Perhaps the alternate headline could read something like, “Jill Biden offers fragile electability defense of husband, Joe Biden,” or similar. The backstory is that speaking at a campaign event on Monday, Dr. Jill Biden offered Democratic primary voters a rather blunt and meager train of logic for why her husband is the best-positioned candidate to take on President Trump in 2020. The bottom line, for Jill Biden, is about electability and “holding your nose” to pull the lever for her husband even if you might like another candidate better.
Nothing about her husband’s accomplishments or ability to stand firm on the issues, just the basic argument that Joe Biden, unlike the rest of the field, according to Jill, has the best chance of beating Donald Trump:
“I know that not all of you are committed to my husband, and I respect that,” she said at a campaign event in Nashua, N.H. “But I want you to think about your candidate, his or her electability, and who’s going to win this race.”
“Your candidate might be better on, I don’t know, health care, than Joe is,” she continued. “But you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election. And maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, ‘OK, I personally like so and so better,’ but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.”
She added: “So I think if your goal — I know my goal — is to beat Donald Trump, we have to have someone who can beat him.”
The argument boils down to a “shut up and get in line” defense of Joe Biden’s candidacy. Yes, Jill tacitly acknowledges, my husband is not the sharpest debater in the shed, nor does he have the cleanest political track record in this “woke” age of 2019, but, gosh darn it, he can beat Donald Trump and that’s what we’re all here for, right? It’s the kind of endorsement that most politicians would rather have left unsaid, but there it is, all laid out on the campaign trail by the woman who knows Joe the best.
The New York Times reports that Jill Biden’s argument is along the lines of the narrative being pushed by the Biden campaign in their advertising as well:
His campaign is slated to start airing its first television ad on Tuesday, part of what his team said was a “high six-figure” ad buy aimed at several Iowa media markets over the next few weeks. The one-minute spot, called “Bones,” hits some of the same electability themes that Dr. Biden had raised.
“We know in our bones this election is different,” the ad says. “The stakes are higher. The threat more serious. We have to beat Donald Trump, and all the polls agree, Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job.”
This all sounds eerily similar to the argument made by Hillary Clinton in 2016 about her battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders. Hillary, as the conventional wisdom told, was the “most electable” Democrat in the field, the only one capable of beating Donald Trump. Most Democrats eventually bought it given that the 2016 Democratic primary boiled down to a binary choice between Clinton and Sanders. The option was either taking a big risk on Bernie’s democratic socialism, something that most analysts believed would be a hard-sell nationally, or stick with the familiar Clinton brand and hope for the traditional political calculus to hold up. The end result was a Hillary Clinton loss to Donald Trump.
That’s not to say that Bernie would’ve beat Trump, but it does at least help argue against Biden’s “most electable” defense as not being proven out in recent electoral history.
Up to this point, at least, the electability argument has continued to work for Biden. He’s holding around 30 percent of Democratic primary voters, an amount which could easily hand him the nomination in a large splintered field.
Biden is still holding the right type of primary voters who continue to stick with him despite continued gaffes and lackluster debate performances. The real test will be September when more Democratic voters start getting serious about which candidate they feel can truly bring it to Donald Trump next year. Biden’s electability argument has started to take on water, but the ship is still sailing. However, Jill Biden’s defense of her husband almost sounded like a partial admission that there are “better” candidates in the field, but they don’t stand as good a chance as her husband does in 2020.
That’s a tough sell, and at some point, other campaigns will begin to chip away at the “most electable” strategy and push back against the same narrative that nominated Hillary in 2016.