He Doesn’t Really Care If He Loses

The consequences of a Trump victory will fall on the marginalized and vulnerable, not Joe Biden. No wonder Biden doesn’t seem that concerned.

I often hear people make an observation about Democratic politicians that seems, on the face of it, kind of counterintuitive: a lot of them seem like they’re not really trying to win. In my home state of Florida, the Democratic Party has just completely fallen apart, with the state essentially being ceded to Republicans. I’ve written before about lazy, ineffective messaging, bizarre blunders like those Hillary Clinton made in 2016, the utter failure to learn from those blunders, and the absolutely infuriating phenomenon of Democrats failing to even run a real candidate in some districts, even those that are potentially winnable. Given that Republican plans for transforming the country are terrifying, why does the opposition feel so feckless

Joe Biden gave us a valuable answer to that question recently. I have recently written about why Biden should not be the candidate Democrats run against Trump and have addressed the many excuses being made in his defense. But I’d like to dwell now on a line Biden spoke during his interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, which was meant to reassure the country that he’s fine to serve another four years. In this exchange, Stephanopoulos asks Biden how he will feel if he stays in the race and brings his party to defeat, electing Trump: 


And if you stay in and Trump is elected and everything you're warning about comes to pass, how will you feel in January?


I'll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the good as job as I know I can do, that's what this is about.


Now, the transcript originally quoted Biden saying “I did the goodest job” but the White House insisted that he in fact said “good as,” which does not make sense either.  

But whether “good as” or “goodest,” the alarming thing about this clip is how blasé Biden seems about the possibility of losing to Trump. Democrats consistently portray Trump as an “existential threat” to democracy and the climate, and I very strongly agree that he is. But if that’s the case, then if someone asks you how you’d feel if Trump was elected, your answer should be: It would be horrifying. It would be the beginning of a very dark new chapter in American history. Which is why we have to pull together and do everything we can to make sure it stands no chance of happening. 

Biden did go on to say that “the things that happen in the next several years are gonna determine what the next six, seven decades are gonna be like.” But when he elaborates on what he means, he says: 


And who's gonna be able to hold NATO together like me? Who's gonna be able to be in a position where I'm able to keep the Pacific Basin in a position where we're-- we're at least checkmating China now? Who's gonna-- who's gonna do that? Who has that reach? Who has-- who knows all these pe…?


I mean, first, “checkmating” China should not be anyone’s goal, because we should be trying to live peaceably alongside and cooperate with China. And if China hawkishness is the virtue you seek in a president, it’s not clear how Donald Trump would be much different than Biden. Notice that Biden does not discuss what a Trump administration would mean for abortion rights. He doesn’t mention Trump’s mass deportation plans. He doesn’t talk about the plan to totally destroy major federal regulatory agencies. He doesn’t talk about the implications for unions, teachers, dissidents, or LGBTQ people. The Republican Party wants to make war on everything from public schools to “transgenderism,” and they have plans for how they’re going to do it. (Trump has recently tried to publicly distance himself from the extreme Project 2025, but it is likely that people involved in it will have high ranks in his administration.) Biden doesn’t seem too alarmed. As long as he did his best, that’s what counts.


Some of us who are deeply frightened by the prospect of a second Trump term want an opponent who has fight in them, which is part of what was so disappointing about Biden’s debate performance. The problem here is not just that Biden is old. It’s that Biden isn’t really that motivated to stop Trump. 

From a perspective of pure self-interest, this makes sense. If Biden loses to Trump, he’s not going to get deported. His reproductive rights aren’t getting taken away. He’s not going to be beaten up by the police. Sure, Trump has talked about prosecuting Biden, but would the new president even bother? The likeliest outcome for Joe Biden is that he’ll retire, rich and happy, consoling himself that he did his best. The thing is, for people like Joe Biden, the stakes of the election aren’t that high. He’s not going to live to see the worst consequences of climate change. 

Now you might assume Joe Biden would care what happens to people other than himself. But Joe Biden is a career politician, and there is little evidence that he has ever put other people’s interests before his own. I have previously dived deep into Joe Biden’s long political career, and it’s a history of shameful opportunism, demagoguery, and deceit. He’s known for being “empathetic,” but it’s a very selective empathy. The daughter of a U.S. senator might be worthy of it, but as former U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller pointed out, Palestinians just matter less to Biden. You can’t count on one of the architects of modern mass incarceration to care about the consequences that an election will have for the marginalized and vulnerable.

Despite all of Democrats’ rhetoric about the threat Trump poses, many Democratic elites don’t really act like they see Trump as an existential threat. This is probably in part because many of them will be fine if Trump wins. Heck, some may even be better off, exchanging low-paying government work for the lucrative private sector. As Jonathan Chait notes, one reason some Democratic governors aren’t challenging Biden is that from the perspective of their personal self-interest, it doesn’t make sense to. It only makes sense from the perspective of trying to save the country from a nightmare. But if you’re a politician, you learn to look out for yourself above all. No wonder the fight seems so anemic. The ones at the top of the party are just not the people who will be most affected by the outcome. 

Where does that leave the rest of us? Well, we have to recognize that nobody “at the top” is coming to save us. As the planet cooks, with record temperatures across the country, it is our job to organize to throw out the decaying, incompetent elites who have brought the U.S. and the world to the brink of catastrophe. We need more activists and we need them now, because if this is left in the hands of our existing politicians, the country will continue its steady slide into chaos and dysfunction. 


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