Democratic presidential hopeful Joseph R. Biden’s pledge to kill blue-collar jobs with a green economy rekindled unwanted comparisons to 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s coal miner flub.
Mrs. Clinton admitted in her memoir that her pledge to put coal miners out of business was her biggest misstep in 2016 — and Republican campaign strategists are comparing the former nominee’s error to that of Mr. Biden, who said in the debate in Los Angeles that he was willing to eliminate jobs to shift the country to a “greener economy.”
This move to the left, critics said, was aimed at appeasing the progressive Democratic base but would alienate the blue-collar workers Mr. Biden claims he can lure away from President Trump.
“Democrats have been holding on to Joe Biden as the last hope of clawing back states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. But the fact is that this isn’t John Kennedy’s Democratic Party, and Joe Biden is no longer Joe Biden,” said Ryan Rhodes, a Republican strategist.
A debate moderator quizzed Mr. Biden, saying the past few presidents have enjoyed “explosive economic growth due to a boom in oil and natural gas production” and asking whether the former vice president and 2020 front-runner would be willing to sacrifice blue-collar jobs to go to a greener economy.
“The answer is yes,” Mr. Biden quickly responded, adding that “the opportunity for those workers to transition to high-paying jobs … is real.”
“We’re the only country in the world that’s taken great, great crises and turned them into enormous opportunities,” he said.
His answer appeared to trade in his “lunch pail” for a seat “at the cool kids’ table,” according to Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, who said Mr. Biden is appealing to the socialist wing of the Democratic Party.
“Biden’s willingness to cast off almost 500,000 new manufacturing jobs filled by Americans who are making good wages for their work in a quest to be loved by the [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] wing of the Democratic Party reveals the ugly truth about Joe — he will leave behind America’s blue-collar workers in a heartbeat if elected president. After the last debate, there is no reason for any blue-collar worker to cling to their support for Biden, as his true ‘collars’ are now available for everyone to see,” Mr. Manning said.
Mr. Trump was able to capitalize on Mrs. Clinton’s misstep with coal miners in 2016, winning over the blue-collar voting block in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Political science professors predict he will try to capitalize on Mr. Biden’s comments, too, but Scott de Marchi, a professor at Duke University, said he may not have the same success this time.
“I think swing voters in those states will have substantially more trust in Biden than Clinton and will interpret the comment differently,” he said. “Biden’s delivery was more focused on the positive … than Clinton’s was. Though with editing, that won’t matter for campaign commercials.”
Mr. de Marchi noted reports about the lingering trade war engaged by the Trump administration having negative effects on manufacturing workers and farmers.
“Trump is governing during a strong economy, but the manufacturing boom he promised for those states has failed to materialize,” he said. “So to the extent there are voters without their minds made up, they’re not going to be as optimistic about Trump as they were prospectively three years ago.”
Mr. Rhodes said the manufacturing aspect of the economy will take time, but Mr. Trump has continued to fulfill his 2016 promises as Mr. Biden — and the other 2020 contenders — continue to move to the left.
“Bringing back American manufacturing takes time and President Trump has stopped the bleeding by standing up for the American worker on trade. We are seeing a slow march toward recovery and by standing with President Trump, we can send a message to business that it’s time to invest long term,” he said.
Richard Anderson, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, credited Mr. Biden with giving a truthful answer, saying saving the planet “goes hand in hand” with safer jobs and increased wages.
“The new jobs don’t wreak havoc, they save lives,” he said. “The vice president is a straight shooter, and he answered directly with the conviction that Americans want a president who tells the truth.”