Vice President Biden offered a blunt diagnosis for why his party was unable to win over voters who gravitated to Donald Trump in the end: “We didn’t talk to them.”
In his strongest comments yet on why Hillary Clinton lost the election, the outgoing veep who prides himself on his blue-collar roots in Scranton, Pa., said his party failed to connect with working-class, largely white, voters. Speaking in an extensive interview with the Los Angeles Times, Biden warned that “a bit of elitism” has “crept in” to party thinking and urged a change.
“I believe that we were not letting an awful lot of people — high school-educated, mostly Caucasian, but also people of color — know that we understood their problems,” he reportedly said.
The interview amounted to one of the toughest post-mortem looks yet from a party elder on why Democrats lost. While other top party strategist have sought to tout Clinton’s nearly 3 million-person popular-vote lead on Election Day, Biden sought to explain why Trump was able to win the states that helped deliver an Electoral College victory and, with it, the presidency.
He recalled watching a Trump rally in Pennsylvania near where he grew up and thinking, “Son of a gun. We may lose this election.”
Biden told the L.A. Times, “They’re all the people I grew up with. They’re their kids. And they’re not racist. They’re not sexist. But we didn’t talk to them.”
Biden had considered a run for the White House himself, only to decide against it more than a year ago.
In the interview, he critiqued Democratic nominee Clinton, saying he didn’t “think she ever really figured” out why she was running, while acknowledging she likely felt she “had no choice.” But his broader criticism was directed at the party, its message and its insufficient outreach to the kinds of voters Trump was attracting.
Clinton took criticism during the campaign for at one point describing swaths of Trump voters as part of a “basket of deplorables,” remarks she later walked back. Biden reportedly argued that Democrats indeed created a false conflict between “progressive” values and those of the working class.
“What are the arguments we’re hearing? ‘Well, we’ve got to be more progressive.’ I’m not saying we should be less progressive,” he told the Times. “We should be proud of where the hell we are, and not yield an inch. But in the meantime, you can’t eat equality. You know?”
He said “we constantly made a mistake of not speaking to the fears, aspirations, concerns of middle class people … you didn’t hear a word about that husband and wife working, making 100,000 bucks a year, two kids, struggling and scared to death. They used to be our constituency.”
As the Democratic Party reassesses and prepares not only for the incoming Trump administration – which will be bolstered by a Congress that remains Republican-controlled – Biden has left open whether he would contemplate another run in 2020. He said most recently his age and health could be an issue, or not.
But Biden is unlikely to stay silent as the new administration comes into office. His criticism of Trump has not ebbed and, in the interview, Biden said he doesn’t think Trump understands working-class people either.
“He at least acknowledged the pain. But he played to the prejudice. He played to the fear,” he said.
Biden isn’t the only party elder openly criticizing the Democratic infrastructure on the way out the door. Retiring Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid also made headlines this week after telling Nevada Public Radio that the Democratic National Committee has been “worthless,” and has not helped state parties.