Joe Biden as the Next George H.W. Bush?

Dan Drezner makes an interesting comparison.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) holds his daughter Ashley while taking a mock oath of office from Vice President George Bush during a ceremony on Capitol Hill, Jan. 3, 1985. Biden’s sons Beau and Hunter hold the bible during the ceremony. (AP Photo/Lana Harris)

Noting that Joe Biden’s very good week of endorsements by Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama were overshadowed by President Trump’s daily coronavirus media circuses, Dan Drezner observes,

For his critics on the right and the left, this fits into their preconceived notion of Joe Biden as a man destined to be a loser. After all, he ran for president twice before and did not distinguish himself during either run. Even with a paucity of data points in modern presidential politics, it is easy to lump Biden into the same category of seasoned politicians who earn their party’s nomination without much enthusiasm and then crash and burn during the general election against a sitting incumbent. Walter Mondale, Bob Dole, John Kerry, John McCain, Mitt Romney — you know this list.

This is certainly a possibility, but perhaps it is worth considering an alternative: that Joe Biden might be more adept at both politics and policy than outside observers recognize. One of the reasons Sanders endorsed Biden relatively quickly was that he genuinely likes him.

Furthermore, Biden has acted pretty quickly to reach out to Sanders’s foreign policy team with his own. Which is good, because the Age of Coronavirus is likely going to be longer than any of us wants to acknowledge, with more significant consequences to our daily lives. Biden will need all the help he can get if he is the next president.

Maybe the best parallel to Biden isn’t Kerry or Romney, but George H.W. Bush. They share a fair number of qualities. Neither man is terribly eloquent — both have been prone to getting tongue-tied. Both had long careers in public service. Both men assiduously reached out to others and talked about working across the aisle. Both served as vice president. Indeed, if Biden wins, he would be the first vice president to win the presidency since Bush 41.

Notwithstanding that McCain wasn’t facing an incumbent in 2008, it’s an interesting parallel.

Bush was much younger, 64 to Biden’s 78, when he got his shot.

And the comparison would be more apt if Biden had run and won the nomination in 2016, running for Obama’s third term as Bush did with Reagan.

Still, both men are seasoned Washington hands well-regarded by people on both sides of the aisle. Then again, so were Mondale, Dole, Kerry, McCain, and Romney. Before getting torn down by the campaigns, all had reputations for working across the aisle to get things done.

There are two other similarities that might come into play. Biden, like Bush, possesses a thorough understanding of the inner workings of government. Being a senator for decades and a vice president for eight years will do that. This matters, because the challenges confronting the next president are enormous. As Tom Wright and Kurt Campbell note in the Atlantic, “The country will probably be in the end stages of a brutal pandemic and faced with the worst economy since the Great Depression.” He will likely inherit a complete mess.

This leads into the other possible parallel. Both men are moderates in a time of disruption. Bush had to navigate the end of the Cold War; Biden will have to navigate the United States from a pandemic to a post-pandemic world.

Bush handled his challenges pretty well. One hopes that this analogy extends to Biden in January 2021.

This is, of course, a very different question.

As regular readers know, I voted for Biden in the Virginia presidential primary on March 3 (which seems like six months, not six weeks, ago). I plan to vote for him on November 3.

I think he’s got what it takes to be a perfectly capable President, although I would prefer that he took the oath at 64, as Bush did, rather than at 79.

I voted for Dole, McCain, and Romney. I think all of them would have been perfectly fine Presidents. I voted against Mondale and Kerry but, notwithstanding policy preferences, think both would have been up to the job.

But being capable of doing the job and getting it are not the same. No one illustrates that better than the incumbent.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    I also think Biden will make a solid and restorative President. That’s all I ask for. Obama was the only President I ever saw as being the “perfect” President, and if I had gone my whole life without having even one like that it wouldn’t bum me out. Life isn’t like “Stripes” where a group of enthusiastic people can suddenly turn everything around. Success, if we get it at all, is tramped out step by step, stopping every twenty yards or so to clear the trail and build culverts to keep it from getting washed away in the flood.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As Tom Wright and Kurt Campbell note in the Atlantic, “The country will probably be in the end stages of a brutal pandemic and faced with the worst economy since the Great Depression.” He will likely inherit a complete mess.

    And with a toolbox missing half the damned tools because trump and company were going through it for 3 years saying, “We don’t need this! and we don’t need that! and what is this pandemic thingamabob good for when we don’t even have one?”

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    I’m just grateful he still wants the job. And hoping he’s able to avoid contracting the virus.

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  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    With the Sanders endorsement and now Obama…Biden has a months long head start on this race.
    Maybe the pandemic nullifies that.
    But it is certainly going to help bring together a party with a lot of coalitions that need to be brought together.

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  5. EddieInCA says:

    I think the GOP is terrified, based on what happened in Wisconsin and seeing the daily train wreck that are those press briefings.

    If I was a Biden’s advisor, I’d suggest he just be public enough to stay on the radar, and nothing more. Trump is self-immolating, so let him. Biden can just be a voice of reason, and stability. He should promise competency and rebuilding, literally, the government and infrastructure.

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    A poll out yesterday has Biden up 9 in Arizona and 10 in Virginia. Republicans should be scared.

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  7. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    A poll out yesterday has Biden up 9 in Arizona and 10 in Virginia. Republicans should be scared.

    No.

    I believe that the right thing to say is: Americans should be relieved.

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  8. mattbernius says:

    @EddieInCA:

    If I was a Biden’s advisor, I’d suggest he just be public enough to stay on the radar, and nothing more.

    One of my previous organization’s political advisors was just in the midst of joining the Biden team when I left in early March.

    According to said individual*, Biden’s entire strategy for the foreseeable future was to keep Joe healthy, limit public appearances and use them carefully, and concentrate on just being decent. Team Biden felt that there was no need to try and go to hard on the offensive (especially since Biden currently isn’t in office) and trusted that Trump would engage in a number of unforced errors.

    * – Note: I wasn’t in the conversation where this was shared, but I talked with one of the people who was in it soon after it happened.

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  9. An Interested Party says:

    A poll out yesterday has Biden up 9 in Arizona and 10 in Virginia. Republicans should be scared.

    Eventually the suckers realize that the con man is running a scam on them and they finally come to their senses…granted, in places like West Virginia and Alabama, most of the people want to be conned, but thankfully people in other states don’t feel the same way…competency and decency in the White House shouldn’t be a luxury but, rather, a prerequisite…

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  10. Teve says:

    We’re 6 months and change out from the election. I don’t think you want to overexpose the candidate right now. Nor do you want pandemic focus to be off Trump.

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  11. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    A poll out yesterday has Biden up 9 in Arizona and 10 in Virginia. Republicans should be scared.

    I would think it’s scarier for them that newcomer Kelly is up by nine points over incumbent Sen. McSally in the same poll, 51-42. Their hold on the state legislature isn’t that many seats, so that may be in play as well. I’ve said for several years that a flip was coming at some point, as AZ voters began passing ballot initiatives that were opposed by the Republican Party: redistricting commission, medical marijuana, increased minimum wage, paid sick leave.

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  12. Andy says:

    The problem with this theory is our current political environment is fundamentally different than it was 30 years ago. Politics today is dominated by negative partisanship, ideological bubbles, and tribalism, particularly zero tolerance for out-groups. The natural tendency to compromise moral principles when partisan interests are at stake seems to be at an all-time high.

    Can a GHWB-style candidate win in our current environment, especially through a strategy that seems to rely on Trump making mistakes and handing Biden the election? I don’t know, but it doesn’t inspire much confidence.

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  13. senyordave says:

    @Andy: Negative partisanship? The Republicans acted like Barack Obama, a smart, decent man who was mildly left of center, was some sort of combination of Marx, Hitler and Satan. They declared from day one they would not work with him. When in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Depression they refused to even consider a reasonable stimulus package, saying they would only approve one consisting mostly of tax cuts, which are basically useless for quickly stimulating the economy. In the last 40 years the Democrats have moved a little leftward, but the Republicans have gone off a cliff. They are so far right that Reagan would be considered a RINO. They are the problem, they don’t even pretend to care about the future of this country.

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  14. An Interested Party says:

    Can a GHWB-style candidate win in our current environment, especially through a strategy that seems to rely on Trump making mistakes and handing Biden the election?

    Any strategy that depends on Trump making mistakes is a good and sound one, as he is incapable of not making mistakes…

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  15. senyordave says:

    If Trump had acted swiftly and competently, maybe pulling together a team of people who were up to the task, I firmly believe he would be coasting to victory in November. But then he wouldn’t be Trump if he had done that.

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    I believe that the right thing to say is: Americans should be relieved.

    I ain’t counting no chickens ‘til they hatch. I’m hoping to be relieved Nov 4. Or if things go well the evening of the 3rd. Misquoting J. P. Jones, Republicans have not yet begun to cheat.

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  17. EddieInCA says:

    Good for AOC

    On Wednesday’s edition of ABC’s The View, host Whoopi Goldberg asked AOC if she’d “be able to do the same thing” as Bernie Sanders and endorse Biden, and whether “it’s time to have a conversation with Joe?”

    “Absolutely,” she replied, adding that “the stakes are too high when it comes to another four years of Trump.”

    Her remarks went beyond having a “conversation” about endorsing Biden, though, as AOC went on to say “I think it’s really important that we rally behind our Democratic nominee in November,” and argued explicitly against voting third party.

    While she expressed some room for Biden to shift in “a more unifying direction” on policy, Ocasio-Cortez was unequivocal about the choice for voters.

    Trump might do what no Democrat has been able to do… forever: Unite the Democratic Party.

    First Bernie, now AOC and Warren. All are saying “Don’t vote 3rd Party. Just don’t.”

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  18. Andy says:

    @senyordave:

    I’m using “negative partisanship” in this sense.

    1
  19. Andy says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Any strategy that depends on Trump making mistakes is a good and sound one, as he is incapable of not making mistakes…

    The mistakes have to be sufficient to move the political needle with the relevant voting demographics. Considering that a lot of low-information voters decide very late in the game, it’s a huge gamble to assume that Trump will score a will-timed own-goal.

    I would rather see Biden be more active and provide a clear contrast to his opponent in terms of policy, management, and tone. Hillary’s arrogant assumption that she didn’t have to work for mid-western voters is a mistake that Biden should not repeat. It’s just ceding the initiative and the newscycle to Trump.

    3
  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    The negative partisanship is unequally distributed.

    Let me explain something. All we on the Left have asked for is for people on the Right to stop their incessant, multi-decade hate campaign against blacks, Latinos, feminists, gays and transexuals. Did we all roll out of our beds one morning and start spewing hate? No, that was the Right. We’re fine compromising, cutting deals and trying to make things work in this democracy. The Right meanwhile is deliberately attacking democracy with bullshit voter suppression and attcks on the free press.

    We didn’t start this fight. We are not the ones subverting our system. We are not the ones lying again and again and again, always in service to power lust fed by hate. Our beef with Trump is not ‘negative partisanship,’ as if we’re suffering some delusion. We aren’t the ones denying reality. It’s not our leader sitting on a toilet hate-tweeting every day. We aren’t the ones destroying this country.

    This is 1860, with half the country free, and the half of the country fighting for slavery.

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  21. mattbernius says:

    @Andy:

    I would rather see Biden be more active and provide a clear contrast to his opponent in terms of policy, management, and tone.

    I expect that this will become more of the case the further we get away from the immediate crisis and the curve has been successfully flattened.

    So far I think Team Biden has played this pretty well. He’s not in office (making this different that in 2008 when but Obama and McCain were in the Senate at the time of the crisis). Appearing that he’s rooting for Trump to fail (or being overly critical of Trump) in the midst of handling a pandemic and a spike in American deaths wouldn’t play well outside of the true believer class.

    The best option right now, for some of the reasons you list, is to keep the powder dry and keep letting PoTUS record verbatim material to play back in political ads.

    Honestly, staying away from policy for a while, beyond high level stuff around managing the pandemic makes sense. Biden is going to have to make some decisions about how policy will shift due to coalition building. He’s been granted a LOT of time to do that by the race coming to a close now. So I have to think they are doing a lot of crafting and hard work to pull an unified strategy together.

    7
  22. MarkedMan says:

    The perfect issue for Biden’s team to raise is one that motivates his base while demotivating Trump’s. I can think of three such issues:

    Trump’s secret dealings with Mohammed Bin Salman (sp?) and other Saudi Arabians. Giving them special treatment in return for favorable business deals. And Jared Kushner constantly whispering in Trump’s ear to give them breaks. This motivates Biden’s base in the usual way. It demotivates Trump’s base by associating him with scheming Arabs and giving them benefits he doesn’t give to American businesses. And Jared Kushner being Jewish also might give a few of them pause.

    Trump having Elaine Chao on his cabinet, and all the back room dealing done to China’s advantage. Her family, a billionaire Chinese family kowtows to Xi while playing Trump for a chump, and all deals done beyond closed doors with no one taking notes. This is a twofer, because Chao is married to Mitch McConnell

    Ivanka and the other Trump kids tromping around China drumming up investments in their sketchy real estate schemes presenting Powerpoints on how it comes with an automatic green card. Again, general corruption motivating Biden’s base, while their hatred and fear of foreigners and wanting to keep them out of the country demotivating Trump’s.

    I am absolutely not saying Biden should deliberately stoke the Trumpers’ ugly prejudices. These are legitimate issues of corruption and he should bring them out. I’m just saying he should give them extra play so that even Trump’s supporters begin to question if he is really “their guy” or not.

    8
  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Trump might do what no Democrat has been able to do… forever: Unite the Democratic Party.
    First Bernie, now AOC and Warren. All are saying “Don’t vote 3rd Party. Just don’t.”.

    Just for the record, that has been Warren’s position ever since she joined the DEM party. She is a Democrat, has been for quite some time, supports the DEM party wholly, has always said whoever the DEM nominee is, she will do whatever it takes to get them elected. As far as I have seen, the same is mostly true with AOC as well.

    People seem to think the fact that they like more than a few of Bernie’s policy positions means they don’t support the DEM party. Damned if I know why. I happen to like a few of Bernie’s policy proposals too, but I’m still a DEM.

    8
  24. EddieInCA says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I agree with all your points. But the point I was making is that I don’t remember, in my lifetime, people like Bernie and AOC saying “Don’t even think about voting 3rd party”. Bernie went further, saying “It’s irresponsible to not vote for Biden”. I think it’s awesome, and will get most of the Bernie Bros on board. Some will stick with Trump.

    Hell, even Cenk Uygur is telling is fans to vote for Biden and not even think of the libertarians or Greens.

    7
  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @EddieInCA: Bernie yes, but I don’t recall ever hearing AOC saying it’s OK to vote Jill Stein. She is to the left of most DEMs, as am I, but even while she tries to push the DEM party further to the left I don’t recall her ever saying, “Not voting DEM is a way to move DEMs to the left.” As far as I know, even as she has fought party constraints, she has acknowledged that without a party nothing can be done.

    Her big blind spot has been Bernie. She loves him. Most DEMs don’t.

    1
  26. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Michael, you’ve come a long way from your “Mighty Middle” days.

    My point was not about your personal score-keeping or even mine, and I’m not really interested in yet another round of “debate” on that.

    My point is rather narrow – that this negative partisanship zeitgeist in our politics (and the other factors mentioned) is real and isn’t limited to those on your side. And this zeitgeist is, in my view, a big reason why the comparison of Biden to GHWB is much less relevant today than it otherwise might be.

    @mattbernius:

    I expect that this will become more of the case the further we get away from the immediate crisis and the curve has been successfully flattened.

    Well, I hope that is the case. And I do agree that Biden is playing his current hand as best as he can at the moment.

    But a lot of people seemingly operate under the belief that Trump will implode and that all Biden needs to do to win between now and November is to stay out of the way. The coming Trump implosion, ever on the horizion, is the new Friedman Unit.

    I think that is a bad strategy based on bad assumptions.

    5
  27. Rick Johnson says:

    @An Interested Party: Hillary’s deplorables are Trumps expendables

    3
  28. EddieInCA says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I’m sorry Ozark. My phrasing was clumsy. When I wrote, “people like Bernie and AOC…” I didn’t mean Bernie and AOC themselves. I meant people like Bernie and AOC in the past. People like Anderson in 1980, Nader, Chomsky, Naomi Wolf, The Nation Magazine and assorted other lefties historically.

    2
  29. Not the IT Dept. says:

    That’s kind of insulting to Biden.

    This steady message from James and Doug that pre-Trump Republicans were just a-okay guys, maybe a little intense about some things, but basically average joes with good suits, know what I mean?

    Let’s remember that it was GWHB who said anything to get elected and then acted like it was some other guy who did that. The beginning of the deep descent into crazyville where we live now.

    3
  30. An Interested Party says:
  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @EddieInCA: Got it.

  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    Michael, you’ve come a long way from your “Mighty Middle” days.

    I’m still in the middle, Andy. It’s just that unlike so very, very many old white guys I didn’t suddenly abandon my moral, ethical, political or philosophical beliefs once Trump was elected. I believe now what I believed then: in truth, in decency, in compassion.

    If 1% of what Trump has done to violate basic human decency and the rule of law were done by Obama or Hillary, you and Guarneri and our friend Schuler, and the entire cohort of old white guys would be incandescent with rage. You know, like I am now. It’s not me who changed. I still know who I am and what I believe.

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  33. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If 1% of what Trump has done to violate basic human decency and the rule of law were done by Obama or Hillary, you and Guarneri and our friend Schuler, and the entire cohort of old white guys would be incandescent with rage. You know, like I am now. It’s not me who changed. I still know who I am and what I believe.

    Speaking only for myself, your baseless, fact-free, and racist ad hominems are as meritless as ever.

    1
  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    You could not be more clueless, dude. When’s the last time you sat down and took your beliefs apart to see if they still worked? When’s the last time you examined your own prejudices?

    It is absurd – utterly absurd – to pretend that you treat Trump the way you would treat Obama or Hillary. If Obama had said, “I have absolute authority,” you, Drew and Schuler would have lost your shit. Trump does it and not a peep.

    You’ve lost your moral compass. I still have mine. See, had Obama spent three years hate-tweeting I’d have been calling for his removal. So would you. But suddenly there were different rules, rules for the large angry white man that were not applied to the black man or the white woman.

    Is that racism? Yes. Is that sexism? Yes. Is it hypocrisy? Beyond any shadow of a doubt.

    4
  35. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    What is bullshit Michael is the conceit that you know my views and values better than I do.

    I don’t presume to tell you what you actually think nor do I play pet psychologist to explain your behavior and why you act the way you do here. I especially won’t make stupid assumptions that your views are based on your age, race, ethnicity, religion, or skin color – which has become the go-to reason for you to criticize others. And the reason I don’t do that is because such tactics are inherently dishonest. This internet pseudo-psychology is the entire basis of your criticisms of me since you don’t have any evidence or knowledge other than the caricature you’ve created in your mind.

    You don’t even have the decency to ask questions or clarifications before you pass judgment. You could, for example, ask – “Hey Andy, why haven’t you criticized Trump for his ‘I have absolute authority’ comment here at OTB?” But you didn’t ask and you don’t even make a pretense of asking. You are so self-assured in your “analysis” of me that you don’t need to do that – you can just jump to making a stupid declaration that I must be OK with it, and then add in the even more stupid assumption and counter-factual psychobabble about what you deign I would have done had Obama said it.

    If there’s anyone here who should engage in some introspection Michael, it is you.

    Furthermore, I owe you nothing and I have no obligation or desire to engage with you on your bogus presumptions about my character which are in the vein of “have you stopped beating your wife.” I’m not going to play the dishonest game where you make some bullshit claim about my character in order to try to get me to disprove your assertions. I reject your presumptions outright.

    The only thing I will say is that the fact that you resort to name-calling, ad hominems and presumption in lieu of an actual argument says a lot more about your character than it does mine. It should go without saying, but assuming you know what and how people think based solely on what they choose to engage on in a single online forum is just dumb…but here you are.

    Frankly Michael, I’m tired of your bullshit. As a means to get me to shut up or get me to stop commenting here, it very well may be effective. You and some of the others here who utilize similar tactics have successfully chased off those with any heterodox views outside of a very narrow lane. Life is short and who wants to deal with that? It’s no wonder that so many retreat into ideological safe spaces when there are people like you to deal with.

    I think instead departing completely I will, from now on, just cease responding to anything you write here. I already have an unpublished list of people I will no longer engage with – congratulations on making that list.

    Goodbye Michael.

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  36. Barry says:

    In the end, the original article didn’t impress me. I think that somebody said ‘what if X was a repeat of Y?’