Former Vice President Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during...

Former Vice President Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during an event on foreign policy in New York on Thursday. Credit: Bloomberg/Tiffany Hagler-Geard

Despite a lackluster debate performance, former Vice President Joe Biden is still holding on to his lead in the race for the Democratic nomination in large part because Democratic voters see him as the most electable candidate. A Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that a 45 percent plurality of voters believe Biden has the best chance of beating President Donald Trump. No other candidate comes even close.

But what if those voters are wrong?

To win back the presidency, Democrats must retake states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio where once-reliable working-class Democrats opted for Trump in 2016. The rationale for Biden’s campaign is that he is the candidate best positioned to win back these “forgotten Americans” who voted twice for him and President Barack Obama. In fact, he may be the worst candidate to try to do that.

These voters left during Obama and Biden’s tenure for Trump for a reason — they didn’t get the hope and change they were promised. During the Obama administration, the United States lost almost 200,000 manufacturing jobs. Indeed, Obama told them to get used to it, because some manufacturing jobs “are just not going to come back.”

Well, guess what? Since Trump’s election, the United States has added more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs. On his watch, the unemployment rate for Americans without a high school diploma reached the lowest point recorded, and their wages rose more than 6 percent
last year, outpacing all other groups. In Michigan, unemployment is just 4.2 percent; in Ohio, it is 4.1 percent; in Pennsylvania, it is 3.8 percent; and in Wisconsin, it is just 2.8 percent. America’s biggest economic problem is that we have 1.6 million more job openings than unemployed people to fill those jobs. Why would these voters reverse course when they are doing so much better under Trump?

These voters also cast ballots for Trump because they were tired of the political establishments of both parties that ignored them or took their votes for granted. And Biden is the epitome of the very establishment they voted to remove from the halls of power. He arrived in Washington in 1973 and has been a fixture in the nation’s capital for decades. He is probably the last person to whom anti-establishment voters would want to turn.

Trump is going to portray Biden as a creature of the Washington swamp, and call him out as a corrupt politician who used his power and influence to enrich his family. And Trump will have plenty of ammunition to back those claims. Biden’s son Hunter’s international business dealings had a curious pattern of intersecting with the vice president’s diplomatic efforts with governments of countries of concern to the United States. Whether it was Hunter’s $1 billion deal with the Bank of China less than two weeks after the vice president brought Hunter to Beijing, or the vice president’s insistence that Ukraine dismiss its top prosecutor who happened to be investigating an oligarch who owned a Ukrainian energy company paying Hunter $50,000 a month to serve on its board, there is smoke there.

That is not going to play well with the forgotten Americans. Trump will say Biden backed all the disastrous trade deals that destroyed so many American manufacturing jobs. Trump will tell working-class voters that Biden’s family got rich while they lost their livelihoods — until Trump brought their jobs back.

Biden is perceived as electable because the rest of the Democratic field has gone to the left. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. With most of the other leading candidates having embraced socialism and open borders, Biden looks like a winner by comparison. But Biden’s electability is a myth. Trump will be just as happy to run against the swamp creature as anyone else.

Marc A. Thiessen is a columnist with The Washington Post.