Joe Biden and the Phantom “Electability” Argument

Kevin E. Schmidt/Quad-City Times via ZUMA

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Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan thinks the press is being too easy on Joe Biden:

As Iowa journalist Robert Leonard talks to voters around his state, he finds himself baffled at the national portrayal of Joe Biden’s dominance in the presidential campaign….He shakes his head at the extensive coverage and commentary that depicts Biden as almost a shoo-in for a nomination that’s more than a year away.

I keep hearing this, but I’ve never seen it. Can someone please give me an example of Biden being treated as a shoo-in?

One example: CNN’s morning briefing newsletter recently called Biden “the most formidable threat” to President Trump’s reelection chances.

CNN is far from alone. It’s common across the national media to see Biden pegged as the safest candidate for Democrats to put up to unseat Trump. He’s got that secret sauce: electability.

Saying that Biden, the frontrunner in all the polls, provides the most formidable threat to Trump is not even close to calling him a shoo-in, nor does it say anything about his electability. So where does this come from?

I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least a dozen pieces complaining about Biden’s supposed electability for every piece that actually says Biden is the most electable candidate. In fact, let’s check that out. Here are the top results from a Google search for “Biden electable”:

You’d think that in a column headlined “Joe Biden and the ‘electability’ delusion,” Sullivan could manage to provide at least one example of Biden being called the most electable candidate, but she can’t. Or doesn’t. Or something. Like everyone else, she complains about this phantom argument, but can’t really point to anyone making it.

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In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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