President Trump has privately “fixated” on Joe Biden as a strong potential candidate, but Trump’s aides have assured him that Biden is “doomed” in a leftward-lurching Democratic primary, Politico’s Gabby Orr reports. “Some of Trump’s advisers have even compared Biden to Jeb Bush,” Orr adds, “an establishment favorite who entered the 2016 GOP primary with widespread name recognition, a professional operation and a massive war chest, only to admit defeat before his home state primary.”
There are several reasons why Biden could lose the primary, but there are two reasons why Biden 2020 starts out as a much more formidable enterprise than Bush 2016:
- Biden’s poll numbers in the Democratic primary are now better than Bush’s ever were in the 2016 GOP primary.
- “Barack Obama’s vice president” is a much stronger political brand than “George W. Bush’s brother.”
First, let’s compare the primary polling: Bush never got above 17 percent in the national polling average. In Iowa, he never held a lead and never got above 14 percent. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, Bush never polled above the mid-teens and only briefly held small single-digit leads in both states.
Biden, by contrast, is in first place at about 30 percent in the national polling average — nearly double Bush’s largest share of the GOP electorate. In a very crowded field, that’s a pretty good place to start out. Early polls find a two-man race between Biden and Sanders in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Biden is up a bit in Iowa, down a bit in New Hampshire, and had a double-digit lead over Sanders — 37 percent to 21 percent — in the most recent South Carolina poll. In 2016, pundits and analysts may have given too much weight to early general election polling pointing toward a Clinton victory, but they didn’t give enough weight to primary polling showing Trump jumping out to early double-digit leads.
The reason why Biden has a more realistic path to his party’s nomination than Bush did is simple. Biden’s primary political identity — the one thing everybody knows about him—is that he was Barack Obama’s vice president. Fair or not, the one thing everybody knew about Jeb Bush was that he was George W. Bush’s brother, not his record as Florida governor nearly a decade earlier.
George W. Bush left office with a 29 percent approval rating; about one out of three of self-described Republicans did not approve of Bush during his final year in office. Obama left office with a 57 percent approval rating, and only about one out of ten self-described Democrats did not approve of Obama during his final year in office.
Jeb Bush was trying to capture the nomination of a party that knew it was going to face Hillary Clinton, the ultimate political insider. “Not another Bush” was a very strong rallying cry in a party that couldn’t stand the thought of another Clinton in the White House. “Not another Obama” is not going to be a successful slogan in the 2020 Democratic primary. The task of Biden’s Democratic opponents, a task that is certainly achievable, will be to convince primary voters that Biden’s association with Obama is unmerited.
Anyway, in the latest print issue of National Review, I take a longer look at Biden’s prospects in the Democratic primary. And here’s the standard disclaimer about how early it is in the process and that Biden could lose for all sorts of reasons: At this point in the 2016 GOP race, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush were tied for first place in Iowa at 16.6 percent, while Ted Cruz was polling in single digits and Donald Trump was three months away from descending the escalator at Trump Tower.
(I reserve the right to reconsider whether Joe Biden really is Jeb Bush 2.0 if Oprah throws her hat in the ring this summer.)