Pick your political cliché. Jill Biden was either saying the quiet part out loud or committing a Michael Kinsley gaffe (that is, speaking the truth) when she suggested that her husband needs the support of voters who prefer other Democratic candidates.
“Your candidate might be better on, I don’t know, healthcare, than Joe is, but you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election,” former Vice President Joe Biden’s spouse said Monday at a campaign event in New Hampshire. She added: “And maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, ‘OK, I personally like so-and-so better,’ but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.”
“Swallow a Little Bit for Biden” isn’t anyone’s idea of a catchy campaign slogan. But isn’t Dr. Biden (as the New York Times refers to her, in recognition of her doctorate in education) simply being open about what, in fact, is the overarching narrative of her husband’s campaign?
If she is, it’s the wrong message, especially this early in the campaign.
It’s not clear that if Biden wins the nomination it will be because a majority of voters in Democratic primaries rose above principle in the cause of ousting President Trump. Biden may prove to be an electable nominee because a decisive number of primary voters are attracted to either his personal qualities or his positions, including his opposition to a “Medicare for all” plan that would end private health insurance. (There is some evidence that other candidates are migrating closer to Biden’s position.)
By suggesting that a lot of voters will have to rise above principle to support her husband, Jill Biden may be conceding too much too soon. Her comment will embolden supporters of other candidates who argue that “electable” is a code word for a candidate you disagree strongly with but grudgingly support anyway.
Actually, as the Los Angeles Times observed in an editorial in April, “electability” is a more complicated concept than that. We wrote at the time: “Certainly ‘electable’ shouldn’t be regarded as a synonym for ‘older white male’ or ‘centrist.’ It’s possible that candidates who fit neither description will make the most effective case that they can translate enthusiasm in the primaries into a general-election victory.”
It’s also possible that the relatively centrist Biden, despite a shaky start, will convince a significant number of primary voters that he’s electable and that he would be a good president. Neither Biden should give up on that scenario.