Members Only | June 6, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Hyde-Bound Biden Is OK for Now

It won't sink him any more than previous flubs did.

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Yes, I still think Joe Biden is a zombie candidate. No, not because of what he said yesterday. Biden is who he is, and nothing’s going to change that. The Democratic Party is going to nominate him as-is or kick him to the curb. Sure, he still supports the Hyde amendment, but no one engaged in politics should be the least bit surprised.

Hyde is that tranche of language tacked on to every piece of spending legislation that prevents federal money from being used for abortions (with some exceptions). It’s one of those things that has played well for Democrats like Biden. He’s a Catholic, so he opposes abortion personally, but he’s a Democrat, so he supports access to it as a matter of principle and prudence. Hyde allows him to split the difference.

As I said, for people like Biden, which is to say old-fashioned and now elderly Cold War liberals who are in as well as out of step with the Democratic Party’s policy vanguard. That’s the news: the vast majority of Democrats support protection of reproductive right while Biden tends to speak for a bygone era. Among politicos, the question is whether he can weather the fallout from admitting that he’s a hoary-headed pol.

It probably won’t affect Biden for now due to the overwhelming desire to defeat Donald Trump.

I think so. I mean, not without a good drubbing first. He’ll get drubbed by his many competitors. Opposing Hyde for this crop of Democratic candidates is as natural as breathing. He’ll get drubbed by activists, who cannot and will not tolerate supporting Hyde. Given that Biden must get through the most engaged members of the party to secure its nomination, he’ll probably, at some point, declare a change of heart.

Will that hurt him? Maybe, but I doubt it. While changing one’s mind might otherwise indicate flip-floppery, it probably won’t affect Biden due to the overwhelming desire among Democrats to defeat Donald Trump. And even if he doesn’t mean it when he says he’s changed his mind, Biden is so accommodating to the party that it’s unlikely if elected president that he’d interfere with congressional attempts to strip Hyde.

The context in which all of this is happening is so different from Biden’s past runs for president. That context, it is obvious, is an incumbent leading a revival of fascist politics equaling previous flowerings of fascism seen before the Second World War.

In a context of rising fascist politics, it may not matter enough to party members that Biden said sorry-not sorry to Anita Hill. He may not matter enough that he appeared to plagiarize his climate change agenda. (Charges of plagiarism helped scuttle his 1988 candidacy.) It may not matter enough that he often violates women’s personal space. And it may not matter enough that he flip-flopped on the Hyde amendment.

Activists focus on principles and whatnot, but cold-blooded calculus matters more. Let’s be clear: activists understand real people face an existential threat with Trump’s reelection. This is why most black voters side with Biden. Sure, he opposed school integration in the 1970s. Sure, he supported racist crime laws in the 1990s. These are significant, even troubling, but look, he’s a Democrat who can send Trump packing.

The desire for victory got more intense on the same day he said he stood by the Hyde amendment. A new Q poll came out showing Biden over Trump by four points in Texas. No Democrat has won there since 1976. If Biden were to take the state, he wouldn’t need Midwest states the Democrats are currently focused on, like Wisconsin. He wouldn’t even need Florida. In other words, Texas is a true game changer.

It’s also a long shot. And anyway, we’re a long way from there.

Biden, as I said, must get through the party’s activist base. If activists see an opening for a preferred candidate—meaning Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, or perhaps Pete Buttigieg or Cory Booker—then all of these flaws, which have been so apparent for so long, might matter enough to sandbag Joe Biden. It won’t be merely one or two that sinks his candidacy. The party is going to embrace Biden as-is or not at all.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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