In 2015, Joe Biden lost his son Beau to brain cancer. It was a blow from which he reeled and thought he could not recover. So, in 2016, Biden decided to step aside and not challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for President. The rest is history.
History came full circle last week and last night as we witnessed the contest that we might have seen in the spring of 2016: Biden versus Bernie. In district after district, voters across the South, the Midwest and the West turned to Biden and not to Bernie, even though many of them had supported Bernie four years ago. The inescapable conclusion is that much of Bernie’s 2016 support was based on opposition to Hillary and not support for Bernie. Given a different choice in 2020, literally thousands of Democratic voters preferred Biden to Bernie.
All of which brings me back to the death of Beau Biden. Had Beau not be stricken with cancer, Joe Biden might have run in 2016 and beaten both Hillary and Bernie. Voters who voted for Trump over Hillary might have voted for Biden. Suburban women who turned on Hillary might have voted for Biden. Blue collar workers who were put off by Hillary might have voted for Biden. Black voters might have turned out in greater numbers for Biden. Across five key states, it is not difficult to imagine that Biden would have got 170,000+ votes more than Hillary and won the election.
I never understood the Hillary animus. But this year, Super Tuesday and this week’s primary election make that animus measurable in the Democratic Party just as the separate components of Trump’s narrow margin of victory made that animus measurable in the general electorate. I like to think that Hillary would never had run and would never had subjected the country to the risk of Donald Trump had she been quantitatively aware of the degree of animus that she generated within her own party and across the general electorate. I believe that she looked at Bernie and Trump as a conceptual competitors, that her ideas and vision were being contrasted against theirs. Actually, she was being contrasted with any alternative (Bernie in the primaries and Trump in the general election) and a meaningful number found her unpalatable.
It is hard to look back at the last two weeks and not wonder what might have been if Beau Biden had not died. I suspect that, in quiet moments of personal reflection, Joe Biden asks himself the same question. If he wins against Bernie and then against Trump, he will have the opportunity to extinguish that personal demon and for that reason, if for no other, I hope that he gets the chance to do so.