Will Biden or COVID-19 Win?

Will Biden or COVID-19 Win?


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Vice President Joe Biden addressing the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C., March 20, 2016. (YouTube screen capture)
Vice President Joe Biden addressing the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C., March 20, 2016. (YouTube screen capture)

Based on Joe Biden’s performance in his direct debate with Bernie Sanders on Sunday evening the Democratic campaign should be over tonight.  Former Vice President Biden succeeded in the debate sufficiently well and should do well enough tonight in the latest round of Democratic primaries that the nomination should be his.

On Sunday night Biden did well, he made a few mistakes, he parlayed Bernie’s attacks, and emerged unscathed ready to move on. From his perspective he let Bernie carry forth with message but grabbed the headlines with his Veep announcement. He told the nation he was ready to go after Donald Trump. Assuming that the analysts and pollsters are right, Biden should have an insurmountable after tonight’s primaries are concluded.

There are two unknowns remaining before Biden can take his campaign on the road. First, will Bernie end his campaign. Second, can Biden avoid the coronavirus—at least until November. Over both of these events Biden has limited control. With respect to the CORVID-19 virus at this point Biden needs to extremely careful and very lucky, given the broad exposure he will have in the days and weeks ahead. The statistical probability that a presidential candidate with the level of public contact he has had and continues to have—especially as a 77-year-old—make him a prime candidate to catch the virus.

With respect to Bernie’s stepping down on Wednesday, it would be the logical and gracious move for him.  The Democratic presidential nomination will not be his. Sunday was Bernie’s swan song as he gave his ideological partners and allies all over the country his farewell address. He was on message and he stayed true to his program; but the Democratic electorate is not Bernie’s in 2020.

There are in essence two critical questions which remain for Vice President Biden as he tries to move ahead with his fall campaign. Is Bernie Sanders and more importantly are his troops ready to support Biden? Will they lay low or campaign? What price will the “squad” demand to aggressively work for Biden and bring out the 2008 young people—now 12 years older? Will their commitment to Bernie’s programs be more important than defeating Donald Trump? Will Bernie act as a selfish ideologue or as a great American progressive who for his last hurrah went out as a Democratic loyalist not as a grumpy, selfish old man?

Throughout history no Democratic leader on the fringe has ever won a national election. Minority parties and third-party candidates have done well but have not won. They have helped to shift the national debate and moved the agenda, but they have never been elected. Sanders knows this even if his believers do not know it or want to hear it. Change can and will come but it must be incremental. Political change in American history has never been achieved overnight or with radical movements taking over. Gradual change will bring many of Bernie’s ideas to fruition.  Will Sanders deliver that message to his minions?

As for the second variable, Joe Biden has little or no control. Will he avoid the coronavirus and stay healthy through the campaign? Will his 73-year-old opponent also avoid the virus? This may the biggest unknown for campaign 2020.

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