Is Joe Biden the New Jeb Bush?

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Joe Biden, who had been polling as high as 38% in mid June, is losing support. The elder statesman, who occupies the ideological center of his party, is now polling at 23% according to the latest Economist/YouGov poll. While he still leads, Biden has been steadily leaking support for over a month now.

A disappointing debate performance spurred a number of his political adversaries to take aim at his electability. His fundraising haul of $22 million for the cycle is solid, but he still trails Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, and Harris in this regard.

Biden also faces an enthusiasm gap. Over half of those polled believe that Warren or Sanders will “fight a great deal” for them, while that number is only 38% for Biden. Additionally, when asked which candidate was the most passionate, a mere 14% of Democratic voters chose Biden.

Is “Sleepy Joe” the new “Low Energy Jeb?”

CNN political commentator Ana Navarro set the twittersphere ablaze when she noted that Biden was giving her “Jeb Bush acid reflux” back in June.

The Biden and Bush campaigns may be more alike than you would initially suspect. Both campaigns started with widespread name recognition, high polling numbers, and robust war chests. Courting conservatives, Bush reminisced over his brother’s presidency, while Biden often evokes the relative stability of the Obama presidency amid the Trumpian flux.

Biden’s national figure status, aided by decades in the political spotlight, propelled him to unsustainable leads in early polling amid a crowded field of lesser-known political entities. Since its inception, the Biden camp has seemed determined to play defense, avoid headlines, and exist purely on momentum.

Enjoying an early advantage, it would seem that Biden is leading in the polls because he is leading in the polls. We all love to be a part of the winning team, no?

Political experience, coupled with nostalgia for a different era of politics, will not be enough to win an election, let alone the primary. In a world where political “outsiders” reign supreme, the political arena may be the only field where experience is a net negative.

Instead, Biden must focus on building a movement. Whether it is Obama’s forward looking optimism or Trump’s past-focused pessimism, Biden must mobilize voters and articulate what a Biden presidency would look like. In France, Emmanuel Macron built a centrist political movement to defeat a rightwing candidate. Given the partisan times, could Biden duplicate the same movement here?

There are obstacles. Biden is, after all, a paradox. For an establishment-backed incrementalist who extols the pacifying effects of respecting norms and institutions, Biden does commit an alarming number of no-force errors. (“I am a gaffe machine,” he admitted in December.)

Indeed, the coexistence of Biden’s political temperance and personal intemperance appears at best an odd marriage, or at worst mutually exclusive.

This is where political experience can backfire for Biden. There is a (primarily media-driven) narrative that Biden is a walking mouth-in-foot apparatus. On the same day as his first supposed gaffe, in which Biden downplayed the threat posed by China, Trump threatened Cuba with a “full and complete embargo,” attacked the historically apolitical federal reserve over interest rates, and lambasted our European allies over Syria.

Which actions were covered by the media?

Biden will be in the primary for the long haul. His name recognition and fundraising totals, coupled with his strong base of elderly and African American voters, allow Biden to enjoy a high political floor.

But unless Biden can start mobilizing larger sections of the electorate, he will face the same fate as Jeb — a sedated, downward descent into political obscurity.

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.

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