Biden’s New Status Doesn’t Come With a New Biden
He's the same candidate he was before the South Carolina primary—and that could be a problem.
A week ago, the candidacy of Joe Biden was at death’s door.
On a taping of “The McLaughlin Group,” this writer suggested it might be time to “call the rectory” and have the monsignor come render last rites.
Today, Biden’s candidacy is not only alive. He is first in votes, victories and delegates, and is favored to win the nomination and, by most polls, to defeat Donald Trump in November.
“The World Turned Upside Down” was a song the British army band is said to have played at the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. That title applies to what happened in the U.S. political world in the five days from Feb. 29 to March 4.
Going into South Carolina on Feb. 29, Joe Biden had run a miserable and losing campaign.
Starting as the odds-on favorite for the nomination, he finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses, fifth in New Hampshire and then was routed by Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses. His fundraising was anemic. His debate performances ranged from tolerable to terrible.
On the eve of South Carolina, his proclaimed “firewall,” the media conceded he might win but wrote him off as a probable fatality on Super Tuesday when 14 states went to the polls.
Then came South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden, which solidified and energized the African American vote in the Palmetto State and led to a Biden blowout in Saturday’s primary.
The nonstop free and favorable publicity Biden gained from the victory created a momentum that Mike Bloomberg’s billions could not buy. Over that weekend came the withdrawal of Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar and endorsements by both of Biden as the party’s best hope against Donald Trump.
Came then Biden’s sweep of 10 of the 14 states holding primaries on Super Tuesday. Wednesday saw the withdrawal of Bloomberg, who endorsed Biden and pledged his vast fortune to help Joe and the party defeat Trump in November.
Moreover, for Trump, as Claudius observed in “Hamlet,” “When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.”
For 10 days, the Dow Jones average has gyrated wildly, wiping out trillions of dollars in wealth, while the coronavirus slowly claimed victims and dominated the world’s media. Predictions of a pandemic, a global economic downturn and a national recession were everywhere.
All in all, a triumphal week for Biden, who racked up 11 state primary victories. Before last Saturday, he had not won a single primary in three presidential campaigns.
But if earlier reports of the demise of Joe Biden were premature, so, too, are today’s confident predictions of a Biden sweep this November, marching over the political corpse of Trump and bringing in a Democratic Senate and Democratic House.
As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Bernie Sanders’ “Revolution” remains unreconciled to a Beltway-Biden restoration, against which many of the Democratic candidates railed before dropping out, including Elizabeth Warren.
Sanders, for whom this is the last hurrah, must decide whether he wants to go down fighting for his cause or stack arms and march into Biden’s camp.
If Sanders chooses to fight, he can, even in near-certain defeat, be victorious in history if his “movement” one day captures the national party as it has captured a plurality of the party’s young.
If Sanders goes into the coming debates and forces Biden to defend his votes — for George Bush’s war in Iraq and for NAFTA and WTO trade concessions to Communist China — he may still be crushed.
But Sanders is a true believer. And, for such as these, it is better to die on the hill you have lived and fought on than to march into camp to be patted on the head by an establishment that secretly detests you.
Then there is Biden’s vulnerability.
He may be hailed by a fickle media as a conquering hero today. But after the cheering stops, Biden is going to be, for the next eight months, the same candidate he has been for the last eight months. Here is a description of that candidate by The New York Times the day after his Super Tuesday triumph:
“Any suggestion that Mr. Biden is now a risk-free option would appear to contradict the available evidence. He is no safer with a microphone, no likelier to complete a thought without exaggeration or bewildering detour.
“He has not, as a 77-year-old man proudly set in his ways, acquired new powers of persuasion or management in the 72 hours since the first primary state victory of his three presidential campaigns.
“Mr. Biden has blundered this chance before — the establishment front-runner; the last, best hope for moderates — fumbling his initial 2020 advantages in a hail of disappointing fund-raising, feeble campaign organization and staggering underperformance.”
It ain’t over till it’s over.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.