Counted out by almost everyone, Joe Biden has emerged from a decisive win in South Carolina with renewed vigor.
Not everyone thought it would actually happen.
Certainly there are those in the Democratic Party who have kept the faith; there are some loyal souls whose devotion to the former Vice President has never faltered. There are even a few Democrats who never had a doubt.
Those Democrats were almost certainly not named Michael Bloomberg or Tom Steyer. They probably weren’t named Barack Obama either.
But from the beginning, some moderate Democrats have been dedicated adherents to a philosophy long maintained by the Biden campaign: That while Biden’s appeal in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire would be limited, Biden’s support from the African-American community in the later-voting primary states would prove the strength of his campaign in the end.
South Carolina, the Biden campaign promised, would be the first test of Biden’s support from the Black community. South Carolina, according to Joe Biden, would save his bid for president.
But the signs weren’t always good for Biden.
Certainly, having the Biden name dragged into the recent House impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump was a disaster. The Biden campaign’s failure to form any coherent response to legitimate questions about Hunter Biden’s suspiciously lucrative business dealings in the Ukraine- while his father was vice president and leading U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine- was an even bigger disaster.
Flagging fundraising has been a constantly looming disaster for the Biden campaign from the beginning. Financially, Biden has trailed his Democratic rivals for the nomination quarter after quarter. Worse, problems with fundraising tend to be of the compounding variety; the more donors get spooked that Biden can’t go the distance, the worse the fundraising numbers look, the more donors get spooked that Biden can’t go the distance.
When the still immensely popular former President Barack Obama failed to give his endorsement early in the race to the man he once picked to be Vice President, that hurt the Biden campaign.
Biden’s constant gaffes and tendency to embellish- which seem to have only intensified during the 2020 primary- have been difficult for Biden staffers to navigate. Biden’s latest embarrassing foray into fiction- his assertion that he was arrested in South Africa trying to visit nelson Mandela in the 1970’s, since debunked and subsequently walked-back by the Biden campaign- being no exception.
Biden’s debate performances have been consistently weak the entire campaign. His campaign has been, at times, as clunky and unwieldy as an old junker; calling his bus tour “No Malarky” was a mistake. Failing to secure the domain name for Biden’s Latino outreach efforts- before the Trump campaign beat Biden to the punch- was another.
The biggest disaster for the Biden campaign, however, was probably a toss up.
The entrance of former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg- and his billions- into the race in an obvious play for Biden’s moderate territory was probably a terrible day for the Biden campaign. That vote of no-confidence from such a prominent Democrat must have seriously rankled.
The meteoric rise of Bernie Sanders to the front of the pack might have been another bad day, or series of days.
Yet, Sanders shift into first place also proved an important strategic development for the Biden campaign:
Fear of Bernie Sanders becoming the Democratic nominee has forced many a reluctant supporter into the Joe Biden camp. Sanders is feared by most moderate members of the party as too radical, a socialist; too easy for Trump to beat in the general election.
At every turn during this race Joe Biden has seemed outmanned, outmaneuvered, out-molded, outshone and outspent. Bernie Sanders likes to cast himself as the underdog in this race. But since the moment Joe Biden announced his candidacy accidentally via gaffe, the real underdog in this race has been Joe Biden.
No one has been enthusiastic about the Biden campaign. No Democrats have professed feeling excited to vote for Joe Biden.
But while Democrats aren’t exactly excited about Joe Biden, they are very excited about the prospect of beating Donald Trump in November. And terrified of losing to him.
If South Carolina is any indication, there may be life in the Biden campaign yet. Biden may be, as he has maintained all along, the last best hope of defeating Trump.
Bloomberg, in spite of his billions, failed to distinguish himself during the debates. His non-traditional run at the nomination is not proving as successful a strategy as Bloomberg’s team might have hoped.
One reason for Bloomberg’s failure is Joe Biden’s success; or rather, Biden’s stubborn refusal to drop out of the race after a double drubbing in Iowa and New Hampshire where Biden finished fourth and fifth.
Biden’s decisive win in South Carolina proves that Biden understands campaigns in the ways that still matter most.
It’s still not what you know, it’s still who you know.
More importantly; it’s who you trust.
Voters in South Carolina, in the African-American community and beyond, still trust former President Barack Obama very much. Which means they also trust the man who helped Obama win his election- twice. They trust the man who helped the Obama administration carry out its historic initiatives.
The people of South Carolina also trust and know Rep. Jim Clyburn. When Clyburn gave Biden’s his ringing endorsement earlier this week, that was a good day for the Biden campaign.
It was also a good sign that faith in Biden hasn’t been entirely misplaced.
The Biden campaign was right about South Carolina. Could Biden be right about his ability to beat Donald Trump in November?
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)