Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden shakes hands with a patron at King Taco Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Biden makes first trip to New Hampshire as a 2020 candidate
02:37 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Former Vice President Joe Biden predicted Tuesday that Republicans will have an “epiphany” and start working with Democrats once President Donald Trump is out of office.

“The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke,” Biden told reporters at a diner in Concord, New Hampshire. “You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

The comment is the latest demonstration of Biden’s effort to clash with Trump directly while also appealing to moderate Republicans, showcasing a broad appeal that could help him win a Democratic nominating contest in which voters are more concerned than usual with candidates’ perceived electability. But it also highlights a major rift within a 2020 Democratic primary field in which other candidates – particularly Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – are casting Trump as just a symptom of a GOP and a government now controlled by special interests.

Warren, in her campaign kickoff speech in February, said Trump is “just the latest and most extreme symptom of what’s gone wrong in America.” Sanders said at an Iowa rally earlier this year that the stakes of the campaign are “not just about defeating Donald Trump.”

The reaction to Biden’s comments from the more liberal quarters of the party also illustrated the skepticism to his candidacy from progressive activists and voters.

“Real change isn’t coming from epiphanies by Mitch McConnell and other corrupt Republican politicians, but from all of us organizing for change together,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said in a statement Tuesday. “Just like his support of NAFTA and a middle ground on the existential climate crisis, this epiphany comment is the latest example of Biden operating in an insider world of yesteryear and shows that he is our worst foot forward in the general election.”

Biden acknowledged the tension with other Democrats later Tuesday at a house party in Nashua, New Hampshire.

“We’re in a situation now, folks, where I don’t agree with my friends and we’ve got a lot of good people running who say, ‘No, no. That’s old-time politics,’” he said.

Still, Biden – who was known during his tenure as vice president for striking deals with recalcitrant Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – insisted that Democrats need to seek consensus.

“We have to unify this country,” Biden said. “Our political system is broken. It’s flat broken. And folks, everybody tells me, ‘No, no, no, that’s naïve. That’s the old days.’ Well, if that’s the old days, guess what? We’re in deep, deep trouble because nothing can happen in this country in consequence without consensus – without consensus. That’s how this system was built.”

Biden’s remarks are also at odds with other comments Biden has made. He for years has criticized the GOP in broader terms. “This is not your father’s Republican Party” is a go-to line he has used for at least a decade, aiming it at tea party Republicans in 2010, Mitt Romney in 2012, GOP midterm candidates last year and Trump-era Republicans as recently as Monday in New Hampshire.

But Biden’s prediction of a GOP “epiphany” follows several instances in which he has described Trump as an “aberration” as long as his tenure in office is limited to four years.

What Biden is expressing is similar to an unfulfilled hope of former President Barack Obama’s first term.

“When we’re successful in this election, the fever may break, because there’s a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense,” Obama said in June 2012, after years of tea party opposition.

Democrats critical of Biden’s comments say he is ignoring the political realities of the last decade – including his time as vice president – in which GOP leaders sought to block all of Obama’s legislative priorities and prevented him from filling a Supreme Court vacancy.

That’s part of why he has faced criticism for the characterization from veterans of the Obama administration – including the founders and hosts of the popular “Pod Save America” podcasts.

“I would wager that not even most Biden supporters believe this is true. Or Biden staffers. Or Republicans!” tweeted former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau after Biden’s “epiphany” comment Tuesday.

Days ago, McConnell offered a similarly critical take on a future Democratic president’s prospects for working with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“No matter how they choose to characterize themselves, you can bet whether it is Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, or somebody else, the nominee for president on the Democratic side is going to be on a path to try to turn America into a socialist country,” he said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “We are not going to let that happen.”

CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Alison Main contributed to this report.