The new conventional wisdom on Joe Biden is that his strong showing in the polls proves that Democrats aren’t crazed leftists after all. A variation has it that Democrats aren’t crazed enough to pass up the opportunity to nominate the man they consider most likely to defeat President Trump next year.
I came into this election cycle believing that at least half of Democrat voters, and probably more than half, are not far-leftists. But Biden’s success in the polls doesn’t demonstrate this. His support is at about 40 percent. It may well be that the only reason he has a large lead over Bernie Sanders is that the far left’s support is divided among candidates more radical than Biden.
The extent to which Biden is standing up to the Democratic left is also overstated. Recognizing the degree to which his party has moved left, Biden is repudiating positions he held for years, perhaps most notably on immigration and most pathetically on Anita Hill.
Now, as John McCormack of NRO observes, Biden has switched his position on the Hyde Amendment. This piece of legislation prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger.
Throughout his career, Biden supported the Hyde Amendment. In 1994, he told a constituent:
I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout my 21 years in the Senate: those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them. As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions.
That’s right. In 1994, 25 years ago, Biden had been in the Senate for 21 years.
Biden was still in the Senate 13 years later when he wrote a book called “Promises to Keep.” In it, he stated:
I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years. I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding.
But this is a promise that Biden is no longer keeping. He has abandoned his “middle-of-the-road” position on abortion. Earlier this month, Biden told an ACLU activist that the Hyde Amendment “can’t stay.” (Was he too embarrassed to come right out and say it has to go or was this yet another example of Biden’s inarticulateness?)
Biden will be shedding more of his “middle-of-the-road” positions as the campaign season rolls on. He has to if he wants to lead a party that, whatever the precise extent of its leftism may be, is well left of the middle.
How will the electorate at-large view these “flip-flops?” It probably won’t like the one on the Hyde Amendment. McCormack notes that a 2016 poll conducted for Politico and Harvard’s school of public health found that likely voters opposed Medicaid funding of abortion by a 22-point margin (58 percent to 36 percent).
More generally, the electorate isn’t likely to be impressed with serial flip-flopping by Biden or anyone else. The flip-flop charge helped defeat John Kerry in 2004.
It may not defeat Joe Biden in 2020, but it’s likely, at a minimum, to give him a big headache.