Magann: Time to Back Biden

Joe Biden is the only candidate who can beat Trump; he deserves your support.

by Matthew Magann | 3/5/20 2:20am

Former vice president Joe Biden isn’t a favorite among Dartmouth students. Mention his name, and you often elicit groans. He’s old, the line goes. He’s forgetful and stumbling. He’s Uncle Joe. In a recent poll by The Dartmouth, Biden attracted just 5.7 percent support among Dartmouth students planning to vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary — that’s less than Andrew Yang received. In many of the informal exit polls that spread through campus group chats on Election Day, Biden wasn’t even listed as an option.

I’ll admit it: When it comes to pure political acumen, candidates like Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg outdid Biden. Their clear-cut, energetic rhetoric stood in contrast to Biden’s old-fashioned, folksy and at-times rambling delivery. Frankly, Biden is old, and many students at Dartmouth were looking for someone younger who would represent a new generation of leadership in the Democratic Party. I don’t disagree with that sentiment, but that downside isn’t the only aspect of Biden. He may be 77, but few can doubt Biden’s commitment to public service, even in the face of immense personal tragedy. He spent 36 years representing Delaware in the Senate, and he served as vice president and close confidante to Barack Obama for all eight years of one of the most successful administrations in recent memory.

What’s most important, though, is that Biden is the only remaining candidate who can defeat Trump. The day after the New Hampshire primary, I wrote a column arguing that Democrats should unite behind whichever one of the center-left candidates stood the best chance come Super Tuesday. To my surprise, that’s just what the candidates did. Seeing that Biden was in the strongest position to win, both Buttigieg and Klobuchar dropped out to endorse the former vice president. Mike Bloomberg held out longer, but even he got behind Biden by early yesterday morning. 

The race is now effectively down to Biden and Bernie Sanders. Sanders is a popular candidate here, tying with Buttigieg for student support prior to the New Hampshire primary. But even if you’ve felt the Bern since 2016, it’s time to face the facts. Sanders stands a much worse shot against Trump than any one of the mainstream liberals ever did. Sanders is further left than George McGovern — who, by the way, lost every single state but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia in the 1972 presidential election — and the stakes in 2020 are a whole lot higher than they were in 1972.

There’s now a cottage industry of rationalizing how the self-described “democratic socialist” Vermont senator can win against Trump. But let’s look at the hard data. In a recent Gallup poll, 53 percent of Americans openly declared they would never vote for a socialist from their own party. Even among Democrats, 26 percent responded that they would not vote for a Democratic “socialist.” We receive a skewed perspective on that here at Dartmouth, where Sanders is popular and well over half the student body defines itself as left of center. Nationally, however, Sanders’ ideas just aren’t that popular.

Sanders often references his ability to boost turnout and surge to victory. But if Sanders can generate a massive bloc of voters to supplant both swing voters and the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, we’ve yet to see any evidence of it so far in the primaries.

In fact, Sanders is dramatically underperforming compared to the 2016 Democratic primary. The senator won New Hampshire by over 22 percentage points in 2016 — this year, even against a divided center-left, he scraped by with just a 1.3-point lead over Buttigieg. And in Sanders’ home state of Vermont, this year’s Super Tuesday brought similarly disappointing results. Though Sanders easily carried the state with a 29-point lead, that margin of victory is a huge decline from his 2016 performance, when he managed to win Vermont by a whopping 72.5 percent.

Sander’s much-touted turnout hasn’t happened. In fact, youth turnout — a key factor for Sanders — was actually lower in many Super Tuesday states than it was in the 2016 Democratic primary. Meanwhile, the surge of overall voter turnout on Super Tuesday seems to have mainly benefitted Biden. The formula looks clear: increased turnout favors Biden, not Sanders. 

If these statistics make anything clear, it’s this: Sanders is in no position to win against Trump. Some people love Sanders’ policies, while others don’t. But nationally, Sanders just doesn’t have the support needed to win. We should never allow wishful thinking to cloud our view of who’s electable. The stakes are too high. Let’s be realistic and admit that — even if we’ve felt the Bern since 2016 — Sanders simply does not have a path to victory.

That brings me to the other major candidate still in the race: Biden. The former vice president isn’t perfect, and I’ll be the first to admit it. But few can question his integrity, and there’s a reason why Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke and now even Bloomberg have dropped out and endorsed him. And there’s a reason why voters in 10 out of 14 Super Tuesday states voted for Biden.

The time has come for Democrats to put aside our differences. Whether you supported Buttigieg or Klobuchar, Bloomberg or Kamala Harris — who, if the rumors are to be believed, Biden may wisely choose as his running mate — the electoral process has had its say, and Biden has emerged as the only viable candidate against Trump.

I’m admittedly biased; I have supported Biden from the beginning, because I believe he can use his lengthy experience and bipartisan record to restore some sense of unity after four years of Trump. But I had little doubt that Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Harris, Cory Booker or many of the other candidates would have done exceptionally well in office. Their differences were minor, and I would have felt happy with any one of them as the Democratic nominee. But whoever you supported, it’s a Biden-versus-Sanders race now. And only one of those candidates — Biden — can defeat Trump.

With Biden as nominee, I know I won’t wake up every morning and anxiously check the news for whatever self-generated crisis the President has created. I won’t have to Google “Trump” every few minutes and wait for the latest debasement of our country to pop up. I’ll know that, even if Biden occasionally stumbles, the President will be a civil servant, not a narcissist, and few doubt he’ll put the nation’s best interest over his own ego. Few doubt that Biden will assemble an all-star team of advisors and work tirelessly to push for real progress in the wake of the Trump era.

I’m not afraid to say it: I support Joe Biden. He’s a man of integrity, he’s a candidate who can win and he deserves your support.

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