Derisive snorts, condescending snickers- these are the kind of reactions many conservatives have to the idea of a Joe Biden 2016 run, which is appropriate since it’s the same breezy haughtiness with which the vice president dismisses his opponents.
But it is also the reaction many had to Donald Trump announcing his candidacy. And two months later Trump has a comfortable 13-point lead over Jeb Bush, whom many assumed would inevitably win the nomination. Of course, polling is a very limited and often inaccurate science and history suggests the front runner at this point in the race will not go on to become the nominee, but, to coin a phrase, electoral rules are made to be broken.
After all, in the 2012 vice-presidential debate, no one thought bookish Paul Ryan with his affinity for detailed policy papers would be eviscerated by a Joe Biden whose chief rhetorical strategy was to cry out “malarkey” any time he was contradicted.
Joe Biden is crass, unpolished and frequently appears slightly unhinged. He has suggested that women concerned about self-defense eschew handguns and buy shotguns, then fire them off at random- an act which is illegal in his home state of Delaware- if scared. Not only does this clearly violate every tenet of firearm safety, it was also seen as sexist.
And racist gaffes, from the infamous “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent” line to referring to Barack Obama as the first “articulate” African-American, abound.
Yet, Biden is never hurt by them because it’s seen as him being genuine and unaffected by Washington’s political correctness much in the same way Donald Trump was able to duck the Megyn Kelly debate kerfuffle unscathed. It looked like media persecution, the establishment trying to rid themselves of the threat posed to their power by outsiders.
Biden, as the second-most powerful man in the world, obviously cannot truly be seen as an outsider. But his Democratic party membership gives him status as a voice of the minority and the oppressed. Even though he’s an aging white man from a state known for its coal-production, an identity that, if he had an “R” after his name, would make him a hegemonic, intransigent Philistine trying to pull the world back to the Dark Ages.
Regardless of society’s double standard, the similarities between Biden and Trump in oratorical style remain. There is a ginned up element of the liberal base roughly analogous to the Tea Party active in the Democratic primary. And Biden certainly doesn’t stand for any of their beliefs.
But Trump doesn’t stand for conservative beliefs. Lost in the outrage following the Fox News debate was Trump’s comment that he believed single-payer healthcare works in Canada and Scotland and could have worked in America. During a recent appearance on Hannity, Trump neglected to name at what level he would cap income tax for the highest earners. These are not conservative positions. His strong words on immigration, long a thorn in the side of those who believe in rule of law, has endeared him to those who lean conservatives and this has blinded them to his pro-government positions on other issues.
Biden has the same kind of cult of personality. He’s all bluster and volume. He speaks in platitudes, often imperfectly, and couches his lack of substance in a pro-American patriotism which whips up the emotions of the base and makes them forget his offensiveness.
There is every reason to believe, especially now that it looks like Hillary Clinton cannot evade the enormity of her email scandal, that Biden could garner the same kind of Democratic support as Trump has tapped into on the right. This has already been a cycle driven by emotionalistic responses and it’s hard to imagine a more potent one than a son’s dying wish.