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What Joe Biden Can Learn From Donald Trump

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The Donald is popular for a reason, and the rest of the field had better pay attention.

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The pundits are having a field day with Donald Trump.

He's been called "America's Berlusconi," Professor Harold Hill from the Broadway show "The Music Man," and even a throw-back to the "Know Nothing Party" from the mid-1850's.

The analogies used by the mainstream media matter.

They oversimplify and exaggerate in an effort to be understood immediately.

In just a word or two, they try to tell a full story.

Taken together, the analogies above tell a very important tale; not about Donald Trump, but about us.

What Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, the Music Man's Harold Hill and the Know Nothing Party have in common is that all three thrived in periods of low confidence.

Low social mood contributed to their success.

Today, Donald Trump is riding a similar wave of falling sentiment.

Last week, Economic Confidence as objectively measured by Gallup reached not just a year-to-date low, but one equal to readings from September 2009, just months from the worst of banking crisis.

Today, Main Street's outlook is decidedly negative.

When our confidence is low, our preferences change - including the kinds of leaders we follow.

Weak mood political and business leaders have very specific and consistent traits. Today, many Republican voters are excited by Donald Trump's outsider qualities - two traits he shares with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, another weak social mood-era leader.
When our moods are weak, we rebel against the establishment and oust incumbents. We seek out unfiltered pioneer spirits.

While clearly a Washington insider today, Vice President Biden has preserved his unfiltered pioneering spirit. He clearly displayed it in 1973 when he was elected as the sixth-youngest senator in U.S. history in 1973 -- when social mood was similar to today's.

But VP Biden has other traits which will help him today. When mood is low, we want resilient and empathetic leaders. We want to follow someone who has overcome adversity and can relate to our struggles.

Measured against his potential competitors today, the Vice President is unmatched on both.

Finally, during periods of weak confidence, we demand authenticity. We want candidates who are real -- and who have been consistently so forever. Here, too, the Vice President stands out.

This is not to say that the Vice President is by any means a shoo-in. As a consensus-building, political incumbent and a long-time figure in Washington, he is at a disadvantage to more extreme outsiders. He is also not a woman, minority, or a young man -- three groups which routinely gain ground during periods of weak social mood.

The Vice President had also better be prepared for intense scrutiny. As mood, confidence, and trust fall, we subject those in the limelight to relentless investigation. 

Anything and everything will be fair game; and as we have seen already with some of his potential opponents, withholding information will only send reporters scurrying to find something else to dig their teeth into.

In this environment, candidates can't manage the message. Their message will be shaped for them by mood. Should the Vice President decide to run, he should anticipate a 1968 Presidential campaign environment -- not a 2008 one.

That Donald Trump has soared in popularity is good news for a potential Biden campaign. America wants an unfiltered maverick. The Vice President offers that and more. 

While he will be challenged to overcome his image as a consensus-building political insider, his resilience, empathy, and authenticity are traits that will appeal to Main Street voters.

Paired with Elizabeth Warren as his Vice President, he could completely upend the Clinton campaign.

Peter Atwater is the President of Chadds Ford-based Financial Insyghts LLC and an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware. He speaks and writes frequently on the role of confidence in political, financial and economic decision making.

Twitter: @Peter_Atwater
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