So here’s something I feel confident saying after watching Joe Biden’s speech at the Democratic National Convention: He would’ve crushed Donald Trump in this election.
I know, I know, you can’t predict the counterfactual. No one really knows what would’ve happened. Biden could have collapsed amid unexpected scandal, gaffes, or health problems. But assuming nothing crazy happened, I’m sticking with the claim: Biden would’ve crushed Trump. He matches up against Trump in a way that’s just devastating.
Joe Biden has three main strengths as a campaigner. He seems like he loves America more than any human who has ever lived. He seems like he really, truly identifies with the middle class. And he is better at projecting bemused condescension than any politician in the game today.
This is why Obama picked him in 2008. It’s easy to forget, but Democrats were running scared of Republicans — and particularly of Rudy Giuliani — on national security, which back then served as a proxy for Americanness. Well, most Democrats were running scared.
But not Biden. He’s confident in his patriotism, confident in his appeal, and damn confident with his knowledge of foreign policy. Watch the casual demolition of Giuliani he delivered while walking to a car. This is why he’s vice president today.
Tonight, Biden struck much the same tone against Trump — and delivered, by far, the most effective attack of the Democratic convention so far. Watch him literally shush the crowd so they don’t interrupt him while he’s flaying the Republican nominee.
Something we’ve written a bit about at Vox is how both the Democratic and Republican parties chose unusually weak, unpopular candidates this cycle. If Hillary Clinton wins, it will be because Trump is an orange catastrophe. If Trump wins, it will be because Americans prefer a candidate a majority believes to be unqualified to a candidate that a majority believes they can’t trust. Both parties could’ve found stronger campaigners to send into this race.
For Democrats, Biden is one of those roads not taken. And tonight, they got a look at how that election might have gone. Biden’s middle-class populism is an easy counter to Trump’s rich man’s populism; his rejoinder to "make America great again" is he obviously never stopped believing in America’s greatness; his bemused condescension would’ve found its perfect target in Trump’s brash ignorance.
Trump is good at bullying candidates like Jeb Bush. Joe Biden is good at bullying candidates like Donald Trump. I mean, watch that clip again. The way Biden delivers "no major party nominee in the history of this nation has ever known less or been less prepared to deal with our national security" is just devastating.
I’m not saying here that Biden would’ve been a great president. One reason he didn’t end up running is that top Democrats weren’t sure he would make a great president — the support wasn’t there for him in the way it would’ve been if key members of the Obama administration wanted to see him succeed their boss.
But while Hillary Clinton impresses those who serve alongside her, she’s got a set of weaknesses that are really all that gives Trump a chance in this election. She’s the favorite to win anyway, but Biden would’ve crushed Trump.