The risks of Joe Biden’s basement strategy
At first glance, Joe Biden’s strategy of avoiding the spotlight is paying off. He maintains his consistent lead over Donald Trump in national polls. In June, in the aftermath of the Lafayette Park fiasco, his advantage in the RealClearPolitics average expanded to 10 points. The critical swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida are trending his way. His lead gives him the freedom to mollify the progressive wing of his party by shifting leftward on policy. The Democrats smell victory and dream of unified control of government for the first time in a decade.
There is no question that President Trump is in trouble. But look again at the polls. The national race has tightened. Biden is still ahead but by a 6-point margin. Michael Goodwin of the New York Post observes that Hillary Clinton enjoyed a similar lead at this point in the 2016 campaign. The CNBC poll conducted in late July found a much closer race in the battlegrounds. Biden’s leads in Arizona and Pennsylvania were within the margin of error. His greatest advantage was a 5-point spread in Wisconsin. Recent days have brought news of GOP gains in registration in Pennsylvania and of the Trump campaign’s huge lead in voter contacts. The 2016 election was decided by a relatively small number of voters across a tiny number of states. If a similar scenario plays out in 2020, then Donald Trump may well emerge the winner.
The truth is that, except on the air and online, the presidential campaign really hasn’t started yet. The coronavirus has upended traditional forms of electioneering. It’s forced Trump to cancel his tentpole rallies, driven both parties to hold virtual conventions, and blotted out the daily back-and-forth between candidates and campaigns. That has left the race in a form of suspended animation, with Biden enjoying the fruits of leaving Trump to his own often self-destructive devices.
But the strategy is not all upside. It has left Biden offstage during a multifaceted national emergency. The Democratic nominee has made a series of speeches detailing his “Build Back Better” agenda, but has anyone really paid attention to them? Nor did Biden take a strong stand against the violence in Seattle and Portland. He’s been AWOL. The Trump campaign has turned the minuscule audiences that attend his livestreamed events into the butt of a running Twitter joke. A philosopher might say that Biden has transcended his physical form and become the Platonic ideal of a “generic Democrat.” He is running more or less in line with the congressional generic ballot. But voters do not vote for generic presidents. They choose between two individuals.
This lack of definition is a potential danger for Biden as the presidential race enters its final months. “No other major-party presidential nominee has spent so long in politics,” wroteEdward-Isaac Dovere of the Atlantic in late June. “Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972, before anyone currently serving in Congress. And no other major-party presidential nominee has led the polls despite basically coming off as a fuzzy white space.” Dovere cited “data from focus groups and polls conducted by Biden allies” that showed voters basically know Biden is old, worked for Barack Obama, and seems to be a genial and well-intentioned, if sometimes weird, elder statesman. That’s it.
A few weeks ago, the “Engagious” swing voter project, which conducts focus groups, gathered together some Michigan voters who had pulled the lever for President Trump in 2016. The participants were drawn from the “Obama-Trump” demographic that gained so much attention last cycle but has since been overshadowed by groups trending Democratic, such as college-educated women, suburbanites, and independents. “Over the past several months, most of my ‘Obama-Trump’ voters couldn’t name a single thing Biden has said or done regarding the pandemic,” wrote Rich Thau, president of Engagious, for CNN last week. “In bellwether Macomb County, on July 21, none of the nine voters I interviewed could name a single thing Biden had achieved in nearly 50 years in national politics.”
The problem for Biden is that the campaign is about to enter a phase where he cannot help being defined. A preview of this new reality came the other day. When asked if he has taken a cognitive test, Biden exploded and said, rather offensively, that the question was as silly as wondering if the black CBS reporter he was talking to had been tested for cocaine. The coming weeks will bring three major events that will convey Biden’s strengths and weaknesses before audiences of millions. He won’t be able to hide in his basement. And that may be where the fun begins.
The first event is his vice presidential announcement. Biden unintentionally backed himself into a corner by limiting his options at the start of the process, and now several of his choices would offer the Trump campaign avenues for attack. Republicans have signaled their eagerness to go after potential candidates such as Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.) and former national security adviser Susan Rice. Choosing Elizabeth Warren would amount to flipping the order of the ticket and allow Trump essentially to run against the Massachusetts senator rather than the former vice president. Kamala Harris seems to be the safest pick. But she’s also an uninspiring and potentially clumsy one.ADVERTISING
The second occasion where Biden will be center stage is his convention. It’s unlikely that Milwaukee will be as chaotic as Philadelphia in 2016, especially now that neither Biden nor his running mate will be there, but one wonders if radicals want to enjoy a split-screen with the televised speeches (of either party). There is also the question of how much Barack Obama will loom over the proceedings. The Biden team and Democrats in general are convinced that more Obama is always and everywhere a good thing. But they might want to consider the possible reactions of the Obama-Trump voters mentioned above.
The former president’s political interventions thrill partisans and the media wing of the Democratic Party. But they also remind Republicans and independents of everything they disliked about the Obama years. Biden’s address will be the first time in years that the American people will hear from him without interruption or mediation. His campaign strategists have not behaved as if this is something they look forward to.
Finally, the debates are scheduled to begin on September 29 in Cleveland. What Biden says and does in response to President Trump’s inevitable braggadocio, interruptions, denials, and needling about his son and his mental capacity will go a long way to determine voters’ confidence in him. Biden has displayed a tendency to snap, ramble, and use bizarre turns of phrase when asked tough questions, and it’s unknown whether voters will respond favorably to an aggressive and probably often bewildering performance. Biden also trips over his words. The contrast between a commanding Trump and a confused Biden would be damaging.
I have a feeling Democrats recognize this hazard, which is why a few liberals have raised the possibility of getting rid of the debates altogether. The first trial balloon came from Tom Friedman in a July column, and the most recent from Elizabeth Drew in an August 3 New York Times op-ed. There is no way Biden could try to do this without looking afraid, and so it’s unlikely to happen. But the very fact that media figures are having such a debate over the debates is evidence of the anxiety some on the left feel about Biden’s capabilities.
And with good reason. Joe Biden has not faced a serious in-person rebuke since Harris’s surprise attack in June 2019. He hasn’t experienced a significant setback to his campaign since March. Yes, the race is his to lose. But others have lost similar races before. And not being Trump might not be enough.
Absent any last-minute surprise, voters in November will have to pick whether they want Donald Trump or Joe Biden to be the president of the United States for the next four years. They are remarkably different in just about every way possible, with dramatically different visions for the nation’s future.
How those differences are expressed and explained is largely a function of the media. Up to now, the coverage has generally kind to Biden, while, it can be argued, the mainstream media is in open revolt against the idea of Trump winning a second term. The pro-Trump outlets, few though they may be, cannot be expected to treat the former vice president very well either.
The battle lines have been drawn, and, frankly, this leaves the American people at a distinct disadvantage. They have nowhere to go to find honest information brokers. The polarization of the press corps makes it unlikely the media can be relied upon, whatever the candidates themselves may say, to report accurately about either candidate’s position on the issues of the day.
The only way to avoid the conundrum this will cause, and thanks to the proliferation of social media and internet-based broadcasting, is for the candidates to go directly to the voters as often as possible. Both campaigns are already doing this. The Trump campaign has established a nascent broadcast network of its own that sends our original programming to counter the national narrative established by the networks. Biden, who largely remains inside his home because of the coronavirus, has also taken to giving interviews over apps that allow those who watch to hear his views without having them first feed through an editor’s filter.
That’s a good start, but, for the most part, the only people paying attention to these narrowcasts are the media, who dutifully report what they want, and the people who have already made their choice. Both campaigns are communicating to the faithful—which works better for Trump, who polls show has the approval of 90 percent or more of GOP voters than Biden, who is enthusiastically backed by only about two-thirds of Democrats.
This brings us to the presidential debates, which, in most previous elections, have amounted to little. There were times when they were important. In 1980, Ronald Reagan used his one debate with President Jimmy Carter to prove he was not the loose cannon the Carter campaign and much of the media were saying. In 1988, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis likely torpedoed his presidential aspirations when, in answering the first question asked him by CNN’s Bernard Shaw, said, hypothetically, that he would not want a man who raped and killed his wife, Kitty, to receive the death penalty.
The Obama-Romney and Trump-Clinton debates may have been entertaining, but they didn’t little to move the voters’ perceptions of either candidate. What they did do was remind Republicans how things are generally stacked against them by the Washington press corps, such as when moderator Candy Crowley intervened in a back-and-forth between Obama and Romney to Obama’s benefit or when ABC’s Martha Raddatz jumped on Trump several times so Clinton didn’t have to.
For the upcoming general election, the Commission on Presidential Debates has recommended three encounters between Trump and Biden and one between Vice President Mike Pence and whomever Biden chooses as a running mate. The Trump campaign wants four. Neither proposal is sufficient. Instead, there should be eight debates, one every other week, between the principals in which they go head-to-head without the media and without a moderator who does anything but keep time.
Trump and Biden are both, and this is meant with the utmost respect, big talkers. They’re not shy about making their views known and know how to communicate what’s on their mind. It would be refreshing to see them go head-to-head for an hour each time on a single topic, four picked by one campaign and four picked by the other. It’s a formula for a robust discussion that will get, hopefully, at what’s on the minds of the candidates and the American people.
In previous debates, the reporters asking the questions—when they’re not playing “gotcha”—ask questions about subjects of importance to the folks who live in the Acela corridor and in the wealthy environs in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco. No one ever asks a candidate to defund ethanol subsidies or explain their views on the right to carry concealed firearms or whether they believe lower taxes and deregulation stimulate growth and lead to job creation. Instead, we get questions about banning firearms, U.S. policy toward the war in Syria and LGBTQ equality. All are important, of course, but some are more important to the people living in the heartland of American than others.
In this campaign, more than any in recent memory, we don’t need media filters and moderator mumbo-jumbo to help us decide who should be president for the next four years. We need to see as much of the candidates as we can. More debates, shorter in duration, without media stars preening for attention would serve us all well.
There’s her backtracking on busing and her waffling on Medicare for All, not to mention her prosecutorial scandals.
A new national CNN poll of the 2020 Democratic primary has some pretty brutal numbers for Kamala Harris. When CNN last polled the presidential race shortly after the first Democratic debate in June, Harris was on Joe Biden’s heels, trailing just 17 percent to 22 percent. But according to the latest survey by CNN, conducted August 15 to 18, Biden has rebounded to 29 percent, while Harris has dropped all the way down to 5 percent, tied for fourth place with South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.
What went wrong for Harris?
The second Democratic debate was a clear defeat for the California senator, but it’s now also obvious that her June debate performance was a Pyrrhic victory.
At the first debate, Harris staked everything on attacking Joe Biden’s record on busing. It worked for her that night: Biden’s immediate response was hapless, Harris was widely declared the winner, and she got a significant bump in the polls.
But Harris’s line of attack raised an obvious and problematic question for her: Would she support reinstating the policies that Biden opposed?
Logically, the answer would appear to need to be “yes.”
“I support busing. Listen, the schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated, today than when I was in elementary school,” Harris said on June 30. “Where states fail to do their duty to ensure equality of all people and in particular where states create or pass legislation that created inequality, there’s no question that the federal government has a role and a responsibility to step up.”
But there was a problem for Harris: Busing policies were abandoned because they were wildly unpopular, and there’s no reason to think they’ve magically become popular. So Harris equivocated and then backtracked.
That attacking Biden on busing would paint the attacker into a corner was predictable. It was in fact predicted. See, for example, the end of this article from March in National Review.
Going on the offensive and then retreating on busing made Harris seem inauthentic. And the candidate had been dogged by questions of inauthenticity since the start of her campaign because of her waffling on the issue of Medicare for All, the policy at the center of the 2020 Democratic primary.
First Harris indicated at a CNN town hall that she supported abolishing private insurance, as Medicare for All proposes. Then Harris said she didn’t support abolishing private insurance: She tried to hide behind the fig leaf that Medicare for All allows “supplemental insurance,” while obscuring the fact that “supplemental coverage” would be legal for only a very small number of treatments not covered by Medicare for All, such as cosmetic surgery. And cosmetic-surgery insurance doesn’t even exist.
Harris thought she’d finally figured a way out of the Medicare for All mess in July: She introduced her own plan shortly before the Democratic debates. It tried to split the difference: She promised to transition to a single-payer plan in 10 years (as opposed to Sanders’s four-year deadline). This was meant to reassure progressives that they’ll get there eventually while also reassuring moderates that there will be at least two more presidential elections before the country goes through with anything crazy.
Harris’s provision of Medicare Advantage–type plans was also supposed to reassure moderates, but the second debate demonstrated that she still wasn’t ready to respond to the fact that her plan would eventually abolish existing private health plans for everyone, and she has no serious plan for how to pay for single-payer.
Then there were Joe Biden’s and Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s devastating attacks on Harris’s record as a prosecutor at the second Democratic debate. “Biden alluded to a crime lab scandal that involved her office and resulted in more than 1,000 drug cases being dismissed. Gabbard claimed Harris ‘blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until she was forced to do so.’ Both of these statements are accurate,” the Sacramento Bee reported after the debate.
As Harris’s backtracking on busing made clear, no one is seriously considering resurrecting the deeply unpopular policies of the 1970s. But criminal justice is very much a live issue in Democratic politics, and that’s why the attack on Harris’s record as a prosecutor has had such a greater impact than the attack on Biden’s record on busing. Biden continues to do very well among African-American voters, while Harris continues to struggle.
So Harris’s problems go deeper than the fact that she had one good debate followed by one bad debate on matters of style. Both debates revealed she has serious weaknesses on matters of substance. And the hits keep coming on Medicare for All: On Monday, she was savaged by Bernie Sanders after it was reported that Harris told wealthy donors in the Hamptons that she was not “comfortable” with Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill, which she co-sponsored and supported until a few weeks ago. There are still five months left until the Iowa caucuses, but the past two months have demonstrated that Harris has deep problems that she can’t paper over with some well-rehearsed, well-delivered lines in subsequent debates.
New York Post
When it comes to terrorists and videos, you’d think Hillary Clinton would have learned her lesson.
But her claim during Saturday’s Democratic debate that ISIS is “showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims” in order to recruit jihadists is about as accurate as her claim an online anti-Muslim video sparked the 2012 Benghazi attack.
And a number of usually pro-Hillary fact-checkers agree: The Washington Post, the Associated Press and Politifact all branded her debate claim false. Continue reading
It turns out that Obama’s ground game, was in fact, as good as they said it was. Supported by as negative and polemic a campaign as an incumbent ever ran.
by Scott L. Vanatter
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” A thousand pictures will be painted in post-election analysis. A thousand time over. Here’s one.
It takes a pretty good team to make it to the Super Bowl. Good and great players and coaches; an astute general manager and smart owner, scouts and staff. How the team deals with injuries and setbacks. Strength training and conditioning. Attitude, execution, an effective game plan — and a bit of luck. (Note: “Luck is what happens when Preparation meets Opportunity.”) Continue reading
by George Landrith
President Barack Obama now claims that he said on day one that the attack on Benghazi was a terrorist attack. However, that is simply not true. If you read the speech, when Obama referred to the attack in Benghazi without every applying the modifier “terrorist” or “terrorism.” Near the end of the speech President Obama used the word “terrorist” once and it was in context of the 2001 attacks. But if you’re not 100% sure what Obama meant, don’t worry. His personal statements make it painfully clear. (See video below.) Continue reading
Let’s fact check President Barack Obama’s debate statements. He spent a lot of time since the first debate and during the second debate complaining that what Gov. Mitt Romney said wasn’t true. Yet, the facts do not support Obama’s claims. Here is the proof on Obama’s poor record on truthfulness during the second debate:
The attack in Libya — a terrorist attack? Or a spontaneous protest that got out of hand because of an offensive internet video?
On the issue of Libya, Obama said, that the day after the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, “I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”
Romney challenged Obama’s characterization that he had identified the Benghazi attack as terrorism on day one. Obama doubled down. Just as Romney was about the snare Obama in his lie, the the moderator erroneously sided with Obama and claimed that he had identified the attack as terrorism. After the debate, the moderator admitted that she was wrong and that Romney was correct. But let’s not rely on her retraction and correction, let’s go straight to the record. Continue reading
It’s been a number of years since a heavyweight boxing match captured our fancy. In the biggest matches we want a clear winner. We don’t want a split decision. We want a good, clean, tough, evenly-matched contest. Some spectators want to witness a match for the ages, one which ends with a knockout. Real knockouts are both memorable and definitive. There is no question who won.
Unlike baseball and football, in boxing — barring a real knockout – ring judges are there to make the final call as to who won. Continue reading
If you want more time to get your message out in debates, it’s good to be a Democrat. According to the CNN debate clock, President Obama spoke at greater length than Mitt Romney during both debates, as did Vice President Biden during his debate with Paul Ryan. In the first debate, Obama spoke for 3 minutes, 14 seconds more than Romney — which means he got 8 percent more talking time than Romney. In last night’s debate, Obama spoke for 4 minutes and 18 seconds longer than Romney, giving him 11 percent more talking time. During the vice presidential debate, the gap wasn’t as wide: Biden spoke for 1 minute, 22 seconds more than Ryan. Still, that gave Biden 3 percent more speaking time than Ryan. Continue reading
Post Debate Analysis: Obama improved from the first debate, but he still lost tonight. CBS’s post debate poll said that Romney won 2 to 1. Obama’s biggest problem was that the facts are not on his side. For example, on unemployment, food stamps, reduced household incomes, higher food prices, and more costly gasoline and energy Obama has a real problem. There is not smooth talking that will fix those problems. Continue reading
By George Landrith
The conventional wisdom is that President Barack Obama connects with the average American in a way that few politicians can. The media tells us that Obama is likable and relates. In contrast, conventional wisdom says that Gov. Mitt Romney is stiff, can’t relate, and doesn’t really like “regular” people.
It turns out the conventional wisdom is wrong on both counts. Continue reading
As the dust of Thursday’s vice presidential debate settles, one of the storylines is Joe Biden’s bold statement that the administration was not told that officials in Libya requested more security before an attack that led to the death of several Americans, including our ambassador. The fact-checkers have found that to be patently false. And now, even the mainstream media is predicting it could be a problem. Continue reading
During the debate, Vice President made history by surpassing Al Gore for bad, boorish, and rude behavior. He laughed uncontrollably, signed, groaned, and laughed some more and engaged in generally childish antics throughout the debate. Biden’s rude and unprofessional behavior overshadowed the substance of what he said.
But as bizarre and unbalanced as his behavior was during the debate, the substance of what he actually said was perhaps the most troubling. Here are a short list of several of the most obviously false things that Biden said:
1. Afghanistan and Iraq: Biden accused Rep. Paul Ryan of putting two wars on the “credit card” and then bragged that he voted against both of them because he understood America could not afford them. “I was there, I voted against them,” Biden said. “I said, no, we can’t afford that.” But the truth is Sen. Biden voted for the Afghanistan resolution on Sept. 14, 2001 the Iraq resolution on October 11, 2002. It takes some brass to tell whoppers like this one! Continue reading
Lack of Desire, Knowledge and Confidence
by Scott L. Vanatter
Why was Obama just not that into it (the debate)? Three possible reasons include a lack of desire, a lack of knowledge of basic economic principles, and being intimidated by Romney’s real world expertise.
Obama sounded so disjointed in the first debate that mainstream media supporters such as Chris Matthews and Andrew Sullivan nearly had an emotional breakdown on camera and online. They are only two who wondered aloud why Obama seemed so incoherent. Obama’s bizarre manner that night almost resembled the infamous beauty pageant contestant of a few years ago or the reporter who had a mini-stroke on camera, so rambling were some of his answers. Surely in the next debate, Obama will up his game. At least he will appear to want to debate. Continue reading
Post Debate Analysis: Biden was smug, arrogant, condescending, over-bearing and over-aggressive. I’ve never seen a debate where one person was so disrespectful and even contemptuous of his counterpart. He surpassed Al Gore’s famous boorish debate behavior. He is in danger of undercutting himself. That may play well for his base who were depressed after Obama’s almost comatose debate last week. But independents and women will find the rudeness and condescending smirking and laughing annoying. Even at the end when Ryan was thanking the moderator, the audience and Joe Biden for a good debate, Biden was smirking and mugging. That will come back to hurt him. And it shows the true political character of Joe Biden — a pretentious, smirking, condescending lightweight. Continue reading