Joe Biden is done. He just doesn’t know it yet. He seems like a nice guy; it would be far nicer if someone told him.
Why is the former vice president about to skid off the campaign trail? Because his behavior is becoming ever more peculiar, his efforts to raise money and reach voters (the widely mocked “No Malarkey” bus tour) are failing and because there is a new moderate in the race – Mike Bloomberg – who is likely to clean his clock, to use the kind of expression Biden would love.
Let’s start with the behavior. At a recent campaign rally, Biden’s wife warmed up the waiting crowd, with her husband standing behind her, appearing transfixed. He watches as Jill’s hands pump up and down with enthusiasm and suddenly, as she sweeps her arm wide, Joe leans forward and proceeds to nibble on his wife’s fingers.
It’s funny, but – seriously – what if Biden was holding a joint presser with Emmanuel Macron? Might he absent-mindedly chew on his fingers? Or, God forbid, on Angela Merkel’s outstretched digits?
Also, over the past several days, a video resurfaced in which Biden addresses a mostly black audience, presumably in 2017, telling them about his hairy legs that “turn blond in the sun.” He recalled that “kids used to come up and reach in the pool and rub my legs down so it was straight and then watch the hair come back up again and look at it.” He added “I learned about roaches, I learned about kids jumping on my lap, and I love kids jumping in my lap…”
Scenes like these have furthered growing concern about the former VP’s mental acuity. This has been an issue from the start of his campaign, because of his age (he’s 77) and tendency to spew embarrassing “gaffes,” but also because at important moments Biden has embarrassed himself.
In the most recent Democrat debate, for instance, Joe condemned domestic violence, theoretically a strong suit for one of the authors of the Violence Against Women Act, saying “we have to change the culture” by “punching at it and punching at it and punching at it.” His rivals struggled not to laugh.
That was the same debate in which Biden claimed to “have the support of the only African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate”; that didn’t go over too well with Kamala Harris, standing nearby, another African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
These sorts of issues have punctuated the Biden campaign but have been largely ignored as Democrats hoped and prayed that Biden was the candidate who could beat Donald Trump. But today there is a growing sense that, despite promising polls, he just may not be up to the task.
Skepticism about Biden’s electability has led to an ongoing struggle to raise money, with big donors turning increasingly to a rival moderate, the improbable and inexperienced South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Biden has continually trailed Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren(D-Mass.). At the end of September, Biden had $9 million in the bank, less than half the funds available to Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg.
To be out-raised is surprising for the front-runner, which Biden remains. According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Biden leads Sanders, his closest rival, by 11 points nationally, a healthy advantage but down sharply from May, when he was ahead of Sanders by nearly 27 points.
Broken down by states, Biden shows greater slippage. In Iowa and New Hampshire, he’s now in fourth place, trailing top contender Buttigieg by more than 6 points in each race.
In South Carolina, where 60 percent of Democrats are black, Biden still rules, ahead of second-place Warren by almost 20 points. But Uncle Joe just received what could be a serious body blow in the Palmetto State.
Major power broker Steve Benjamin, the African-American mayor of Columbia, has reaffirmed his backing of Mike Bloomberg. Benjamin had come out in support of the former New York City mayor before he had even entered the race, but endorsed him formally in the past few days.
Two issues of note: Mike needs black voters and, up until now, that cohort has lined up solidly behind Biden. South Carolina will be the first test of whether a candidate can win over African-Americans, and Biden is counting on their support to prop up his run. Benjamin could undermine that support.
Bloomberg earned the enmity of African-Americans through his enthusiastic former embrace of “stop and frisk” police tactics, which critics charge unfairly targeted minorities. Since entering the race, Bloomberg has apologized, saying he made a mistake. But some black Democratic political analysts have said that the mea culpa was not enough.
Benjamin, an important leader in South Carolina, would appear to think otherwise, and that’s bad news for Biden. If Bloomberg can make inroads with the black community, his path to the nomination becomes a whole lot easier, and Biden’s prospects a whole lot murkier.
In an interview with Jonathan Capehart, an opinion writer with the Washington Post who thinks Bloomberg can’t win the nomination, Benjamin said he liked Bloomberg’s business success and entrepreneurial spirit. He also is impressed by the former mayor’s philanthropy, and approves of his stance on gun limits and climate change.
Most important, though, the Charleston mayor thinks Bloomberg can beat Donald Trump. “People really wanna win,” Benjamin said. That desire, many say, overshadows everything. And that desire has to date propped up Biden’s campaign, as numerous theoretical head-to-head polls with Trump have shown him ahead. And yet, in six critical swing states, Biden leads the president only within the margin of error. That’s not a sure thing.
As voters in South Carolina and elsewhere see more of Biden, and contemplate an alternative moderate candidate in the well-financed Bloomberg, they will almost certainly decide that Obama’s former sidekick is not their man. Someone should tell him; kinder to nudge him out of the race now than to have him humiliated down the road.
Published on The Hill