Opinion - Politics

Op-Ed: Biden can finish off Sanders by doing these 4 things

Key Points
  • Joe Biden has grabbed the delegate lead and the momentum in the Democratic presidential primary race.
  • But he's had the lead, at least in the polls, before. What does he need to do now to make sure he defeats Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and closes the deal this time?
  • Here are Biden's four simple steps to victory: 
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden delivers remarks at his primary night election event in Columbia, South Carolina, on February 29, 2020.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Joe Biden has grabbed the delegate lead and the momentum in the Democratic presidential primary race.

But he's had the lead, at least in the polls, before. What does he need to do now to make sure he defeats Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and closes the deal this time?

Here are Biden's four simple steps to victory: 

Realize what got you here and keep a low profile

 The biggest danger right now for Biden and his campaign handlers is for them to believe something they did is the reason his fortunes have turned around. They must realize and embrace the fact that it was the fear of a Sanders nomination and the democratic socialist, anti-establishment movement that came with it that brought the avalanche of key nominations and the victories in South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states.

Biden didn't come back to life on his own, he was resurrected by others. His campaign trail conduct was continuing to deteriorate going right into Super Tuesday. And that's fueling significant discussions online and in other circles about Biden's mental capacity beyond his long history of controversial statements.

We should leave Biden's actual mental abilities to the medical experts, but his campaign needs to learn from the mistakes it made last year. Mentally sharp or not, Biden at every stage in his political career has never shown a consistent ability to win over voters anywhere other than Delaware.

The Biden campaign foolishly ignored that fact and thrust him officially into the race way too early last year. In this election cycle, Biden's perceived electability against President Donald Trump - and now against Bernie Sanders - has always been his best calling card. His personality, demeanor on the campaign trail, and his debate performances are all weak by contrast. 

With Super Tuesday's grueling campaign and travel challenges behind him, it's time for the Biden campaign to take their candidate out of the public eye and as many unscripted events as possible. That includes trying to reduce the number of debates versus Sanders and relying on more of Biden's growing list of Democratic Party backers to do as much of the talking for him until Election Day.

Channel Bill Clinton's 1992 pro-business message

Other than literally not being Bernie Sanders, Biden needs to incorporate more pro-business rhetoric into his agenda.

Based on his tax plan that would make a lot of billionaire-hating socialists proud, Biden has a long way to go.

 Luckily, Biden can do that by following a modern example of a successful Democratic presidential candidate who made it a point to prove his vision for America sharply contrasted with the party's anti-business or anti-capitalist vision. That candidate was Bill Clinton, who made his 1992 campaign and much of his actual presidency about rebranding the party overall as less leftward leaning on issues like the economy, gun control, and even the death penalty.

If you don't believe or remember how Clinton made his pro-capitalist message a prominent part of his campaign, take a good look at how quickly he praised entrepreneurship in his 1992 Democratic National Convention acceptance speech. Before the party establishment clearly freaked out over Sanders and his socialist message, it was almost impossible to imagine a Democrat today making a similar speech. But now, Biden has a free pass to do it.

Tackle health care head on

 With Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) now out of the race, the urgency is high for Biden's camp to make a better case for his alternative to the Medicare for All plans she and Sanders have supported.

This is urgent not just because Biden needs to counter a key Sanders plan, but because health care costs and coverage remain at the forefront of the voters' minds. Health care and coverage were the top issues for voters in the 2018 midterm elections, but the Democratic presidential candidates have devoted much more of their attention to other issues. Trump also rarely speaks or tweets about it.

This leaves Biden with an opportunity to balance whatever Democratic voter support there is for Medicare for All with his promise to revise and improve Obamacare. 

Biden does not want to seem like he's criticizing the Obama administration's signature policy. But if there ever was a time for Biden to acknowledge that not everything about the Obama White House was perfect, it would be now.

Biden can make this a winning issue for his primary and potential general election campaign.

Start taking the higher ground right now

Finally, Biden and his team need to understand what it really means when Democrats and independents say they want a true alternative to Trump. As Mike Bloomberg has already found out the hard way, that doesn't mean those voters want to see a bunch of nasty and trolling tweets against the president.

Biden needs to brand himself as something other than the Democratic version of Trump by invoking his name less often, tweeting more conservatively, and making overtures to Trump voters. That may seem like things only someone who has already won the nomination should be doing, but Biden needs to start carrying himself like the nominee while not insulting Sanders' voters. It's all part of that "acting presidential' thing that so many Trump detractors harp on so much.

The above priorities may seem like easy steps for Biden and his team to take. But embracing the reality that makes these options clear isn't a given for a party that still refuses to embrace the real reasons for its 2016 election loss and even harps on the same old excuses for its recent challenges in this primary process.  

The next few weeks will show us if Biden has what it takes to close the deal against Sanders and start to make his case for the general election.

 Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.