Voters seem to have coalesced around Biden for his past—who they have known him to be for the past four decades in American politics—rather than for anything in his present. It’s as if Biden exists primarily as an idea, rather than an actual candidate.
Today, as the country (and the world) enters what is likely to be a prolonged period of darkness, left to the mercy of a deadly virus, Biden is grappling with the reality of what he can—and must—do in this hour of crisis, as the man who would like to take over leadership of the United States. Already, this week, there are news reports that his campaign is “in a state of suspended political animation”:
Biden can’t fully pivot to the general election. He can’t truly unite the party’s warring factions. Nor can he begin stockpiling the vast amounts of money he’ll need for November. His momentum has effectively been stopped cold.
For the foreseeable future, all live campaign events are canceled, so he can’t hit the stump to try to capitalize on the excitement he had just stoked. His ability to criticize Trump on anything other than his performance on coronavirus response and preparedness is constrained by the emergency-like conditions.
The handwringing over fundraising and campaign events may be beside the point. After all, if you were on the campaign trail for the past three months, what struck you was not Biden’s organization (there was little), or his resources (there were few), or even the campaign messaging (Joe Biden has been—and forever will be—Joe Biden). What was striking was the sense of anguish and urgency articulated by everyone, everywhere, all the time. And that was before the pandemic.
There were the Bernie Sanders supporters on the campus of Florida International University who told me, however reluctantly, that they would vote for Biden because Donald Trump had to be stopped. There were the soccer moms canvassing for Amy Klobuchar in Johnson, Iowa, who made clear that their primary concern (more than Amy’s chances) was whether Trump was going to get reelected. There were the Culinary Workers Union members in Las Vegas who hadn’t been fired up by any candidate in particular, but who told me they felt as if they faced an existential threat from the Trump administration—and that was enough to drive them to the voting booth and pull the lever. There were the older black voters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who woke up at 7 a.m. to check out Michael Bloomberg, mostly because they were worried that Biden was slipping, and Trump had to be removed—and if Joe couldn’t do it, they said, then they had to find someone else who would.
Almost no one I came across said they were going to vote because someone, anyone, but especially Joe Biden, had made their heart sing. Even Sanders supporters—the ones in the flesh, not online—were clear-eyed about their desire to defeat Trump, first and foremost. Ending the Trump presidency—because of the lies, the cruelty, the indignities, the misogyny, the incompetence, the fraudulence, the corruption, the clownishness, the recklessness, the lawlessness, the selfishness, oh, the list went on—that was something that united men and women across the United States and left them in a state of anguish.