FACTORYVILLE, Pa. — Joe Biden has always gotten away with being Joe Biden.
This was true when he was President Barack Obama's vice president, and it was true for his decades in the Senate.
"That's just Joe being Joe," reporters, politicians and commentators would say with a chuckle whenever Biden said something outrageous or awkward, or when he behaved bizarrely. "Classic Biden!"
But what happens if Joe stops being Joe?
What if he starts being no different from his 20-plus competitors?
One month after Biden rolled out a near-perfect presidential announcement, bookending his tour in his home state of Pennsylvania, Biden started to become a little less Joe. His opponents, special interest groups and his own campaign staff leaned him on the question of abortion subsidies, and so he flipped, abandoning his longtime support for the Hyde Amendment.
Keep in mind that pressure came from people who, for the most part, do not live in proximity to the very voters who will likely decide a presidential election, who instead live in the same super ZIP codes that surround Washington and New York City. Everyone they know supports federal subsidies for abortion. That taxpayer dollars for abortion would upset some Democrats or independents is unthinkable to this crowd.
This same crowd that advised Hillary Clinton persuaded Biden.
And that is when Joe stopped being Joe.
"This kind of abrupt change in policy stances flies in the face of Biden's strengths," said Jeff Brauer, political science professor at Keystone College here in Factoryville, "particularly in a general election."
David Axelrod, the chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama-Biden presidential campaigns, tweeted in response to Biden's flip: "The @JoeBiden rollout was close to flawless. His handling of this Hyde Amendment issue was a mess. Changes of position over a long career are justifiable but should be thoughtfully planned. This was an awkward flip-flop-flip."
The Hyde Amendment has long been part of the pragmatic compromise on the emotionally charged issue of abortion, explained Brauer. "While Americans are generally OK with early-term abortions as an option," he said, "they generally don't believe tax dollars should be paying for them, especially since so many Americans are morally opposed to abortions."
Biden has for decades cautiously straddled the line on this issue despite his party's much more liberal stances on it. It was a position that has helped to solidify his image as practical and respectful on difficult issues.
Brauer warns that Biden's newfound support for taxpayer-funded abortions will jeopardize his appeal to pragmatic Midwest voters who went for Trump in 2016.
"While this flip may assist him in maintaining support from the Democratic base, it is likely to dissuade the independents and moderates needed to win the general election over Trump," he said.
"What Biden needs to do is appeal to voters in the middle and even the Right," Brauer argues. "This move isn't going to help in that. Moving hard left in the primary could prove to be fatal for the general."
"Biden has also succumbed to far-left pressures on the environment by rolling out a policy plan that is far more liberal than expected," said Brauer.
Trump's victory in 2016 was primarily due to his support in the Midwestern Rust Belt states, whose voters had been hit hard economically as jobs moved elsewhere. With a recent boom fueled by natural gas, some of these areas are bouncing back.
Brauer said: "These voters will see stronger environmental regulations as a major threat to continued financial success. While Biden has been effective in the past in reaching blue-collar workers, prospective new regulations will be a game changer for their support if they feel Biden's environmental policies are going to hit them in their pocketbooks."
Brauer said Biden truly needs to rethink short-term gains in the primary, which could cost him his long-term strengths in the general. "These concessions to the Left will lead to new questions concerning his stances on other issues," he said. "In turn, that could end up pushing him even further to the left, perhaps to the point where he will no longer be seen as just Joe."
In an era when voters were able to look at Trump and understand exactly what sort of man he was yet vote for him anyway, a less-than-genuine Biden hardly seems to be in demand. Voters want you to be who you are, rather than a creation of staffers, special interest groups and Washingtonians.
Just ask Clinton.
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.