Joe Biden claimed racism is institutional in America on Tuesday, but would not commit wholeheartedly to picking a person of color as his running mate if he were to win the Democrat presidential nomination.
Biden, who has faced scrutiny over his ties to avowed segregationists and opposition to school busing, told a group of reporters that racism is an institutional “white man’s problem visited on people of color” within the United States.
“White folks are the reason we have institutional racism,” the former vice president said. “There has always been racism in America. White supremacists have always existed, they still exist.”
Biden, who leads his fellow 2020 Democrats substantially among black voters, claimed that President Donald Trump had only furthered those divisions by using rhetoric that appeals “to the worst damn instincts of human nature.” Along similar lines, the former vice president has accused Trump of fanning the “flames of white supremacy” in recent weeks, as he attempts to portray the next election as a referendum on the nation’s soul.
In order to succeed in that battle, let alone win the general election, Biden will need to do better among African American voters than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Exit polling from the race indicates that Clinton received 88 percent of the black vote. Although the figure appears high, in actuality it was significantly lower than the 93 percent former President Barack Obama garnered in his successful 2012 reelection campaign.
Political scientists have attempted to explain the discrepancy by pointing out that overall turnout among African American voters was lower in 2016 than 2012. Few, however, have mentioned that Trump’s share of the black vote was greater than Mitt Romney’s in 2012, as denoted by the Roper Center for Public Opinion at Cornell University. In fact, Trump garnered the highest percentage of African American voters since 2004.
Trump’s better than expected margins among black voters, coupled with strong support from the white working-class, ensured he was the first Republican presidential candidate to carry states like Michigan and Pennsylvania since 1988. In Michigan alone, Trump received 15,000 more votes in urban Wayne County—where Detroit is located—than Romney in 2012. Although Trump lost the county by a heavy margin, the increase helped him eke out a win over Clinton statewide by more than 10,000 votes.
As Biden admitted on Tuesday, the eventual Democrat nominee will need to have crossover with both black voters and the white working-class to stand a chance of ousting Trump in 2020. To ensure that he can bring together such a coalition, Biden plans to highlight his “middle class” bonafides on the campaign trail and actively court black cultural institutions, like churches.
When asked if there were elements of his 40-year political career that could damage that strategy, Biden said that, although he had a “record,” people knew his “character.”
“The bad news is I have a long record. The good news is I have a long record,” the former vice president said. “People know me — at least they think they know me. I think after all this time, I think they have a sense of what my character is, who I am.”
“I’ve never, ever, ever in my entire life been in a circumstance where I’ve ever felt uncomfortable being in the black community,” Biden added.
Despite touting his “record” and his attacks on institutional racism, Biden demurred when asked if he would commit to picking a person of color or a woman as his running mate, provided he won the Democrat nomination.
“Whomever I pick would be preferably someone who was of color and who was of a different gender, but I’m not making that commitment until I know that the person I’m dealing with I can completely, thoroughly trust, is authentic, and is on the same page,” the former vice president said.
The question comes as some of Biden’s long-held stances on racial issues are increasingly under scrutiny. Earlier this year, the 76-year-old Biden came under fire after praising the “civility” of two ardent segregationists with whom he served in the U.S. Senate during the early 1970s. That situation quickly spiraled when it became known that the two men in question, the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA), were allies in Biden’s crusade against busing to integrate public schools.
Biden’s history in that regard, coupled with his support for mass incarceration during the 1990s and his penchant for racial gaffes, have led many within the black community to call the former vice president “woefully ignorant” on the issues impacting African Americans.