That is, could he get the nomination? Could he beat Trump?
The answer to the first question is sure, he could get the nomination and right now he probably has a better chance than any other single candidate to do so. Nate Silver in a lengthy article on 538 runs down all the reasons for this, as well as detailing the various factors that could stand in his way. Fine article, strongly recommended.
That said, is Biden the favorite against the field? Absolutely not. Therefore, chances are the nominee will be someone other than Biden but that covers a lot of ground and the crystal ball is foggy.
But if Biden does get the nomination, could he beat Trump? Put a bit more strongly, could he not only beat Trump, would be the probability-maximizing candidate for doing so?
Silver's article focuses heavily on Biden's nomination possibilities and doesn't really render a judgement on this question. But Henry Olsen, my favorite conservative political analyst, does so in his latest article in the Washington Post. Olsen says:
"Joe Biden starts the 2020 campaign not only as the favorite for the Democratic nomination but also probably as a slight favorite to win the presidency itself....
Self-described moderates and conservatives remain about half of the Democratic primary electorate, and as the other candidates play the popular parlor game “More Progressive Than Thou,” Biden sits largely alone hoovering up support from the largest ideological bloc. Early polls show how tilted Biden’s support is toward moderates, and his continued leads show how strong such a tilt can be....
His potential to unseat Trump, however, is even more striking. He leads the president by an average of 7.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of national general election trial heats so far, easily the largest of any potential Democratic nominee. That lead is not just a function of high name ID, either. Sanders is about as well known as is Biden, yet he leads Trump by only 2.7 points. There are clearly some swing voters who feel comfortable with Biden in a matchup with Trump while feeling uneasy with the other contenders at this stage.
That ability to speak to that swing voter is going to be the key factor in the general election. Only 38 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Trump on Election Day 2016, according to the exit poll, five points lower than Hillary Clinton’s favorable rating. Trump won because he decisively defeated Clinton by a 47-to-30 margin among the 18 percent of voters who did not like either candidate. In effect, “Never Hillary” beat “Never Trump” to the shock of pundits everywhere....
Trump’s only hope, assuming he can’t raise his job approval rating, is to turn the Democratic nominee into a pariah. He needs to make “Never [Insert Nominee Name]” as powerful as “Never Hillary" to force some of the people who disapprove of him to reluctantly back him a second time. He might be able to do that with most potential Democrats. But it seems a hard task with Biden.....
Democrats, independents and Republican defectors searching for a return to normalcy after years of turmoil will likely see him as their best hope. If he understands this, a year from now he’ll be the presumptive nominee and a substantial favorite to win."
I might add to Olsen's points that so far sparse polling shows Biden beating Trump not only in his home state of Pennsylvania but also Michigan and Wisconsin and beating Trump by more than other potential Democratic nominees. If it's true that Biden does have the best chance in the Rustbelt three that delivered the Presidency to Trump (I grant you this is debatable, early polls and all that) the case against his having the best chance of beating Trump must come down to Biden significantly reducing Democratic odds in states like Georgia, Arizona and Florida. No data of any kind here yet but I have my doubts Biden would really hurt Democrats in these states.
Therefore, while I am not sure Olsen is right, I am not sure he is wrong either.
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