Joe Biden and the black vote

Joe Biden has two huge assets in his run for the Democratic nomination. First, he’s perceived as, and polls show him to be, the Democrat most likely to defeat President Trump. Second, he has strong support from African-American voters.

The second asset is related to the first, but not that closely. The main reasons why Biden has such strong support from African-Americans are (1) the fact that he was Barack Obama’s VP and (2) the fact that he’s a known quantity with a long (though not unbroken) record of supporting causes dear to blacks.

These assets enabled Biden to survive his boast about working with segregationist Senators and the ensuing attacks from Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. When the dust settled, he remained the clear favorite of African-American Democrats, and Harris and Booker seemed to have very little black support.

Biden’s work with Sens. James Eastland and Herman Tallmadge aren’t his only past flirtations with segregationists. In 1975, Biden said that Democrats need “a liberal George Wallace.” That doesn’t seem too bad, though. A liberal George Wallace would not have been a segregationist in 1975.

More damning, perhaps, is the fact that in 1987, when Biden was running for president and seeking the support of white voters in the South, he bragged that, in 1973, he received an award from Wallace. He also noted that Wallace had lauded him as “one of the outstanding young politicians of America.”

These facts were reported many months ago, but they haven’t been “litigated” in the debates. Maybe, if they are, Biden’s support among blacks will erode.

I doubt it, though. Black voters aren’t flighty, the way a certain kind of white liberal is. No “flavor of the month” for them.

Their approach, I think, can be summarized by what a co-worker/friend told me in 1979, when he explained why he was backing Jimmy Carter, rather than Ted Kennedy: “Dance with the one that ‘brung’ you.”

That thinking is evident from this account by the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, an African-American, of a family reunion in North Carolina. The vast majority of attendees back Biden, basically because he’s a known quantity.

There is a notable exception to the “dance with the one that ‘brung’ you” rule. In 2008, black voters initially favored Hillary Clinton. But after Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses, they danced with Obama.

Thus, if Kamala Harris were to win the Iowa caucuses next year, it’s easy to envisage the black vote switching to her. However, the more likely upset scenario in Iowa is an Elizabeth Warren victory.

Would this cause African-American voters to abandon Biden? Only, I think, if Biden seemed to be imploding.

Short of a Biden implosion, a possibility that certainly can’t be ruled out, here’s the scenario in which blacks abandon Biden: Barack Obama supports someone else.

How likely is this? I agree with a friend who says that Obama doesn’t want Biden to lead the Democratic Party. He would prefer a more left-wing candidate.

But I believe that Obama, like most Democrats, also wants desperately to see Trump defeated. As long as he considers Biden the Democrat most likely to accomplish this, it will be hard for him to endorse, or signal his support for, anyone else.

Obama must feel dreadful that Donald Trump succeeded him in the Oval Office. Imagine how much worse he would feel if he were to endorse a hard-left candidate who polls worse than Biden, only to see Trump defeat that candidate.

That’s a risk Obama must be extremely reluctant to assume.