Paul Fanlund is editor and publisher of The Capital Times. A longtime Madisonian, he was a State Journal reporter and editor before becoming a vice president of Madison Newspapers. He joined the Cap Times in 2006.

Biden at RALLY (copy)

To beat Donald Trump, Democrats need more than true believers to get behind their eventual candidate, which might explain why former Vice President Joe Biden is polling better than expected so far.

Let’s get this straight: Joe Biden is not my favorite candidate.

I recall the misogynistic treatment of Anita Hill in 1991 by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which Biden chaired. That U.S. Supreme Court confirmation marked the dawn of Republican politics as clown show, elevating a consummate lightweight in Clarence Thomas to a lifetime seat.

Biden is handsy and slightly goofy and his claim that the nation faces a Trump crisis, not a Republican one, is absurd. Hello, what about Mitch McConnell? You do recall his pledge to wreck Barack Obama’s presidency when you were the president’s wingman, right?

At times, Biden is simply out of step. Just this week, he drew a firestorm of criticism for reaffirming his support of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. Then, two days later, he announced that he has switched his position and now opposes Hyde.

Yet thus far, he has polled more strongly than expected, so much so that other Democrats have noticed. “Liberals go after Joe Biden” was a recent Washington Post headline on the trend, highlighting criticism by Democratic presidential competitors Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. “The broadsides amounted to the loudest warning yet from the party’s left flank that it intends to aggressively challenge the centrist ideas and cautious politics that have gained a foothold,” the Post story said.

Trump has also apparently noticed Biden’s nascent strength as well, judging by the frequency of his anti-Biden tweets.

Perhaps the reason Biden polls so strongly is that so many just want to defeat Trump and they regard him, at this point, as the most acceptable candidate to a broad swath of the electorate.

As David Iscoe, a former comedy writer for The Onion, put it: “Maybe Joe Biden being the kind of guy that a racist and sexist country will accept is the best chance to defeat a much more virulent racist and sexist, and that’s a bargain we can’t pass up.”

Edgy, but with a grain of truth. Anyway, the only path to halt the obscenity of Trumpism is by beating him with a big tent that holds more than outraged urbanites who tend to congregate in deeply blue — and thus safe — Democratic areas and preach to the choir.

When I write on this theme, I am accused on not being a true progressive, that only uncompromising progressives like Sanders and Warren have the courage of their convictions and can therefore excite younger generations of voters.

My response is, that when it comes to measuring utter disdain for Trump and today’s conniving GOP, I and others on the moderate left take no back seat. In that sense, we are flaming radicals.

But there simply are not enough voters in places Democrats need to carry in Midwestern industrial states and elsewhere to win the Electoral College without broadening the base.

Clearly, this far-left versus moderate-left battle is once again being joined.

Recently, John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado and one of 14 Democratic candidates who spoke at the convention of California Democrats in San Francisco, was booed for criticizing socialism.

As the jeering grew, Hickenlooper added: “You know, if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up re-electing the worst president in American history.”

He elaborated in a Washington Post interview: “We’ve got to clearly show that we reject socialism. We’ve got to do that because Republicans will try to make us into socialists even if we’re not. If we’re not willing to draw a bright line and say we’re not socialists, we could quite possibly re-elect this president.”

The tension between the party’s two factions shows up, among other places, in discussions about “Medicare-for-all” — a popular idea in the party’s left wing. At the California convention, Hickenlooper said this about it: “We shouldn’t try to achieve universal coverage by removing private insurance from over 150 million Americans.”

He also told the Post: “Most Democrats share this notion of universal (health) coverage. Most Democrats really understand the urgency of climate change. But I think we’ll get to better solutions faster by recognizing that big, massive government expansions are not going to be as successful.”

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Halfway across the country, another Democratic governor spoke to his state convention that same day, and likely would agree with Hickenlooper.

In his remarks, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers joked that he heard complaints that he was a boring candidate with a boring campaign in 2018, yet now he wields one of the most powerful veto authorities in the country, a budget tool certain to serve Democratic interests against a Republican Legislature unwilling to compromise.

“Who is boring now?” Evers asked the audience. The Milwaukee crowd roared, gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name.

Some have criticized Evers for refusing to be baited into acerbic political arguments with Republican leaders. But don’t forget that Scott Walker is no longer governor because of Tony Evers — because of his authenticity, his calm demeanor and his “boring” preoccupation with funding education, roads and extending health care.

Anyway, my theme today isn’t about Joe Biden per se — like I said, I think he’s flawed — but about getting to an authentic Democratic candidate who might truly frighten Trump. The center-left intellects and personas of Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg come to mind.

To the Sanders and Warren lefties, do you really think Democrats took over the U.S. House last year primarily because of angry armies of engaged activists in big cities?

They helped, but the real heroes were the nuanced, more centrist candidates who prevailed in the 31 purple districts Trump won in 2016. In many of those districts, educated women who had voted Republican in the past were the key. You really think they’ll be keen on political messaging built on socialism?

To actually make change, you need to win. Losing based on a chest-thumping, uncompromising socialist message is, well, still losing.

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