Can Joe Biden’s campaign schtick survive in 2020?

On May 8, the new Future of the Middle Class Initiative at Brookings and the Biden Foundation co-hosted a forum on the future of the middle class, featuring a keynote address by former Vice President Joe Biden. (photo: Brookings Institution)

Joe Biden has been called many things: Vice President of the United States, consummate deal-maker, progressive-liberal stalwart; he has also been called a comedian’s dream, and a gaffe machine.

Selling Biden as the perfect foil for the inexperienced but meticulous Barack Obama in 2008 is one thing. In the presidential race of 2020, voters will be measuring Joe Biden against current U.S. President Donald Trump.

How will the two compare?

Trump isn’t so much a gaffe machine as a threat to the whole idea of a gaffe. In a world of his daily outrageous statements, and where even Trump’s most mundane statements are subject to the hostile witness treatment of the U.S. press corps, it is going to be difficult to cast anything he says as embarrassing. Trump doesn’t embarrass easily.

To the U.S. progressive left, Trump himself is an embarrassment.

Perhaps Biden himself put it best when contrasting his easy if sometimes cringeworthy political speaking style with that of Donald Trump:

President Trump, for his part, has his own views on the relative merits of Joe Biden, which he put somewhat less self-effacingly.

“Biden was never very smart. He was a terrible student. His gaffes are unbelievable. When I say something that you might think is a gaffe, it’s on purpose; it’s not a gaffe. When Biden says something dumb, it’s because he’s dumb.” — President Donald Trump, February 2019

Joe Biden, still considered the front runner in the race for the Democratic primary nomination, hasn’t disappointed this campaign season, even somewhat ironically gaffing his decision to run before it was formalized.

This should come as no surprise: Biden’s campaign trail with President Barack Obama was fraught with embarrassing moments for Biden. From referring to his running mate as a the first “mainstream African-American” who was “articulate” and “bright” and “clean” to the time Biden thought “jobs” was a three-letter word, Biden left a wide swath of head-shaking comments.

Biden’s greatest hits includes telling an African-American audience during a 2012 campaign stop that then Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney intended to “put ya’ll back in chains!”. He also referred to Delaware’s growing Indian-American community in another truly mystifying statement:

“You cannot go into a 7–11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” — Vice President Joe Biden

Then there was a 2008 campaign rally where Biden called on Senator Chuck Graham to stand and be recognized, forgetting that the paraplegic Senator had been confined to a wheelchair following a car accident.

Two of Biden’s recent misspeaks went right to the top of the charts of his most notorious gaffes. His propensity to speak a little too extemporaneously, as well as Biden’s less that stellar performance during the recent round of Democratic debates, have made his candidacy appear shaky and caused certain Democratic donors to reconsider his electability.

Far from seeing Biden as the most electable candidate in the race, Democrats and king-making donors in the Democratic Party may be starting to see Biden as the great white hope without much hope of surviving the Democratic primary gauntlet.

Republicans crowed and Democrats groaned when former Vice President Joe Biden professed candidly and earnestly recently that election tampering was a grievous stain on the Trump presidency that would have “never happened on my watch, on Barack’s watch.”

Which is fine of course, and definitely what some people in the U.S. think- almost all of them conservative Republicans and Trump voters.

Progressive liberals, however, of the ilk that Joe Biden is trying to impress in the run-up to the Democratic primary, certainly believe, and the intelligence community concurs, that election tampering did in fact occur on Biden’s watch. In 2016.

Biden also absolutely mystified supporters recently when he seem to reminisce fondly about the good old days, when all he had to worry about were racist Democrat segregationists, with whom he still managed to get along.

Poor Joe Biden; like the old country song, Joe Biden was country, when country wasn’t cool. Too little, too late. Wrong time, wrong pitch.

Why on Earth would Joe Biden even bring up Democratic segregationists and remind voters of a past the Democratic Party would rather forget?

Worse, in the wake of this particular comment, Biden allowed Democrats in the debate competing for screen time to entertain issues with absolutely no relevance on current legislation, or future legislation- like forced busing to integrate schools, a policy deeply unpopular even in its heyday decades ago.

How will Biden tackle a battle-hardened warrior like Trump, who is well used to taking almost hourly hits from an unfriendly press?

Democrats, including Biden, aren’t running on issues they can win on; like abolishing ICE, open borders, reparations, and socialism. Instead, they are gradually eroding the Democratic center…to Donald Trump.

Try as Democrats might to forget it, one inescapable demographic persists; some Obama/Biden voters went to Trump in 2016.

If trying to lure them back consists of nothing more than telling working people who are struggling that morally opposing Donald Trump is more important than electricity and food, Democrats will lose.

Trump’s position with undecided and independence voters is further strengthened as the economy approaches full-employment. A fact that will not be lost on voters come Election Day, no matter how hard the left, and left leaning press, try to downplay it.

Some experts and pollsters on both sides of the aisle are already sounding the alarm on a Trump re-election. Some Democrats in the party seem determined not to be caught off-guard by the Trump campaign machine this time around.

Will they manage to course-correct before it’s too late?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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