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Joe Biden is the Democrats’ Mitt Romney

WASHINGTON — Democrats winced when they heard Joe Biden talking about his hairy legs. “The kids used to come up and reach into the pool and rub my leg down so it was straight and watch the hair come back up again,” he said in a video of a 2017 speech that recently went viral, adding, “I loved kids jumping on my lap.”

Despite cringe-worthy moments like this, Biden remains the Democratic front-runner for one simple reason: 46 percent of Democrats believe he has the best chance of beating President Trump. Democratic voters are not enthusiastic about his agenda; only 15 percent think he has the best policy ideas, compared with a combined 38 percent who say that about Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. But they don’t think Sanders and Warren can win, while they believe Biden can.

What they don’t realize yet is that Joe Biden is the Democrats’ Mitt Romney.

Back in 2012, Republicans were terrified that tea party radicals would cost them the election by nominating an unelectable extremist. So, they united behind a genial, milquetoast moderate who they thought was more “electable” than some crazy right-winger. Sure, Romney didn’t have the “vision thing,” but it didn’t matter. Barack Obama was deeply unpopular, his approval rating stuck in the low 40s. All they needed was an inoffensive candidate who could ride anti-Obama sentiment into the Oval Office. It didn’t work out as they had hoped.

Today, Democrats face virtually the same situation. They are terrified that their left-wing base will nominate an unelectable extremist. So, they are backing Biden for the same reasons Republicans backed Romney. And it might not work out as they hope.

Like Romney, Biden is not a conviction politician who can energize the base with the power of his ideas. Like Romney, Biden is a personally decent guy who will be unable to withstand the brutal pummeling that his opponent will unleash in the general election. And like Romney, Biden is a gaffe machine.

Remember when Romney declared that “corporations are people, my friend,” boasted “I like being able to fire people,” announced that his immigration policy was “self-deportation” and dismissed 47 percent of the country as a moochers “who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them”? With Biden running, it’s like deja vu again.

Biden has declared that Democrats should “choose truth over facts” and that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented, as white kids.” He confused former British prime minister Theresa May with the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. He pledged to use biofuels to power “steamships” and promised in a debate “I would eliminate the capital gains tax” when he meant he would raise it. He criticized Trump for freezing military aid to Ukraine by declaring “people are being killed in western, in eastern Afghan — excuse me, in eastern, uh, Ukraine.”

The big difference is that Romney was at least younger and energetic. Biden is old and fragile. If he wins, he’ll be older on the day he takes office than Ronald Reagan was on the day he left office. Indeed, many of his recent gaffes are really senior moments — like when he repeatedly gets confused about what state he is in.

Perhaps this realization is why Biden is not pulling away from the pack and appears stuck at around 28 percent support. Those supporters have stuck with him, no matter how he stumbles, in large part because they see no viable alternative — just as Republicans saw no viable alternative to Romney. Sanders and Warren would energize the base, but they are so far left that they spook swing voters. Pete Buttigieg is a midsize-city mayor who lacks higher-level experience and struggles to attract the black vote. The rest of the field is in single digits.

So despite having the largest presidential primary field in modern history, the best Democrats can come up with is Biden. If he wins the nomination, they might find that nominating an ideologically flexible, wishy-washy moderate, and counting on the unpopularity of the sitting president to put you over the top, is not a winning strategy. Just ask President Mitt Romney.

Marc A. Thiessen is a Creators Syndicate columnist.

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