Littwin: Biden gets a big bounce in the polls, and who’s more worried — Trump or Dem field?

DUBUQUE, IOWA - APRIL 30: Guests wait for the arrival of Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden for a campaign event at the Grand River Center on April 30, 2019 in Dubuque, Iowa. Biden is on his first visit to the state since announcing that he was officially seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Biden was the early favorite before everything went wrong for him. After semi-miraculous Super Tuesday, he has a chance to be favored again. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Guests wait for the arrival of Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden for a campaign event at the Grand River Center on April 30, 2019 in Dubuque, Iowa. Biden was the early favorite before everything went wrong for him. After semi-miraculous Super Tuesday, he has a chance to be favored again. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

If there’s one thing we learned from the 2016 election, it’s that none of the old rules seemed to apply, which is why nearly everyone (me included) got the election so wrong.

And yet, here’s an old rule for you that I’m pretty sure still applies: Joe Biden’s breakout national polls following his announcement, in which he’s seen crushing runner-up Bernie Sanders and everyone else in the field, probably means both more and less than you might think.

My guess is that much of Biden’s early appeal — which comes in spite of the return of the Anita Hill story and of the Biden handsiness issue — is about the chance for a do-over, a mulligan, an opportunity to replay the 2016 election but without Hillary Clinton’s (however much was unearned) baggage. Was Biden the real Obama heir apparent, which Obama and most other Democrats seemed to have missed? Biden thinks so. And just watch his opening ad — it’s not an Obama endorsement, but it might as well be — in which he couldn’t make the connection more clearly.

But with 20 Democrats in the race and a recovered Michael Bennet set to make it 21, that’s a lot of people who don’t seem to think Biden will hold up. Nate Silver says history (or at least the historical data) shows that well-known candidates who are polling in the mid-30s at this stage of the race have about a 50-50 chance of winning the primary. So, Biden is clearly the front-runner, but I’m not counting too much on history at this point. The field is not just fluid, it’s a flood plain, and I doubt if many people are ready to bet Biden vs. the field.

In this field, you’ve got new, you’ve got old, you’ve got gender diversity, you’ve got racial diversity, you’ve got LGBTQ diversity, you’ve got so much on offer that we need to at least go through a couple of debates before we put too much stock in anything. Biden is not leading on the issues. He’s leading because people think he can win.  If his campaign doesn’t reflect that — and we know about his first two shots at the presidency — Biden will falter.

Amy Walter, of the Cook Political Report, has a very smart take on the Democratic race to this point, which I’d take a few steps farther. She says we are seeing those in the Restoration movement — led by Biden, and including most of the other candidates — cast against the Revolutionaries, of which you can count Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as the leaders.

If it comes down to restoration vs. revolution — and it might very well — restoration can mean many different things. Biden’s restoration doesn’t seem to have much in common with Beto’s or Mayor Pete’s or Kamala Harris’s or any of the New, or at least newly introduced, Democrats.  Biden wants us to take us back to the day before Trump was elected, but restoration can also mean restoring the Kennedy-Bill- Clinton-Obama take that running as a young forward-looking candidate is how Democrats are elected president. I remember when Biden tried that.

The most important concern for most Democrats, independents or any kind of anti-Trumpist is not so much ideology, but that Trump be removed, whether by impeachment or by a good old-fashioned election. For Biden, it’s about Pennsylvania (where he was born), Michigan and Wisconsin, and winning back the white working class vote by challenging Trump’s faux populism. If 2016 is the guide, he’d need about 80,000 of them in those three states, which all went Republican. Trump is clearly worried about Biden’s appeal there, which is why Biden is suddenly playing a key role on the Trump twitter roll.

We saw when Trump was worried about Warren and how he hurt her with the Pocahontas taunts and how, in what was considered to be a large mistake, she took the bait and released a DNA test to show that she had some, if very little, Indian blood. It looked desperate, and her numbers have taken a long while to start moving up again. Now we see that Trump is worried about Biden, whom he calls Sleepy Joe.  Whatever else you can say about Biden, he’s not sleepy, but here’s Trump when asked about what age is too old to be president, saying, “I’m the youngest person. I am a young, vibrant man. I look at Joe — I don’t know about him. I don’t know.” Yes, the youngest.

But when Biden opened his campaign by slamming Trump on his very-fine-people-on-both-sides quote from Charlottesville, he basically called out Trump for speaking well of neo-Nazis. This time Trump took the bait, and tried some Trumpian revisionism by saying the very fine people — many of whom were chanting “Jews will not replace us” — referred to those wanting to save the statue of Robert E. Lee, the very fine general who turned against his country in its great time of need. If Biden can take on Trump in this way, he’d be the first politician to master it.

That Trump is worried is a great selling point for Biden. But Biden is old — as a fellow old person, I don’t mean this pejoratively; I just mean he’s old, and if he served eight years, he’d be 86. (No, he shouldn’t promise one term. That would just give Trump the chance to conclude that Biden must be near death.) And Biden is  a gaffe machine, as even he would admit. He’s also a moderate traditional liberal who’s on the other side of a lot of the issues (Medicare for All, the New Green Deal, etc.) that are energizing Democrats, particularly young Democrats. He has decades of votes on a list of issues, from banking to criminal justice, that he’ll have to explain.

And while the polling shows Biden doing extremely well among African-Americans, particularly African-American women, it should be noted that in 2008, Hillary Clinton was leading Barack Obama in South Carolina until Obama proved that he was legitimate contender and overwhelmingly won the black vote there. You can look for Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to take some heart in that.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that I’m not surprised Biden is leading in the polls, but I am surprised by how convincingly he’s leading. Given where the Democratic Party seems to be moving, it doesn’t make sense to me. But then I remind myself that we’re more than two years into the Trump presidency. At this point, why should anything make sense?



  1. Let’s hope that Amy’s take on a still-splintered Dem party is a little chicken little and bit too binary.

    I see less of a “restoration” vs “revolution” dynamic and more of a “return-to-normalcy” vs “revision” vibe.

  2. Rather than “restoration vs. revolution,” I am viewing the race in terms similar to Poole & Rosenthal’s DW NOMINATE two dimensions. The first is a traditional, ordinary, left/right ideological consensus. The second is a dimension of how they plan to take on Trump and his Republican enablers. Four stops on that axis are Impeach, Investigate, Inform and Ignore. Those positions have nuances and corollaries, of course. But Ithink it significant that Warren is at the high end of “impeach,” while Sanders (and others) support a modest (but not distracting) investigation process which may or may not lead to impeachment. A few allow for investigations, but expect those to be used to inform voters rather than impeach. And a couple of candidates appear to want to ignore the issue, saying in effect that the issue is not up to them, but to members of Congress, and they want to focus their election efforts on other issues.

  3. My God that’s 44 yrs of DC corruption and our “broken” political system, his word’s.. 44yrs and you ain’t fixed it? ;his son’s phony navy commision and discharge for drug use . What’s next? Eric Swallowell as Attorney General? Geez we’re in a bad way. Trump will be gone and this is what we get?
    Cory Booker has a beard..I’m more indian than Pocahontas Warren.. free everything for everyone forever… I missed my calling..
    politics or “Working” for a non-profit..better than being in the mob..

  4. “At this point, (President)Trump has won a huge political victory — there’s really no argument there — and Democrats and other anti-Trumpists who thought (the Mueller Report) would somehow lead to Trump’s impeachment and then removal from office have to re-examine all their premises.“ – Mike Littwin

    “The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found no evidence that President Trump or any of his aides coordinated with the Russian government’s 2016 election interference, according to a summary of the special counsel’s key findings made public on Sunday by Attorney General William P. Barr. Still, the release of the findings was a significant political victory for Mr. Trump and lifted a cloud that has hung over his presidency since before he took the oath of office.” – New York Times

    “A summary of the special counsel’s investigation delivered to lawmakers Sunday said unequivocally that neither Trump nor his campaign conspired with Russian efforts to sway the election that put him in office.” – USA Today

    “Well, it’s done. It’s here. The report is in, we said no collusion was etched in its pages, and the preliminary summary given to us by Attorney General William Barr backed it up. There was no collusion between the Kremlin, Trump, or his campaign staff during the 2016 election, despite nearly two years of the liberal media lusting for this to be true. There was no collusion” –

    “The Justice Department said Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation did not find evidence that President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller also investigated whether Trump obstructed justice but did not come to a definitive answer.” – PBS

    “Mueller report. The investigation did not find any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.’ – National Public Radio

    “Upon being read portions of the Barr letter, MSNBC host and one-time Trump campaign correspondent Katy Tur was forced to painstaking admit that Mueller’s findings have “vindicate[d] the President on collusion.” –


    First of all, a very, very good column.

    ESPN has its 30 for 30 and now Democrats have their 20 for 20.

    That’s right, there are 20 (two, zero) Democrats vying for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. As ESPN can tell you that’s 1 football team (plus 1 baseball team) or 2 baseball teams (plus 2 relief pitchers) or 3 hockey teams (plus 2 relief goalies) or 4 basketball teams. Democrats could have their own Final Four.

    20 potential presidential candidates is far too many to fit into one Clown Car so Democrats have formed the first ever Clown Caravan.

    If you examine closely the entire list of potential Democrat presidential nominees—-and it could take a while—you’ll find it’s the very essence of diversity: male and female, young and old, experienced and inexperienced, a variety of hues and even LGBTQ diversity. But if you look at the list in order of popularity you’ll find it looks much, much different: At the top it’s all male, all white and very old. While it could change it won’t if Democrats expect to win.

    The over/under on the age of the 2020 Democrat presidential nominee is 76. I’m going over.

    And before anyone gets too excited about Biden’s poll numbers there’s this September, 2015 post from CNN:

    “Clinton beats Trump, 49% to 39%, head-to-head. She would be neck-and-neck with other GOP contenders — including former tech CEO Carly Fiorina (45% to Clinton’s 44%), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (46% to Clinton’s 45%), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (44% to Clinton’s 45%).”

    We know how that worked out: President Trump 306
    Hillary Clinton 232

    The more you know.


    “Politicians say more taxes will solve everything
    And the band played on” – Temptations

    “Let me tell you how it will be
    There’s one for you, nineteen for me
    ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
    And you’re working for no one but me” – Beatles

    “Tax the rich, feed the poor
    ‘Til there are no rich no more?” – Ten Years After

    “Eat the rich
    There’s only one thing that they are good for
    Eat the rich” – Aerosmith

    Laquan McDonald/Rahm Emanuel
    Jussie Smollett
    Virginia Governor Ralph Northam
    Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax
    Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring

  5. Barr’s dumpster fire of a Senate hearing has poor Comrade Don (and half of Fox News commentators) quite literally in the corner mumbling to himself at this point.

  6. I think it’s going to be hard for you to listen to the new Vampire Weekend album with your head in the sand.

  7. Apparently it’s going to be you showing your belly again.

    Now you know how Sarah Hickaboo Sanders feels…and why she refuses to do her job now.

    No one is buying the con job…

  8. Look—–and I hope you don’t take this personally—–but the best way to listen to the new Vampire Weekend album IS with your head in the sand.

  9. As i told you in january 2015, the front runner in the polls does not generally win the D nomination. excluding races where presidents run for re election or thier sitting vp tries to fill the seat.(those are ez to predict.) In any other circumstances the odds of the front runner winning the nomination for the D’s is about 1 in 5. data goes back to 59 for the 1960 race. Before that losing candidates and bald candidates could get the nomination, the tv age changed all that.. So the low payoff bet is too bet the filed against the front runner leaders 1 2 or 3 years out are based on name recognition, ed Muskie, adlai, gary hart Joe Lieberman to name a few.

  10. “The jobless rate receded to its lowest level in five decades. Employers also added 263,000 jobs; the job creation estimates of previous months were revised up; and average hourly earnings continued to rise at a steady rate — up 3.2 percent over the last year” – New York Times.

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