The Economist, “Joe Biden has a good chance of becoming a surprisingly activist president”

The Economist has a great piece out about former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential candidate. The part that I think always deserves emphasis about how Biden has quickly reached out to Bernie Sanders and his team to help draft a progressive agenda that he can implement as president:

When Mr Sanders dropped out a month later Mr Biden had another chance to display his disposition towards bringing people together. The two senators created six task-forces to advise Mr Biden on policy all of which include supporters of both men—a way of avoiding a recurrence of the rancour that defined the 2016 primary, when Mr Sanders’s supporters felt the establishment had played dirty pool on Mrs Clinton’s behalf.

The policies that these groups come up with will not necessarily be those that Mr Biden runs on; he already has a substantial policy agenda, and it is coming to the fore. When the election’s sole defining issue was Mr Trump, it was plausible for Mr Biden to focus his run on normalcy in high office. Now the country is suffering through covid-19 and has seen a remarkable spate of protest his campaign has dialled back on talk of restoration, emphasising instead Mr Biden’s policies for meeting the moment.

Much of it is routine stuff for Democrats in 2020: a higher minimum wage, protection for unions, reform of bankruptcy and campaign-finance laws and so on. Two things stand out for their ambition. The first is health care. Republicans are once again pushing to end Mr Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) without offering a replacement. The Democratic left wants it replaced with Medicare for All. Mr Biden plans instead to build on the ACA by letting people buy into a government-run plan—the “public option” deemed too radical just a decade ago. He also wants to lower the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60. The two steps could transform American health care: the public option could become big enough and therefore cheap enough that employers and employees prefer it to private insurance.

Similarly, Mr Biden has proposed climate-change plans that go well beyond Mr Obama’s achievements, calling for a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050 and an entirely electric car fleet. But he has not quite embraced the Green New Deal beloved of the left and has kept some centrist options open. He has not renounced the use of either nuclear energy or fracking (which could imperil his chances in otherwise-winnable-looking fracking states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio and just-about-in-play Texas). He is willing to explore technologies that capture carbon from fossil-fuel plants before it gets to the atmosphere, which makes many greens uncomfortable. Though the campaign calls the means by which he will seek to make polluters pay an “enforcement mechanism”, it seems clearly to be a carbon tax, and a more broadly based one than the cap-and-trade scheme which failed to get through the Senate under Mr Obama.

To make such changes the Democrats will need the Senate as well as the presidency and the House. That requires them to win three or more of the 23 Republican-held Senate seats being contested. A few months ago that looked like a long shot. Today’s polls make it look more plausible: but if the odds are better than 50:50, they are not so by much. This is another reason not to expect Mr Biden to make the big rhetorical or policy moves that the progressive wing says would excite the base. Flipping states with Republican senators is an inherently centrist undertaking.

Simply winning the Senate, though, is not enough. It might allow Mr Biden to fulfil his promise to restore the top marginal income-tax rate to 39.6% on those making over $400,000 and partially to reverse Mr Trump’s corporate-tax cuts, raising the rate from 21% to 28%: such measures can be passed as part of a “reconciliation bill” which requires only a simple majority. But almost all other business in the Senate is hostage to filibustering, which can only be overcome with 60 votes. Even were Mr Biden to achieve a landslide—and he has as good a chance of doing so as Mr Trump has of scraping a narrow win, according to our model—his coat-tails will be nowhere near long enough to bring 13 new Democratic senators with him.

Mr Biden, with the sort of respect for Senate procedure that comes from spending almost half your life within its precincts, says that he does not want to end the filibuster. He has also said he expects a Republican “epiphany” when Mr Trump leaves office, one that might make possible new bipartisan approaches to the nation’s problems. But Chuck Schumer, who would become majority leader were the Democrats to take the Senate, does not rule out getting rid of the filibuster. Some suggest that the mere threat of doing so might be enough to bring some Republicans round to the climate and health-care aspects of Mr Biden’s legislative agenda, epiphany or no epiphany.

Not all change needs legislation. Mr Biden could roll back the Trump administration’s own rollbacks of regulations on environmental protection and other things, putting back in force the rules that have been dropped, enforcing those that have been ignored. He could reverse the Trump administration’s immigration policies through executive action. He could also change the tone and manner of the presidency—though not necessarily that of the national conversation. Barracking from a defeated Mr Trump and his supporters would surely be raucous.

Foreign policy, where presidents have the greatest room for manoeuvre, would provide Mr Biden with his comfort zone. Decades as a member of the Senate’s foreign-relations committee and then as vice-president mean that he knows the game and many of the players. Neither the tactics of the opposing teams nor the state of the pitch, though, are as he left them. China is a far more assertive power; Russia has been able to interfere in American elections with minimal retribution. And the pandemic spreads on.

Biden has been doing an incredible job slamming Trump on the coronavirus pandemic but he’s started to open up two new lines of attack. First, there’s this one:

In the new statement, which was sent to me in response to my inquiries about Biden’s views of the E.U. ban, Biden says:

These new travel restrictions will have real consequences for Americans’ ties to the world — personally, economically, culturally, and strategically. Families that have been separated for months will be kept apart even longer. Commercial opportunities for hard-hit American business will be stunted. And the rift that Trump has created with our closest allies will only widen.

Biden notes that all this is the direct result of Trump’s serial failures to take the coronavirus seriously — which also includes Trump’s urging of a too-rapid reopening, leading to a resurgence — and adds:

Because Trump can’t do the most basic parts of his job, the United States is now viewed as posing a global health risk. Today, America is first in infections, first in deaths, and the EU has decided to bar Americans from traveling there as Europe reopens.

And Biden concludes:

A president who started his term by writing hateful travel bans is responsible for getting the American people banned from traveling. His presidency is an outrage from start to finish.

What’s notable is the casting of Trump’s role in bringing about the E.U. ban as another form of deep damage to our international relationships — damage, of course, that Trump himself did on many other fronts. The monumental botching of the coronavirus pandemic, then, is both extension and exacerbation of that Trumpian damage.
The E.U. is reopening borders to 15 countries, but it excluded the United States, Russia and Brazil. The metric the E.U. used was the number of new cases in the past two weeks per 100,000 people. As the New York Times notes, “the average among the 27 European Union countries was 16 in mid-June; in the United States, it was 107.”

Then there’s this one:

In a sign that the 2020 presidential campaign is finally getting underway in earnest, former Vice President Joe Biden appeared on camera Thursday morning to offer an alternative picture of what President Donald Trump had, just hours before, called a “spectacular” and “record-setting” jobs report.

“Make no mistake, we’re still in a deep, deep job hole because Donald Trump has so badly bungled the response to coronavirus,” said Biden in prepared remarks that were carried live across cable news channels.

“For everyone whose job hasn’t come back, for everyone who doesn’t own stock, who can’t get a sweetheart loan through connections, does this feel like a victory?” said the presumptive Democratic nominee.

“For parents who are worried that kids can’t go back to school in the fall, do you feel like this is mission accomplished? For the people in states where Covid-19 is spiking, and we’re seeing record high numbers of infections, do you feel like this crisis is under control? Of course not. People are scared. They’re worried about their families and about their future.”

“Just like last month, President Trump has spiked the ball and made this about him,” said Biden, referring to a traditional touchdown celebration. “He doesn’t seem to realize he’s not even on the 50-yard line.”

Recent polling from Monmouth University has Biden in a strong position for November:

Half of the nation’s electorate says they have ruled out voting for Donald Trump in November, while 4 in 10 say the same about Joe Biden. Biden currently holds a 12 point lead in the presidential race according to the latest Monmouth (“Mon-muth”) University Poll.  Biden holds a significant advantage among the 1 in 5 voters who do not have a favorable opinion of either candidate. Slightly more voters say they are confident about the challenger’s mental and physical stamina than say the same about the incumbent.

Biden currently has the support of 53% of registered voters and Trump has the support of 41%.  This is similar to the Democrat’s 52% to 41% lead in early June. Biden’s edge stood at 50% to 41% in May, 48% to 44% in April, and 48% to 45% in March.

Slightly more voters say they are certain about their support for Biden (40%) than say the same about Trump (34%). Fully half (50%), though, say they are not at all likely to support the incumbent while 39% say the same about the challenger. In addition to Biden’s current firm support, another 3% say they are very likely to vote for him and 9% are somewhat likely, while 6% are not too likely. In addition to Trump’s current firm support, another 2% say they are very likely to vote for him and 6% are somewhat likely, while 6% are not too likely. Among white voters with a college degree, 62% have ruled out a vote for Trump while just 31% say the same about Biden. On the other hand, 56% of white voters without a college degree are not at all likely to support Biden while 37% say the same about Trump. Among voters from other racial or ethnic groups, 61% have ruled out Trump and just 22% say the same for Biden.

“Half of all registered voters have ruled out backing Trump. Trump showed in 2016 that he can thread the needle, but these results suggest the president has even less room for error in 2020. He must convert some of those unlikely supporters if he is to win a second term,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

A key difference from four years ago is that fewer voters have a negative opinion of the Democratic nominee. Biden’s rating stands at 44% favorable and 44% unfavorable. It was 42%–49% in early June. Hillary Clinton’s rating in July 2016 was 34% favorable and 52% unfavorable. Trump currently has a negative 38% favorable and 55% unfavorable opinion. It was 38%–57% in early June. As a candidate four years ago, he held a 31% favorable and 53% unfavorable rating.

Overall, 21% of all registered voters do not have a favorable opinion of either party’s nominee. Trump did well with this “double negative” group in 2016. The National Election Pool exit poll showed him ultimately winning their vote after Clinton held a small edge throughout the campaign. But he is getting swamped among these voters this time around. Biden leads by 55% to 21% among this group.

Harry Enten at CNN also makes the case that there aren’t a lot of secret Trump supporters out there:

The average of national surveys (accounting for the fact that some pollsters survey more often) this week from pollsters who didn't have a live interviewer put Biden up over Trump 50% to 39% (10 points unrounded). That's a huge advantage and very similar to the latest live interview poll average that has Biden up 51% to 41%.

Moreover, it's pretty clear that Biden's edge is growing in the non-live interview polls. In all the polls taken after the protests against racism and police brutality started in late May, the average has Biden up 48% to 41% (8 points unrounded). When you look at the polls in May before the protests started, Biden was ahead by a 47% to 42% margin.
In other words, Biden's lead over Trump this past week was double what it was a month ago in the non-live interview polls.
Importantly, Biden's lead is growing because his percentage of the vote is growing, not just because Trump's share of the pie is falling. Biden is up about 3 points, and Trump is down a proportional 3 points.
There's no indication over the last month in the non-live interview polls that Trump supporters last month are merely saying that they are “undecided” right now.
Nor is there any reason to think that the surveys are shifting because Democrats are more likely to answer polls these days. Many of these non-live interview pollsters weight by party identification, so they're less susceptible to fewer Republicans responding than have over the long term (like when the race for president was closer).
I also checked out the state polling done since the protests began. Averaging the non-live interview polls just like I did for the national polls, I found on average that Biden's margin was 9 points bigger than Hillary Clinton's was. A 9-point shift in Biden's direction nationally from 2016 would give him an 11-point lead nationally, which is around where the national polls have the race.

But we cannot get complacent. Biden is going to need our help big time come November. In fact, he;s already getting help from an unlikely source:

Officials who worked for former President George W. Bush have formed a super PAC supporting Joe Biden for president. It's the latest instance of old-guard Republicans uniting to not only oppose President Trump, but also actively support his Democratic rival in November.

The group launched Wednesday under the name “43 Alumni for Biden,” referencing Bush's status as the 43rd U.S. president. It will raise money to support Biden and says it also plans to launch video campaigns and get-out-the-vote efforts to mobilize “disenchanted GOP voters” against the incumbent Republican president.

“Earlier this summer, having seen far too many days filled with chaos emanating from the highest levels of government, we knew it was time to take a stand,” the group says on its website.

“Bound by our shared work experience and a belief in a brighter tomorrow, we endorse Joe Biden for President. Political differences may remain among us, but we look forward to a time when civil, honest and robust policy discussions are the order of the day. Our democracy is at stake.”

The group says it includes Cabinet secretaries and senior officials from the Bush administration, but it has not disclosed a full list of its members. Mr. Bush himself is not involved in the group, and as a super PAC, it cannot work directly with the Biden campaign.

Reuters first reported on the group's formation and said hundreds of former Bush officials were on board.

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