Who do you think will win the 2020 presidential election? It is a question I have been asked countless times. And my answer has remained the same for months: anything is possible, but Biden is a strong favorite, assuming the election is free and fair (sadly a big assumption).
The case for Biden as a strong favorite is pretty straight forward. Hillary Clinton’s campaign made a number of costly mistakes, she had certain flaws as a candidate (as admittedly all candidates do), and she also had a series of tough breaks outside of her control. Despite all of this, she only lost by about 70,000 or 80,000 votes across 3 states. So Biden’s starting point was pretty good.
Now if we examine the laundry list of things that were likely important enough to have swung such a close election, Biden looks to be in significantly better shape at the moment. Despite Trump’s efforts to link him to corruption and go after his son Hunter Biden, there has thus far been nothing like the Comey letter (which tightened the race at the very end) or the email scandal, in general—or even the assistance Trump got from Wikileaks. In terms of Russian assistance, proponents of American democracy can only hope that it will be less important in 2020 than it was in 2016, but that remains to be seen. Trump is trying to use the same playbook he did in 2016, but the plays are not working as well this time around. Many outside his base are more skeptical now.
Beyond all this, Biden isn’t burdened by past ties to Wall Street, people questioning his authenticity, all the baggage from the Clinton years and President Clinton’s personal life, or an inability to project a populist image, which was really not something Hillary could pull off, but comes naturally to a warm, empathic everyman like Biden. When Trump tried to attack Biden over his son’s struggles with substance abuse, Biden responded by affirming his love and pride for his boy. Trump’s callousness and Biden’s empathy were on full display, and that could be a key moment from this campaign, as there are unfortunately far too many people who are struggling with addiction or in recovery—and many of their loved ones likely want a President who understands them and their love for their children, rather than one who treats them like failures.
Overall, Joe Biden just connects with regular folks better than Hillary did. And I do not think she would deny her general weakness as a campaigner compared to her understanding of policy, for instance. Hillary also had to deal with sexism. It is hard to disentangle some of the discomfort with Hillary’s personality or her “likability” issues with the different standards that exist for some voters when it comes to men and women. And it is clear that some voters are just more comfortable voting for men.
Biden has also learned from some of Hillary’s big mistakes. Hillary’s approach to faith outreach was quite flawed. Biden conversely seems to be running an effective faith outreach campaign that is smart, targeted, and inclusive. Plus, Hillary struggled to talk about her faith, which is actually a big part of who she is, while Biden is extremely comfortable doing so and has seamlessly integrated it into his campaign.
Now what about abortion? It seems clear to me that her extreme position and the party’s extreme position on abortion (and taxpayer-funded abortion) cost her the election. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people bring up her response to the abortion question in the final debate or the head of NARAL talking about how much she benefited from having an abortion at the Democratic National Convention while Democrats in the arena clapped. Trump won because of a wave in the Rust Belt, and this is precisely where her rhetoric and position on abortion, rather than one that recognized abortion as tragic (which is how she had described it in the past) or a safe, legal, and rare position, cost her the most and handed the presidency to Donald Trump.
Now the party’s position on abortion has remained extreme and disconnected from the views of the public, which favors a number of restrictions. Special interest groups have only grown stronger in the last four years. And Joe Biden even flipped on the Hyde amendment at the beginning of his primary campaign, the most cynical move of his campaign. But until Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, he was almost entirely silent on the issue—and even now, he is not putting it front and center like some pro-choice activists would certainly favor. Considering his strategy and all that is going on in the world, it is therefore no surprise that abortion does not seem to be as high on many voters’ priority lists as it has been in the past.
Given the novel coronavirus and the President’s disastrous incompetence in response to the pandemic; the struggling economy; his failure to deliver for working class people in the Rust Belt on jobs and more, in favor of an economic agenda designed to serve the rich; the threat he poses to American democracy with his love of dictators and refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power; his impeachment for misusing his office; the growing commitment of white Americans to racial justice; and so much more going on in this country, it is not surprising that abortion is not the priority it normally is. In addition, some single-issue voters probably know that if the next Supreme Court with Amy Coney Barrett and the rest of the conservative majority will not overturn Roe, it’s perhaps never going to get overturned.
Biden’s decision to flip on Hyde and his refusal to move toward the center on abortion may therefore be a mistake and one that hurts him, but the margin for error is much bigger now than it was in 2016. Barring a big surprise at the last minute or an election that is not free and fair, Joe Biden is in very good position to become the next President of the United States.