A column in the New York Times sets out some of my own misgivings about Joe Biden as the potential 2020 Democrat standard bearer. Part of my concerns comes from remembering Biden's gaffe laden past runs for the the nomination and his seeming inability to ignite true enthusiasm. Indeed, he reminds me of Bob Dole's ill-fated presidential run from back in 1996 during my days in the Republican Party. Despite a long, positive record, Dole simply never had the ability to spark enthusiasm. As a result, he lost his election bid. Joe Biden is, to me, the Democratic version of Bob Dole and even faced with a widely loathed opponent in Donald Trump, the enthusiasm gap could be fatal much as it was with Hillary Clinton in 2016. At this point, I admit, I do not know who the best candidate is to defeat Trump, other than my gut and years in politics suggest that it is not Joe Biden despite the bloviating of talking heads and others. Here are highlights from the Times column:
On Saturday, Joe Biden was one of 20 presidential candidates to speak at a Planned Parenthood forum in Columbia, S.C., held right next door to the state’s Democratic convention. It was just a couple of weeks after he’d reversed his longtime support for the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion. One of the moderators asked him what he’d say to pro-choice voters who have concerns about his mixed record on the issue.
This was part of his answer: “The fact of the matter is that we’re in a situation where mortality rate for poor women and black women, here in this state, 26.5 percent of the, 24, 25.6 people, who of 100,000 who need, who end up dying as a consequence of birth, it’s absolutely absurd.” (He was referring to South Carolina’s maternal mortality rate, which is 26.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.)
Seeing Biden on the stump often feels like watching an actor who can’t quite remember his lines. Even if you don’t support him, it’s hard not to feel anxious on his behalf.
I had the chance to watch Biden campaign three times over the weekend, when almost the entire Democratic field descended on Columbia.
His performance was unnerving. I don’t want Biden to be the nominee for ideological reasons, but polls show him far ahead, and if he’s going to be the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer against Donald Trump, I want him to be a strong one. He didn’t seem strong in South Carolina.
Donald Trump, of course, also speaks in gibberish, but with a bombastic unearned confidence; rather than flailing around for the right figure he makes one up. Biden, by contrast, was just shaky. And while there’s great affection for him on the ground, there’s little excitement. You can see why his campaign has been limiting his public events and why he’s been avoiding the press.
It’s true that ordinary voters don’t seem to care about the gaffes that obsess cable TV commentators. No one I spoke to in Columbia was bothered by Biden waxing nostalgic about his civil relations with segregationist senators; most people hadn’t even heard about it. And his ability to forge personal connections remains impressive.
That’s Biden at his best — undisciplined, but with a big heart. But personal warmth won’t be enough without the ability to inspire masses of people.
An ability to draw crowds isn’t everything — a tepid vote counts the same as a passionate one. Biden’s supporters are older than those of other Democrats, which gives his campaign less visible energy but a more reliable voting base. Still, as recent elections have shown, enthusiasm matters. Anyone convinced that Biden is the safe choice should go see him for themselves.