Joe Biden as the Next George H.W. Bush?
Dan Drezner makes an interesting comparison.
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.