- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Joe Biden may actually be onto something.

In his Philadelphia announcement speech, Mr. Biden observed that he believes “The country is sick of the division. They’re sick of the fighting. They’re sick of the childish behavior.”

His decision to run not on the issues, but as a healer and seeker of bipartisanship in a time of political and social turmoil could conceivably work in both his party’s primaries and in the general election against President Trump — if he can avoid stepping on his own message.

He or his managers are betting, first, that there are enough Democratic primary voters who find the other two dozen contenders’ policies bizarre to allow room for a problem solver rather than an ideologue and, second, that if he can win the nomination, voters will be drawn to a candidacy that promises not accomplishment, but political peace. At least Mr. Biden has a strategy and that gives him a leg up on the competition. The others seem to be running because they believe they ought to be president, but it doesn’t seem that many have given much thought about how to actually turn that desire into reality.

This year’s Democratic wannabes seem to believe most Americans share their assessment of the president and that voters in 2020 will focus simply on sending the president packing. This has freed them to appeal to primary voters who inhabit the left-wing fever swamps without worrying about whether what they are saying today might come back to haunt them next fall because 2020 will be all about Donald Trump and not about them. Mr. Biden’s analysis strikes one as a little more sophisticated.

Americans don’t like long, drawn-out political fights and often turn on the fighters even if they agree with them. When then-President Richard Nixon unleashed his vice president to attack the liberal media in the ‘70s, I was a young political assistant to Spiro Agnew. Agnew’s critique of media and particularly press bias in what became known as “The Des Moines speech” was cheered by millions and the polling we did at the time suggested that two-thirds of the electorate agreed. But the results included a warning: The controversy and Agnew’s combative style won many to his cause, but even those applauding hoped the whole thing would soon die down. Our tolerance for highly charged politics is limited.

Carol Moseley Braun won a hotly contested Illinois Democratic Senate primary back in 1992 for precisely the same reason. The former Cook County Recorder of Deeds found herself in the middle of a down-and-dirty three-way catfight between incumbent Democratic Sen. Alan Dixon and the long forgotten Albert Hofeld with the two trading insults for months. No one paid much attention to Mrs. Braun until the votes were counted. Voters chose her largely because she stood aside and let her opponents destroy each other. Mrs. Braun went on to win the general election.

Voters sometimes opt for domestic peace or at least a partisan cease-fire over all-out political warfare. Mr. Biden and his handlers are betting that may happen this time. Donald Trump relishes political combat and even with a positive economic record to run on, the public may tire of the controversy he generates.

If Mr. Biden does somehow manage to win the Democratic nomination, he will have to prove he can tame the goofiness and tendency to bloviate that have marked his career and brought him down in two previous White House runs. He would face an entirely new challenge against Mr. Trump — to maintain the high road with no missteps and let voters conclude that even though they might agree with Mr. Trump more often, Mr. Biden’s election would lower the political blood pressure of a nation seemingly on the verge of a political stroke. Mr. Biden has never displayed much discipline, and his decision to simply bash Mr. Trump rather than talk about issues in his quest for the nomination may make it difficult to avoid the likely dogfight in the general that the president relishes and knows how to win.

If that happens, Mr. Biden will lose whatever advantage his chosen stance promises, and voters will turn back to the issues, the substantive records of the contestants and the vision the parties they represent have for the country. That is the race Mr. Trump wants and can win.

• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.

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