Right now, Joe Biden stands less than six months away from likely becoming President-elect of the United States; with the former VP holding the steadiest poll lead on record. Despite hosting regular virtual town halls and chats on his Youtube channel, Biden has managed to maintain a low profile during the pandemic. Using his basement campaign, the presumptive Democratic nominee has been able to pick and choose who he does and doesn’t speak to; largely avoiding any potentially hostile members of the press and saying as little as possible on Tara Reade’s allegation of sexual assault against him. Luckily for the Biden campaign, the Veep’s livestreams, which have been plagued with technical difficulties and confusing rambles, have gotten significantly less attention than the string of attack ads that Biden has put out against the President — many of which have gone viral on social media. For all intents and purposes, Joe Biden’s low-profile campaign is working.
Exactly four years ago, Hillary Clinton was in a similar position to Biden in terms of the Democratic Primary; being just a handful of delegates away from officially securing her party’s nomination. Yet, unlike Biden, she faced an opponent in Sanders who would steadfastly refuse to drop out until weeks later. Without having to worry about a global pandemic, Clinton ran a far more vigorous campaign than Biden; one that involved doing rallies and taking hard questions from the press. On top of this, Clinton seemed to be a stronger candidate than Biden; unlike Biden (who had been warned by Obama not to run for the highest office) Clinton was Obama’s handpicked successor and had long been seen as a President-in-waiting. Clinton was prepared and polished — as a gifted public speaker, she easily won debates against opponents and showcased remarkable stamina (evidenced in her handling of an 11-hour Benghazi hearing). Yet, while Biden spends May with a comfortable, though not indestructible, poll lead, it was during this month in 2016 that Clinton saw her shaky poll lead crumble to nothing.
While the uncertainty caused by the pandemic means that Biden’s victory against Trump isn’t yet ensured, it’s clear that he is on track for a very different trajectory than Clinton; even as Trump stands to benefit from the fruits of incumbency. With little ideological distance between the current and former Democratic nominee — and Biden having notable flaws that Clinton didn’t — how is he on track to gain the Presidency of the United States while she is left to enjoy strolls through the Chappaqua woods?
Ultimately, the divergent paths of Clinton and Biden come down to the personalities of the two politicians. The one area where Biden trumps Clinton is on perceptions of authenticity and trust-worthiness; a result of both Biden’s unpolished speaking style, but also the way that gender and sexism affect how Biden and Clinton are perceived. The gendered ways in which Clinton and Biden are viewed can be seen in how 47% of voters see Biden as ‘honest’, compared to just 38% for Clinton, despite Politifact finding Clinton to be significantly more honest than Biden.
As the first female major party nominee, Hillary Clinton had to walk an impossible tight-rope; she had to be prepared, but not over-prepared, tough, but not mean, and relatable, but without trying too hard
No matter what way you cut it, it’s hard to argue that Biden hasn’t greatly benefited from his gender in his fight against Trump. When watching Biden make gaffes and struggle to articulate himself (especially when contrasted to the communication skills of Clinton) it seems clear that a women with Biden’s political faults would never be able to win, while a man with Clinton’s political skills would likely be a shoe-in against Trump. As the first female major party nominee, Hillary Clinton had to walk an impossible tight-rope; she had to be prepared, but not over-prepared, tough, but not mean, and relatable, but without trying too hard. Biden doesn’t have to walk this tight-rope; he can make gaffes and mistakes and easily recover from them because his identity (as a straight, white man) is one that’s never faced systematic discrimination in America.
This isn’t to say that everyone who voted for Trump in 2016 but who is now supporting Biden in 2020 is sexist. Many voters wanted to give Trump a chance in 2016, irrespective of who his opponent was, and now feel like he’s failed to live up to their expectations. Moreover, there are areas where Biden has a legitimate advantage over Clinton. However, there are far more areas where Clinton would seem — at least on paper — to be a stronger candidate than Biden. Looking at the divergent paths of the two, it’s not hard to see why so many Democratic voters felt like their country just wasn’t ready to elect a women after 2016.