By EMERSON LYNN
Former Vice President Joe Biden entertained a soldout crowd of 1,400 Vermonters without answering the question on everyone’s mind, which is whether he would seek his party’s nomination to be president. He didn’t say he wouldn’t, and at a recent speaking engagement he said he was certainly the most qualified to do so, but he didn’t make the commitment, other than to say he would make that decision within the next eight or so weeks.
Vermonters are particularly interested in knowing because Bernie Sanders is also in the midst of the same calculation. He, too, is operating within the same two-month time frame.
Both Biden and Sanders are immensely popular in Vermont and nationally both are, by far, the most popular of all the candidates likely to consider the rigors of the two-year campaign. We’re roughly 14 months from the first presidential primary in 2020.
What Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders know is that it takes an enormous amount of money, time and organization to run a presidential campaign. Both have all three; if they can get out early enough they also have the chance to take up the space necessary for lesser knowns to gain any traction.
Both are also highly motivated to be the person that unseats Donald Trump.
But the campaign is unfolding at a time when the Democratic Party is trying to flip to the next page, to step past the Clinton era. The obvious question is whether the Biden-Sanders duo is the best the party has to offer?
For the dyed-in-the-wool Sanders supporters – including most Vermonters – the answer comes quickly. Mr. Sanders was the one who lit the imaginations of the party’s left wing and particularly the young in the 2016 presidential campaign.
But in politics recreating that same thunder is next to impossible. It’s not a given that Mr. Sanders would be the crowd favorite. If Mr. Biden also chose to run, his more moderate policies would split the party and prompt precisely the same debate faults as existed in the 2016 campaign.
If both Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden do decide to run, and if this divide does appear, then Hillary Clinton may, as her former aides have suggested, decide to try her luck one more time.
So how, precisely, is the party positioning itself for the decades ahead if its most likely
candidates are about as old-guard as they could possibly be?
This question also needs to be framed with another: The midterm election – which swamped the Republicans – was fueled by the young, people of color, and perhaps most important, by women. How does a Biden-Sanders race fit that narrative?
It doesn’t, or clumsily at best.
As much as Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden detest President Trump, it’s not enough that either would beat him in 2020. And it’s not a given that either would. It would be a battle of septuagenarians, and one framed by ageism, fair or not. And the chances are considerable that the campaign would be devoted less to the future than to the past.
The hopeful news in all this is that what the election of Donald Trump showed is that the nomination process is not a given, that lightning can strike and that the most improbable outcome is possible.
That’s the hope as the party faithful watch their two big contenders push the party toward a collision that pulls the party backward, not forward.
Emerson Lynn is co-publisher of The Essex Reporter and St. Albans Messenger, where this editorial first appeared.