Joe Biden should heed the wise words of the late Joe Louis, former heavyweight boxing champion and generally considered to have been one of the greatest fighters ever, who famously intoned regarding an upcoming opponent, “he can run, but he can’t hide.” I say, it’s time for Biden to “come out, come out, wherever you are.” Join the real campaign.
As I said in a previous blog, up until now, Biden’s campaign strategy has been to (1) limit his campaigning to carefully-controlled appearances, such as “soft” interviews with “friendly” journalists on CNN, MSNBC, and other media outlets with similar views, (2) to ignore the other Dem candidates as best he can, and (3) run a general election-type campaign.
I believe his objectives are to (1) minimize chances of gaffes, for which he is known, and (2) burnish his image as the front-runner and best choice to defeat President Trump. One can debate the merits and demerits of that strategy. Personally, I think it has been, on balance, ill-advised. He is coming across as weak and indecisive. Although all the polls still show him to be the front-runner, his margin has been shrinking.
As most of you know, the first debate is scheduled for June 26 and 27 from 9:00 – 11:00 pm. Due to the oversized field the candidates have been split, with half of the qualifying candidates appearing on each date. Supposedly, this format was selected to avoid the oversized debate field that characterized the GOP debates in 2016, in which, you may recall, the lower-polling candidates were relegated to the “kids’ table” debate, which drew a paltry audience. NBC, which is in charge of the arrangements, has selected Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow, and Jose Diaz Balart to serve as moderators.
The slates were selected randomly, however, four of the top five candidates in the polls – Biden, Sanders, Harris and Buttigieg – will be appearing on Thursday. Warren will be the lone top five candidate to appear on Wednesday. It is unclear whether this will benefit or hurt her.
Hopefully, the moderators will ask questions that deal with the important issues, and not allow the candidates to spend their time trashing each other or President Trump. While that might produce a memorable sound bite for the next day’s news, it would not be beneficial to voters trying to decide for whom to vote. I think most viewers would prefer that they stick to the issues, particularly since most of the candidates have advocated some unusual and innovative (some would say, radical, illogical, overly expensive and impractical) policies, such as a wealth tax, reparations for AAs and gays, open borders with little security, voting rights for convicted felons even while they are still in prison, driver’s licenses for undocumented persons, universal healthcare, free pre-K, free college, forgiveness of student debt, and the Green New Deal. Moreover, I would also like the candidates to discuss their policies on the economy, healthcare, terrorism, Iran, the Hyde Amendment, and late-term and/or post-birth abortion. In many cases, in their attempts to pander to the far left and the media the candidates seem to be engaged in a game of “can you top this.”
Other than Biden, Sanders and, perhaps, Warren, most of the candidates have a very low name recognition. So, as the saying goes, this will be their one chance to make a good first impression. Warren has been coming on strong, and will be seeking to maintain her momentum. In many polls, she is now even with Sanders for second place.
Biden and Sanders will be seeking to halt their recent declines. More on Biden later. Sanders, as an avowed Socialist, has produced strong contrary feelings among voters. According to a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll, 35% of voters want him to quit the race, by far the highest of all the candidates. On the other hand, 40% say they are “excited” about his candidacy, which is second only to Biden’s 51%. (To me, these contradictory results are a prime example of why one has to take polls with a grain of salt, but that is a subject for another blog on another day.)
The upcoming debate will require Biden to put himself out there for the first time, without a friendly, soft interviewer or a prepared script. He will be addressing not only millions of Americans but also dealing with 19 other candidates who will be seeking to take him down. He will have to be sharp, articulate and knowledgeable, traits which he has not exhibited consistently so far. A poor performance will likely raise serious questions in many voters’ minds regarding his ability to perform as president.
Biden has had a long career. Quiz question: what is Biden’s middle name? See answer below. He was first elected to the Senate in 1972. We can debate the degree of success he has had, but for sure, he has had some controversial moments, which he will have to be prepared to defend. Some of them were acceptable at the time, 20, 30 or more years ago, but are not in the current environment. For example:
1. His dismissive treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. This might have an adverse effect of his support among women and AAs.
2. His support of the ACA, which most people believe has been a failure.
3. His support of NAFTA and TPP.
4. The Iran nuclear deal.
5. Originally, he voted to authorize the Iraq War, but he has since flip-flopped and speaks out against it.
6. Support for free college, universal kindergarten and pre-K.
7. Support for a bill that required mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.
8. He has been all over the place on the hot button issue of abortion. He has flip-flopped on the Hyde Amendment. He has voted for it several times in the past, but now he says he is against it. He has steadfastly opposed late-term abortions but now favors using federal funds to pay for them.
9. He has been all over the place on border security. In the past, he voted for the Secure Fence Act, which, among other things, provided funding for walls along the southern border, but now he is strongly critical of President Trump’s attempts to secure the border with a wall and by other means.
10. He will have to deal with the “segregation” issue, which, to me, is a manufactured issue, but one that has been receiving much attention in the media.
11. He needs to clarify his position on reparations for AAs and gays, which some of the candidates have advocated.
12. Potentially, the most damaging issue will be his reputation as a “hands-on” person. Allegations of improper behavior may turn up. In addition, the media may dig up embarrassing episodes from his past.
Biden is still the strong favorite based primarily on his name recognition and the perception that he has the best chance to defeat Donald Trump. But, as the front runner, the other candidates will all be gunning for him. Also, the media, which has supported/protected him, will be watching his performance, as will the big donors. If he falters in the debate the race could be thrown wide open. It ought to be verrrrry interesting.
Quiz answer: Robinette