Biden in 2020: Sleepy Joe or Paul Revere?

Jules witcover

WASHINGTON — As President Trump continues his schoolyard tweeting of childish nicknames for his foes by labeling former Vice President Biden “Sleepy Joe,” his target responds more in the fashion of Paul Revere, shouting that American democracy is under dire attack.

Unwittingly no doubt, Trump has overnight confirmed Biden’s stature as the Democratic frontrunner in 2020, by singling him out from the other party hopefuls for his verbal wrath.

Biden for his part has taken advantage of his Democratic competitors’ early preference to set themselves apart from each other on a range of mostly progresssive social issues, with little measureable impact for them in the polls so far.

Many of them have bought into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s mantra that impeaching Trump should take a back seat to beating him at the polls 18 months hence. Ambitious progressive policies dear to increasingly influential female and millennial voters are said to be revolutionizing the old party of FDR.

But Biden clings to his longtime identity as liberal Middle-Class Joe from lunch bucket Scranton, Pa., while proclaiming himself the most “progressive “ of the 2020 pack.

So far making himself the most outspoken critic of Trump seems to have sustained him through a first round of golden oldies of alleged Biden failures of the past. Cited most frequently is his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee that waved Clarence Thomas through to a seat on the Supreme Court, despite charges of sexual harassment raised by law professor Anita Hill.

More recent raps against Biden for being too touchy-feely with women have grabbed headlines but without inflicting notable political damage to his stature as one of his party’s most popular figures. As they say forgivingly in Delaware, “That’s Joe.”

Trump private lawyer Rudy Giuliani announced he was making a trip to Ukraine in search of dirt on Biden’s son Hunter, but the ploy was so transparent that Giuliani canceled it. Again Biden probably benefited politically from being thus targeted as the Democrat most feared by Trump, though the president insisted otherwise.

In all this, the 22 other Democratic 2020 hopefuls have left a huge political opening for Biden to grab and cement his identification as the one Democrat seeking to depose Trump showing no ambivalence in demonstrating what he considers is the prime issue for the country.

Many Democrats publicly or privately argue that Biden carries too much past baggage to lead the party into the future, either from his old record in the Senate or as Obama’s chief helpmate for eight years.

But so far this year he has shown himself to be a passionate defender of democratic values in the face of Trump’s reckless and erratic behavior, while also being a disciplined campaigner on the stump, not rising to the bait thrown in his path by the Trump political operation.

It should be noted that although this is Biden’s third trip to the biggest political dance in American politics and the first two were failures, he and his political aides have been preparing for this one for 11 years.

He seriously considered running in 2016 and elaborate plans to do so as a middle-class champion were in place, when the death of his elder son, Beau, of brain cancer convinced him he could not give it his all.

Since then, the Biden campaign team has been reassembled along with his own determination to maintain a leading presence on the national political stage in his party and in the country. So far, the dice seem to have rolled in his favor, particularly in the nature of his Republican opposition heading toward 2020.

In appearance, temperament and with Democrats unified in their zeal to oust Donald Trump from the Oval Office and the machinery of democratic government, Joe Biden may well give his party its best shot as of now as its political vehicle to end the reign of King Donald in the next presidential election, unless other lawful means intervene by then.

Edior’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.