Conservative Take On Biden
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
After making his decision to run for president, Vice President Joe Biden seemed to look beyond the primary and right to the main event - the general election against President Trump. Trump ally, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, says Biden poses the biggest threat to the president.
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CHRIS CHRISTIE: This election was decided by about 80,000 voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. And most of those voters were white, working-class voters. I think if you look at the now 19 candidates on the other side of the aisle, the one who can best have an opportunity to appeal to those white, working-class voters is Joe Biden.
MARTIN: That is if Biden can survive the primary. Chris Christie was speaking there on the podcast "TBD With Tina Brown," by the way. So let's put that bigger question to Noah Rothman. He is an editor at Commentary magazine and joins us from our studios in New York. Hey, Noah, thanks for being back on the show.
NOAH ROTHMAN: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Is Chris Christie right? I mean, do you think Joe Biden has the best chance of beating President Trump?
ROTHMAN: He is. And as you said, he has to get to the general election first. And there appears to be a fair amount of hostility towards the strategy that he would wage in the general election, appealing to those swing voters in those states - white, working-class voters from the left flank of the Democratic Party - to which he has to appeal. And in order to appeal to them, he's been sort of maladroitly attempting to ingratiate himself in what the AP called the woke litmus test that is being imposed on Democratic candidates.
MARTIN: What is that? It's self-explanatory in its words, but how do you see its interpretation and how it's playing out with Biden?
ROTHMAN: Sure. Well, we can see how Joe Biden interprets it from his own behaviors. He's been running for president for the past several months. And he's been addressing what he probably thinks is his biggest weakness, which seems to be race. He's been addressing the handling of the Anita Hill affair somewhat maladroitly. He attacked English jurisprudential culture, saying it's a white man's culture, which adopts the social justice left's critique of some foundational notions of English common law, like presumption of innocence, evidentiary burdens and confronting your accuser in a courtroom. And he tried to get Stacey Abrams on the ticket very early, which is actually kind of embarrassing because she brushed off those overtures.
MARTIN: I mean, you might find those to be maladroit actions, but are - they're not necessarily for Democrats. And that's the primary - those are the primary voters he's trying to appeal to.
ROTHMAN: Well, perhaps, but Stacey Abrams didn't make - made very short work of that. And last night we had Anita Hill coming out and also rejecting the overtures of the former vice president. So I don't really think that you could say that these have been successful efforts.
MARTIN: You say that Biden is essentially being put in this uncomfortable position where he's having to tack left when he's more of a moderate candidate. But doesn't he just differentiate himself by being a more moderate candidate who, as you write - as you point out, is positioned to pick off perhaps disenchanted Trump voters?
ROTHMAN: Yeah. And he's not offering the plethora of policy proposals that you've seen from the left flank of the party. He's not offering minimum income or a federal jobs guarantee. I don't think he's embraced "Medicare for All," variety of other policy proposals that you see featuring on the - prominently on the left. So he's trying to corner the identity angle and neutralize the criticisms of his lack of perhaps progressive bona fides from that approach. And I don't think he's been doing especially well at that. But you have to do one or the other in this party in order to win the nomination.
MARTIN: Why? Why do you say that? What evidence do you have to that?
ROTHMAN: Because everybody in - all 19 candidates, with the exception perhaps of maybe Representative Ryan from Ohio, has essentially adopted that posture. They are appealing to the - to the broader swath of the activist left in order to win a primary state in the early states. Iowa is a caucus state where the energy favors the progressive candidates. New Hampshire, too, in perhaps a little bit more...
MARTIN: How is that different, though, Noah, than - than any primary? I mean, that's what every political party does in a primary. They tack to the outer flank of the party. And I think the progressive left view is that if Republicans could nominate someone so far outside the mainstream of their party in Donald Trump, why can't they swing for the fences too?
ROTHMAN: And that's the rub. So the notion there, that Donald Trump was unelectable until he was electable, has perhaps convinced quite a few Democrats that, why should we compromise on a general - an electable candidate? And that - that is - actually features in an article on NPR that was published this week, where they tackled the notion of electability as, perhaps, a suspect concept because electability itself, that question has led people to embrace Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden at the expense of candidates with identities that are more marginalized - women, minorities, Pete Buttigieg, who's a gay man.
That has become suspect because, in the words of somebody who was quoted in that article, it could become a post-hoc rationalization for latent biases. In other words, members of the Democratic electorate who are supporting the frontrunners are perhaps suspect in their own view of race and gender. This is going to be sotto voce for now. But it's going to be much more explicit as this goes along.
MARTIN: Are the white working-class voters that are - were supposedly the demographic that put President Trump over the edge in 2016, are those voters actually up for grabs?
ROTHMAN: Yes, I think they're absolutely up for grabs. A lot of these were Obama-Trump voters. The problem is - is that there is a consideration on the part of the activist left that it might be morally compromising to appeal to these voters because, if you were to support Donald Trump, who knows what is lurking in the back of your mind? I think that's a debilitating idea. But it is one that's prominent on the left flank of this party.
MARTIN: Could you vote for Joe Biden?
ROTHMAN: I don't - I don't support candidates. But I do support outcomes.
MARTIN: Noah Rothman, he's an editor at Commentary magazine, also the author of "Unjust: Social Justice And The Unmaking Of America."
ROTHMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.