Is Joe Biden a mix between McGovern and Mondale?

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Last November, I wrote a piece called: “Will the Democrats remain on the losing side of history?” The premise was, if history repeated, will the Democrats be burdened by a legacy or hindered by a hurdle in their efforts to unseat the president?

The Legacy: “McGovernism”

This term came into existence after the landslide defeat of Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972. McGovern lost the electoral college to Richard Nixon, 520-17. The term simply means, moving too far to the left. Last November, at a fundraiser, former president Barack Obama warned the Democratic presidential candidates not to go down that road because average Americans do not think the system needs to be torn down and remade. Former Vice President Joe Biden was encouraged not to run in 2016 but was drafted for 2020 to be the moderate in a presidential field dominated by progressives.

During the last Democratic presidential debate, Biden echoed Obama when he told Senator Bernie Sanders that Americans wanted results, not a revolution. Biden secured the Democratic nomination for president, but Biden has a problem with Sanders supporters. In 2016 Sanders supporters didn’t get behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, which decreased the Democratic voter turnout to the detriment of the party, and Sanders supporters are threatening to repeat 2016 if Biden doesn’t move his policy positions to the extreme left of center.

The hurdle: Defeating an incumbent

Some progressives dismiss the concept of “McGovernism.” They insist McGovern lost because he faced a popular president with a booming economy. At the time of my last article, the Trump presidency presided over a good economy. Trump’s only hardship was an impeachment trial. Since the Senate never removed a sitting president after being impeached by the House of Representatives the Democrats were on the losing side of that effort, too. As far as defeating an incumbent, since 1900 twenty presidents have sought re-election; 15 won, five have lost. Each loser had a unique set of circumstances that contributed to their defeat. (Third party candidates, a stock market crash, a presidential pardon, and a hostage crisis.) Trump didn’t have any of those unforeseen catastrophes, and it appeared he would win re-election easily. But the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed Trump’s economy and changed all the political calculations. Trump can be defeated based on an inadequate response to the pandemic, leaving the nation at risk, and failure to rise to the presidential occasion. But if Biden moves too far to the left it would negate this advantage, placing him back on the losing side of history.

The Mondale Mix

In 1984 the Democratic nominee for president was Walter Mondale. He faced a popular incumbent president with a 59 percent approval rating and a better-than-expected economy. Mondale served as vice president during the unpopular, single-term, Jimmy Carter administration. That alone, along with Mondale’s own version of “McGovernism,” kept him uncompetitive in national presidential polls. Time Magazine published a headline that asked a question to the entire nation: Why not a woman? The idea generated momentum and Mondale made the historic selection of Geraldine Ferraro to be the first woman vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket. The Mondale campaign hoped Ferraro would attract women, other ethnic groups, and give the campaign the popularity it needed. This was a good move to generate national attention, but a bad electoral move. Mondale needed to select a VP that could have helped him win a state to secure electoral college votes. Mondale’s presidential defeat was worse than McGovern’s.

During the last Democratic presidential debate, Biden vowed to pick a woman for his running mate. (He also vowed to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court.) If Biden picks a woman to help him win a battleground state, like the governor of Michigan, his vow would not be in vain. But if Biden picks a woman to generate enthusiasm for a lackluster candidacy and moves to the extreme left, then Biden’s presidential bid will be a mixture of the McGovern and Mondale campaigns.

And that, my friend, is a losing combination.

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