18 Apr Leslie Marshall: Biden campaign eclipsed by coronavirus – here’s what Democrats must do to elect him president
n normal times, this would be a very good week for former Vice President Joe Biden, who picked up endorsements for his presidential bid from former rivals Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with former President Barack Obama.
But just as the novel coronavirus has changed so many things in our lives, it has changed the presidential campaign from a major news story to a minor one. Campaign rallies and town halls are just a memory.
Biden pops up in the news now and then, but President Trump is on TV every day with his extended coronavirus briefings that sometimes sound like campaign rallies, as he boasts about what a wonderful job he and his administration are doing responding to the pandemic. Trump just can’t say enough good things about himself.
The only news story going viral nowadays is the story of the virus that has confined most of us to our homes and tragically taken the lives of over 33,000 people in the U.S. and over 144,000 around the world. Globally, more than 2.1 million people have been stricken by the virus, including over 670,000 in the U.S. – and those are just confirmed cases.
Relatively few people have been tested, making it impossible to know how many people have contracted the coronavirus and how many have died in the U.S. and around the world.
Will the Obama, Sanders and Warren endorsements of Biden make a difference?
Even in normal times, endorsements have limited value. That’s even more true now, when just about the only thing people are talking about – and viewing, hearing and reading about in the news – is the coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory disease the virus causes.
The coronavirus casts a giant shadow that would make it impossible for even the most charismatic challenger to an incumbent president to draw heavy news coverage. And many people view Biden as a lackluster candidate who is far from charismatic.
We know America is sharply divided between Trump supporters and opponents. That means the November presidential election will undoubtedly be very close.
In Democratic primaries and caucuses before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, we saw voters cast ballots for Biden in record or near-record numbers. Voter turnout in primaries in Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi reached its highest levels in more than a decade – a trend that began in South Carolina.
Turnout in North Dakota’s Democratic caucuses quadrupled from 2016. Washington and Idaho also saw massive increases in Democratic votes cast. And let’s not forget Virginia, where voter turnout broke a state record for a presidential primary.
So we know that Biden can get people to come out and vote for him during times when they don’t need to worry about contracting a deadly disease. But what will happen in November?
Will Biden’s endorsements from Obama, Sanders and Warren – along with earlier endorsements he received from the other Democratic presidential contenders who dropped out – make a big difference in increasing support for the former vice president?
We simply don’t know, and the giant question mark regarding the level of the coronavirus pandemic in November makes it far harder than usual to predict.
One of the most important questions is whether the coronavirus will depress voter turnout in November – especially among older voters, who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and who are also some of Biden’s strongest supporters.
Democrats want to make it easier for voters to cast ballots by mail, in an effort to get high voter turnout. But Trump and many Republicans are opposing this move, claiming they are concerned about fraud. In reality, they are concerned about a high Democratic voter turnout. Traditionally, Republicans fare better in elections with low voter turnout.
My hunch is that the endorsements Biden has received will not make a big difference for him come November. The Obama endorsement took hours to trend on Twitter, as a result of the dominance of coronavirus news. And since Sanders couldn’t get record numbers of voters to turn out for him, how will he get them to turn out for Biden?
One thing Obama, Sanders and Warren can do very well is to raise money for the Biden campaign – and Biden needs all the help he can get on that front. But making voters enthusiastic about Joe Biden as a candidate may be Mission Impossible for his endorsers.
If Biden embraces too many Sanders and Warren positions, he could lose the suppot of many moderate voters and give Trump ammunition to portray the former vice president as a wild-eyed socialist who will bring ruin to America.
Before he ended his presidential candidacy, Sanders enjoyed much stronger support from young voters than Biden did. But while young people tweeted, blogged and attended rallies for Sanders (before social distancing ended rallies), not enough of them voted for the senator from Vermont.
And if social media are any indication, many young people who supported Biden’s primary opponents are saying now they won’t vote for him – despite all the endorsements he’s racked up. That’s an ominous sign, since many Bernie or Bust voters in 2016 refused to vote for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election – in fact, 12 percent actually voted for Trump!
As a Democrat who believes Donald Trump has done a terrible job as president and needs to be replaced, the prospect of Democratic divisions giving Trump another four years in the White House frightens me.
One danger facing Biden is that he will go too far to the left in an effort to win over supporters of more progressive presidential candidates such as Sanders and Warren.
Biden came out on top in the primaries because he was able to appeal to centrist voters, including white working-class voters and African-Americans.
If Biden embraces too many Sanders and Warren positions, he could lose the support of many moderate voters and give Trump ammunition to portray the former vice president as a wild-eyed socialist who will bring ruin to America.
For Biden to win the presidential election, supporters of his primary opponents need to accept the fact that’s he’s not as progressive as they would like – but understand that he’d make a far better and far more progressive president than Trump.
Biden’s supporters need to emphasize to voters that Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic – downplaying it and failing to do enough in January and February to protect the American people – should disqualify him for a second term. And they should make clear that the coronavirus failure is just the latest in the long list of serious leadership failures by Trump.
Obama, Sanders and Warren need to do more than raise money for Biden. They must reach out to voters in every way they can to boost support for the former vice president. They must get Democrats to adopt the motto Alexander Dumas gave his heroes in “The Three Musketeers”: “All for one and one for all, united we stand, divided we fall.”
I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, but I’m not sure Democrats can unite and send Trump into a well-deserved political retirement. For the sake of our nation, I can only hope my fellow Democrats succeed, and hope they also win over many independents and disaffected Republicans to make Joe Biden the next president of the United States.