While both remain in the lead in various polls on the Democrat presidential nomination contest, both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren leave me with a sense of unease and a continued fear that neither can defeat Trump in a general election. On Biden's part - if one overlooks his constant gaffes and age - the albatross of his son Hunter hangs over him and he refuses to fully and properly address the issue - something that plays directly into the hands of Trump and Fox News, the GOP state news channel. On Warren's part, her refusal to admit that her health care plan would raise taxes in a very visible way is an Achilles heel that will not go away. This, combined with her liberalism in general could likewise play to Trump's advantage. As a piece in New York Magazine notes, neither one of these candidates appears willing to address these liabilities and prepare for an onslaught by Trump should they win the nomination. Here are article highlights:
If you paid close attention to the Democratic presidential debate this week, you noticed something that Democrats might find disturbing. The two leading candidates — Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, probably in that order — both faced tough questions that could damage them in the general election. And neither appears prepared to defend themselves against what is coming.
Begin with Biden, who has a simple problem with no clear solution. His son, Hunter, traded on his father’s name. In Ukraine, Hunter Biden accepted a lucrative position on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. Burisma surely believed hiring the vice-president’s son would give it political juice with the United States government. It did not. . . . Yet this does not fully absolve either Joe or Hunter. . . . At minimum, the arrangement marginally spent down the moral capital of the American government and economy by promoting the perception that official favor can be purchased through family members of powerful officials.
Trump, of course, has degraded that moral capital a million times over with his open nepotism and self-dealing. The problem Biden faces is that it is difficult to communicate the nuance of his position. . . . . Biden’s response to this dilemma was to elide it completely. At the debate, Biden simply insisted he and Hunter did nothing wrong while deflecting the inquiry.
For human and understandable reasons, Biden is obviously reluctant to scold his troubled son in public. Yet the fact is that his son’s behavior is an albatross for the father, and all indications suggest that, if Biden wins the nomination, the damage from this relationship will only grow.
Warren, for her part, faced yet another round of criticism over her refusal to acknowledge the financing mechanism of the health-care plan she has endorsed. The political weak point of the Sanders plan is that it would move 157 million Americans off of employer-sponsored insurance and onto Medicare. In theory, this should work out great. (I would be happy to trade my employer insurance for Medicare.) In practice, this requires convincing half the country to swap their current insurance for a government plan, and to convert their health-care premiums (which are nontransparent and remitted directly by their employer, reducing their wages only indirectly) into taxes (which are paid directly). Poll after poll shows both these changes turn the abstractly popular notion of broader coverage upside down.
Warren’s strategy is to dodge both objections. She has, in the past, avoided the question of people losing their employer insurance by saying nobody likes their insurance company. . . . On taxes, she changes the question to total cost and refuses to acknowledge that taxes will go up in the swap.
Warren’s admirers consider this dodge to be clever, but the last debate shows just how politically corrosive it could become. The problem is that Sanders, who wrote the damn bill, openly admits taxes would go up. . . . The contrast between one Medicare for All supporter honestly admitting how the plan would work, and the other one refusing to admit it, did not make her look good. It gave her opponents an opening to cast her as shady, which they seized.
Pete Buttigieg pointed out that Warren’s response was “a yes or no question that didn’t get a yes or no answer.” Biden said, “it’s important to be straightforward with them,” and Amy Klobuchar added, “at least Bernie’s being honest here.” This is not merely a problem of Warren being associated with an unpopular policy. It is a question that is corroding her reputation for honesty, which is a foundation of her outsider, truth-telling brand.
As with Biden, Warren will find the reality that Trump is orders of magnitude worse to be of little value. Republicans have a party-controlled mass-media apparatus that has trained its rank and file to support liars, but the Democrats do not.
If Biden wants to beat Trump, he needs to put more distance between himself and his son. If Warren wants to beat Trump, she needs to ditch Bernie’s health-care plan and come up with one that doesn’t have political poison pills. The question with both candidates is, what steps are they willing to take to win?