, some contenders did the same.
Elizabeth Warren was the first White House hopeful to call for the President’s impeachment following the release of the Mueller report last week.
She was quickly joined by fellow candidates Julian Castro and Kamala Harris.
Other far-left Democrats jumped on the train.
But the leaders at the heart of the party say not so fast.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear that public sentiment is more critical for setting the Democratic agenda.
Publicly, she’s calling for the Attorney-General and Trump’s former lawyer Don McGahn to testify before any tangible action is taken.
“Impeachment is a step that you have to take bringing the American people with you,” she said. “If the fact-finding takes us there, we have no choice. But we’re not there yet.”
Privately, she’s harping on the importance of shifting tactics.
“All that the Congress is talking about is impeaching Trump and Trump, Trump, Trump, and Mueller, Mueller, Mueller, and we’re not talking about healthcare, we’re not talking about raising the minimum wage to a living wage, we’re not talking about combating climate change, we’re not talking about sexism and racism and homophobia, and all of the issues that concern ordinary Americans — what I worry about is that works to Trump’s advantage.”
Not even Hillary Clinton — who has personal reasons to be the most upset about Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” attack on democracy — believes impeachment is the best way forward.
“The debate about how to […] hold President Trump accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law has been reduced to a false choice: immediate impeachment or nothing,” she wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
“History suggests there’s a better way to think about the choices ahead.”
Mr Biden hasn’t said anything about impeaching Mr Trump since the release of the Mueller report.
As of today, he’s just focused on getting him out of office the traditional way — at the ballot box in November 2020.
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