When Joe Biden announced his bid for the presidency, he started in first place, about 7 to 10 points ahead of Bernie Sanders. But since his declaration of candidacy, he has soared to a lead of more than 20 points in many polls.
Some commentators have jumped to the conclusion that the Democratic primary voters are reacting against the leftist trend of the other contenders for the party's nomination. But we should not discount the advantage familiarity brings to the former vice president's candidacy.
Agoraphobia — fear of new situations and places — is a key tendency in today's politics. With the nerve-wracking extremes of the left and the right, which our political parties often embrace, a solid, well-known face is attractive to many.
But Biden's surge is also a reminder of how weak the commitment to a leftist agenda is even among strong Democratic voters. These are not avowed, dyed-in-the-wool socialists who indicate support for the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They are strongly opposed to Donald Trump and eager to embrace any alternative. They are willing to stray from the leftist principals of the Democratic progressive movement for the warm familiarity and comfort of good old Joe.
How long will the Biden surge last? Not very long. It will begin to dissipate after the first debate this summer and will be a distant memory by Super Tuesday in March of 2020.
What now seems familiar will come to seem boring, and Biden's past record of relative conservatism will pale in comparison with the exciting proposals of Bernie, Warren and the other candidates.
The basic flaw in Biden's candidacy is the unpopularity of the Democratic Party leadership even among its own voters. This discontent was largely papered over by the enthusiasm Barack Obama generated, but the anti-establishment sentiment among Democrats resurfaced in 2016 and almost toppled Hillary Clinton's candidacy as Sanders vaulted from obscurity to contention in a few months.
And as the shadow of collusion with Russia dissipates and the good economic news sinks in, Trump will be increasingly attractive to centrists who might otherwise have backed Biden.
There is nothing more vulnerable than a front-runner whose campaign's rationale is his electability. The slightest drop in his numbers undermines his appearance of inevitability and diminishes his vote share even further. A self-perpetuating cycle sets in.
As it will with Biden.