The bid to become the Democratic presidential nominee is now a two-mule race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. And the question that’s foremost in the minds of most Democrats is: Can either of them defeat President Trump in November?
The Democratic establishment—its large donors, Washington insiders, party hacks, and down-ballot officeholders—clearly think Bernie Sanders can’t pull it off, plus he is a threat to their privileged existence. Mike Bloomberg was going to save the day for them, but he proved to be an embarrassing dud. (What succeeds in New York apparently stays in New York.) That’s why they have frantically joined ranks behind Joe Biden, whose campaign had been sputtering along on exhaust fumes, to stop Bernie. I’m not here to judge whether or not they are correct in this assessment, only to note their hysteria over the possibility of a Sanders candidacy.
Ironically, most Republican pundits seem to be in agreement with this assessment, and apparently President Trump as well. They were salivating at the thought of running against an out-and-out socialist who had spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union and had nice words to say about Fidel Castro.
But what about Joe Biden? Can he beat President Trump in November? The jury is deliberating on that question. Let’s see what the two sides are saying.
Yes, he can!
Some of the Democrats on the jury point to the President’s low approval ratings. Those ratings had been rising recently, thanks to the congressional Democrats’ impeachment farce, but now a bug is coming to their rescue.
More important, they see President Trump as particularly vulnerable in regard to his personal traits. A Pew Research Center survey taken in February 2020 found that 80% of the public describes him as “self-centered” (even 73% of Republicans agree). He also gets negative ratings overall on whether he is morally upstanding or honest, and 59% believe he is prejudiced. Only 15% of Americans (and only 31% of Republicans) like the way he conducts himself as president.
“Americans’ disapproval of President Trump’s personal conduct is deeply entrenched and unlikely to change between now and election day. Surveys in mid-2017 and 2018 yielded similar findings. The key question is how large they will loom in voters’ minds as they stride to the polling booth. A Democratic nominee who focuses on them and presents a credible contrast between his character and the president’s could strike political gold.”
That’s the vulnerability that Biden seeks to exploit with his calls for a “battle for the soul of a nation.” “It’s about honesty, decency, empathy, humanity” says Biden cheerleader Frank Bruni at the New York Times. Biden, he says, has “an aura of overwhelming goodness that’s a tonic in the context of Donald Trump.” (No word yet whether there will be canonization proceedings to elevate him to sainthood while Biden is president, but he will certainly get the Nobel Peace Prize.)
The big obstacle for Biden’s supporters has been the strength of the economy, combined with the power of incumbency. But now, with the coronavirus pricking the stock market bubble and threatening to derail the global economy into recession, they see that strength of President Trump turning into disaster for him. Their task is to not appear happy about this dire turn of events, while blaming it all on—you guessed it—President Trump. The mainstream media will be more than happy to help them in this task.
No, he can’t!
Joe Biden had a respite from scrutiny for a few months—nobody wanted to wake him from his naps, and the nation’s attention was on the Democrats’ circular firing squad in the debates, then on Bloomberg and his attempt to buy the party. Now that the spotlight is back on Biden, the Democrats may soon have buyer’s remorse.
The Democrats and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself) will do their best to portray Biden as a comforting “moderate,” a respite from that mad man in the White House. But President Trump is no Mitt Romney (thank God) and will fight hard, with no Marquess of Queensberry rules in this fight. That “moderate” façade won’t last long (see Part I of this article: “Is Joe Biden Really a ‘Moderate’ Democrat?”)
If Biden wins the Democratic nomination, a lot of Sanders supporters will be deeply unhappy, and the president and the GOP will do their best to exploit that political and cultural divide within the Democratic Party. In a nation divided 50-50, that can make the difference. They will remind the Democrats, for example, how Biden has blatantly lied about his role in Congress regarding the Iraq War—a defining issue for the Sanders wing.
Biden repeatedly denies he supported the Iraq War, but the fact-checkers clearly show that he did. He says things like “I never believed they had weapons of mass destruction” and “immediately, the moment it started, I came out against the war at that moment.” But The Intercept has investigated and reports that as early as 1998 Biden was saying “the only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we’re going to end up having to start it alone.” The Intercept concludes that “Biden publicly supported the war before, during, and after the invasion.” (See here for the full story.)
But beyond the matter of Biden’s political duplicity (par for the course with Washington politicians) and his outright lies (he must have taken lessons in honesty from Elizabeth Warren), there is the matter of how he and his family have profited from his “service” in the Swamp…and his mental acuity.
If there is anyone in America who hasn’t heard about Hunter Biden, Burisma, and Ukraine, they will be well aware of that story by November—the Republicans will see to that. Indeed, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, plans to subpoena a former Burisma official and to release a report on what Republicans have learned from months of quiet investigations. Even waffler Mitt Romney has signed off on that. Senate Republicans also plan inquiries of the FBI’s Russia investigations and Democrat collusion with Ukraine in the 2016 election.
The most sensitive topic of all is Joe Biden’s mental acuity. Closing ranks, the Democrat talking points are that he just has a stutter or speech impediment, and any talk of mental acuity or dementia is the kind of despicable personal smear we can expect from President Trump. But as the examples multiply of Biden’s rambling incoherence, misstatements, confusion, and disorientation, that is getting to be a harder sell.
And the hypocrisy is self-evident. Democrats openly charged that President Ronald Reagan was becoming senile when he ran for reelection in 1984. And earlier in this primary season, then-presidential candidate Julian Castro bluntly asked Biden: “Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Another presidential candidate, Corey Booker, backed Castro and added: “There’s a lot of people concerned about Joe Biden’s ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line without fumbling.”
Even Frank Bruni, the Biden cheerleader at the New York Times quoted above, had to admit—before the recent consolidation behind Biden: “In debates and television interviews since he formally entered the race for the Democratic nomination last April, Biden, 77, has been unimpressive, his energy palpably diminished, his sentences wobbling toward some destination other than the initially intended one.”
Apparently Biden’s handlers are now limiting his speeches at rallies to less than 10 minutes. If he gets the nomination, will they dare to let him debate his energetic and no-holds-barred Republican opponent, or will they invent some excuse for barring debates? Before it even gets to that point, there will be one-on-one debates with Bernie Sanders, another feisty opponent. The race for the White House is far from over.
The bottom line
In normal times, both Sanders and Biden would be easy targets for President Trump. But these are not normal times—not with the entire nation of Italy under quarantine, thousands held captive on cruise ships because of infected passengers or staff, and no certainty about the future course of the coronavirus threat to millions of lives and the global economy. And the political implications could be enormous.
For starters, what happens if the situation continues to worsen between now and the Democrat and Republican conventions? Already major gatherings like Austin’s South by Southwest Festival are being cancelled. The Republican convention will be a coronation, so conceivably it could be held online. But what if the Democrats seem headed for a contested convention (as seems very possible at this point)? What do they do if medical authorities say large conventions are a threat to the lives of those attending them?
COVID-19 (the coronavirus) shows every possibility of being a Black Swan that upends the 2020 presidential race in ways we are just beginning to imagine. Let us hope for the best but prepare for the worst.