The good news for Joe Biden is that Thursday night’s Democratic debate won’t be the last debate before the Iowa caucuses. The bad news for Joe Biden is that Thursday night’s Democratic debate won’t be the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.
I wouldn’t say it was the worst performance of the night – let’s not forget Marianne Williamson did share the stage with him – but for someone with five decades of political experience under his belt, he did not look even remotely prepared. There’s a cost for not doing interviews or holding town halls and I think Biden found that out the hard way.
There was one moment during the debate that was particularly problematic for the former vice president. It came during an exchange he had with Kamala Harris in which Harris called him out for his relationships with segregationist senators in the ’70s and his opposition to federal-imposed busing. Biden seemed completely taken by surprise by the attack, which is astonishing given that he had to have known that at some point it was going to come up. Not only was his answer defensive and confusing, he wound up with the soundbite of the evening when he said, “Anyway, my time is up. I’m sorry.”
Wow, what can I say? On a night that was this close to breaking into a food fight, a night that saw candidates talking over each other and going past their allotted time, Joe Biden – the man who claims he’s the best candidate to go toe to toe with Trump and beat him – looked like a schoolboy who got sent to detention for being late for class.
Taking nothing away from Harris, who is a skilled prosecutor, and obviously saw an opportunity to make her move, if Biden can’t handle what many thought was a legitimate attack by someone from his own party, how in the hell is he going to be able to handle the mountain of shit Trump is going to throw at him next fall?
We’ll know soon enough what this “performance” will do to the overall standings. If I had to guess, I’d say that Harris will probably go up a few points in the polls while Biden will go down a few. Fortunately for him, the voters that Harris is courting just happen to be the same ones that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are going after. With that in mind, don’t be surprised if there’s a a log-jam for second place while Biden holds onto a modest lead. The one casualty appears to be Pete Buttigieg, who is currently embroiled in a controversy is his home town of South Bend, Indiana over the shooting of an African American by a white police officer. To his credit, at least Mayor Pete took ownership of the situation.
But getting back to Biden, he has to do better in his next debate. The blood is in the water and the sharks will be out. If he has a repeat of Thursday night’s debacle, it could spell the end of his campaign. Or, and this is just a hunch, maybe it won’t make any difference at all. Barely a week after it was revealed that Virginia governor Ralph Northam appeared in black face and Ku Klux Klan garb in his medical school yearbook, polls showed support among African Americans at 58 percent, the highest of any demographic. Whatever else you may think of Biden’s early Senate career, I doubt it rises to the level of what Northam did.
It’s quite possible that – just like Northam – most political pundits are attaching too much significance to this episode and that the voters, particularly those in the African American community, are more likely to look the other way when it comes to his past. If that is the case, knowing that his support among white, working-class voters is still strong, Biden may come out of this with barely a scratch on him. Indeed, the most recent national poll by Politico shows Biden at 33 percent, Sanders at 19, and both Warren and Harris at 12. The next few polls should tell us whether Biden has some serious damage control to tend to or whether he dodged a bullet. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess.
Personally, I’m hoping it’s the latter. What I saw in both debates is a Democratic Party that is tripping all over itself in an attempt to appeal to the most extreme elements within the progressive movement. At a time when the Party should be making Trump the focus for voters in 2020, it is putting forth a series of policy proposals, like Medicare for All, that are not popular with the electorate. Biden, for all his faults, is one of the few moderate candidates in the race whose message can resonate in places like the suburbs. And let’s not forget it was those very same suburban districts that allowed Democrats to flip the House in 2018. More than half those seats are vulnerable next year, a point that appears to be lost on the DNC.
Look, I’m not Joe Biden’s wing man here. I’m just being practical. There’s a reason why the Trump campaign is concerned about a head to head matchup with the former VP. Because they know he can win. But Biden needs to get his act together and realize that his past is both relevant and potentially damaging. If he wants the Democratic nomination, he’s going to have to fight for it. And that means coming up with better responses than the one he gave to Kamala Harris.
If he can’t or won’t, the words “My Time Is Up” will end up becoming his political epitaph.