Bernie Sanders is officially aboard the Joe Biden train. Barack Obama, too, with a warm “Join Joe” endorsement. Now all the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has to do is wrangle in young people, progressives, Hispanics, moderate Republicans, suburbanites, middle-class women, Southerners, farmers, union members who wonder why he almost never appears on their picket lines and religious conservatives suspicious of Donald Trump’s morals. He could use some environmentalists, free traders, low-income housing advocates and debtors concerned about his authorship of a harsh 2005 bankruptcy law, too.
Plus, Mr. Biden is dangerously behind in the money race and has no idea whether the Democrats can run the sort of national political convention that often launches a campaign on a victory trajectory. Bill Clinton had one in New York in 1992, allowing him to defeat a sitting president, George H.W. Bush, who left his Houston convention five weeks later wobbly and wounded.
Bottom line: Mr. Biden may have the nomination wrapped up, but plenty of work, plenty of moving parts, plenty of hard decisions, plenty of uncertainties and plenty of questions remain.
His plan to reassure Sanders supporters depends in large measure on the task forces the two campaigns are assembling to examine whether, and how much, the two sides can mesh their policy proposals. For all the talk of consensus, and for all the negotiations that have been going on behind the scenes for weeks, major differences remain on health care, the environment, taxes and campaign-finance overhaul.
The Biden team must decide how these groups work, who is on them, who runs them, who writes the reports and how the campaign decides whether a mainstream Democrat with few insurrectionist corpuscles running through his aging body adopts any of the products of these groups.
Meanwhile, Mr. Biden is struggling to determine how to address the coronavirus threat without seeming to undermine current efforts and without looking as if he seeks to profit from death and distress. No presidential candidate since Governor Thomas Dewey of New York, the Republican who opposed Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, has faced such a challenge.
“This requires a lot of sensitivity," said historian Michael Beschloss, whose Presidents of War was published in 2018. “Dewey felt that as a patriot he should do nothing to impair the war effort – and he knew if he did so it would backfire.”
And there remains a vital strategic question that members of Team Biden only now are examining: Do they transform the general election into a referendum on Mr. Trump or a referendum on the President’s handling of the novel coronavirus? That may seem like a nuance, but in troubled times nuances possess enormous power.
Democratic strategists know they have a weak presumptive nominee with several liabilities: a halting speaking style, a wandering mind, a decades-long voting record full of land mines, a sexual-assault accusation and a physical appearance that does not display the sort of Kennedy-style vigour that the party’s 1960 candidate exuded despite suffering from colitis, ulcers and Addison’s disease, an adrenal condition.
But they also know Mr. Biden possesses powerful assets: deep experience, a reassuring persona and an extremely vulnerable opponent.
“There’s little chance that voters will say Trump has brought ‘morning in America,’" said Peter D. Hart, the veteran Democratic pollster. “Voters by last Labour Day knew what they thought about Trump. Those views are baked in. So to win, Biden has to be sure the focus remains on Trump. If that happens, Trump becomes the 21st-century Herbert Hoover and voters will make a change."
One of the principal debates of the early Democratic campaign was whether the party should advocate major structural changes or hew to the centre, providing a calming contrast to the President while appealing to moderate voters who veered into the Trump lane in 2016, but are repelled by him now.
In reaching out to Sanders voters and gradually drifting left – Mr. Biden now supports offering Medicare to Americans at the age of 60 rather than 65 – that debate is over. Indeed, Mr. Obama made that clear in his endorsement statement when, tellingly, he employed Mr. Sanders’s “real structural change” phrase.
In a dramatic mid-course adjustment, Mr. Biden now clearly sides with the view frequently expressed by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who endorsed the former vice-president this week. "I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running to [be] president of the United States,” she said in the first debate last year, “to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.’’
Mr. Biden now must thread the needle between appealing to the young people who sent an open letter to him about his “inability to earn the trust of the vast majority of voters under 45” and appealing to moderate older voters in the swing states of, among others, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
And amid all this, he must choose a running mate. One phase of the campaign is over. But it now goes on in an entirely different dimension, with entirely different dynamics and entirely different stakes.
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