Authors Dan Balz and Philip Rucker suggest that the major challenge for Democrats in 2016 is the possibility that a moderate candidate who can raise the money necessary to defeat a Republican would have a chilling effect on the progressive vote necessary to win, and a progressive candidate would be unable to attract sufficient high-end donors to put up a good fight.
Balz and Rucker argue that the Democratic Party approaches 2016 with a significant schism in the party between establishment Democrats and a fringe of progressive extremists like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The progressive wing of the party has no elected officials with anywhere near the experience to be serious candidates for the presidency when compared to the epically long resumés of Hillary Clinton and the Vice President, but those candidates, expected to at least tease a run in 2016, might not be able to rally the Democratic Party base sufficiently to amass the required votes to win the White House.
This they corroborate with polling that Americans perceive Democrats as more liberal than they were four years ago and that a majority of Americans only began to think of the party this way in 2012. The contrast between that expectation and the reality of a candidate like Clinton could significantly suppress voter turnout.
In the event that a more inexperienced but more electrifying progressive presence surfaces on the left in 2016, Democrats will face a problem with fundraising. Former SEIU President Andrew Stern told the Post his experience with the Party taught him “that its funders come from its traditional side of the economic spectrum and its voters come from a more populist, distributive side of the economic agenda.”
Among the potential candidates in 2016, the obvious frontrunner is Hillary Clinton. Clinton, they suggest, could define the “post-Obama era” of the Democratic Party, which is chilling to many Democrats for whom the Clintons also defined the pre-Obama era. However, other potential candidates who are more progressive, like Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, are not “serious” enough to attract donors.
Enter Joe Biden, who is defined as a “more serious potential candidate” than Schweitzer, but with similar sensibilities in the piece. Given that “he oversaw the stimulus, led a middle-class task force and is focusing this year on job-training programs,” Biden has both the experience necessary to look like a legitimate heir to President Obama while also not being Hillary Clinton. Yes, Republicans will have the chance to point out that the stimulus was a failure and the White House has accomplished little other than statistics manipulation on the issue of jobs, but Biden presents a slightly more difficult target to hit than Clinton.
Biden himself has been stoking the fires under a potential 2016 run. As early as 2012, Biden was joking around with voters at public events that they would “vote for me in 2016.” The joke has sounded somewhat more serious as of late, as he gave a final date to decide whether he would run: summer 2015. He has made explicit that Clinton’s running (or choosing not to) would have no impact on whether he decides to, as well. And he seems to see his laundry list of gaffes as an asset, not a liability.
Democrats are headed for an identity crisis in 2016 – far away enough in time that the rookie far-left extremists of the party will have records to their name, by which to run or be ruined. Biden, at least, has little reason to worry that his record will look significantly different by then, and perhaps by keeping one foot on either side of the moderate/progressive divide, he could do in 2016 what his boss did to Clinton in 2008.