Guy Farmer: Joe Biden is a shaky front-runner
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner among some 20 Democratic presidential candidates, and his supporters are hanging on for dear life as the critical part of the 2020 campaign approaches. Although 76-year-old Biden is running first in national polls, his campaign is fraying at the edges as 70-year-old Elizabeth Warren and other more vigorous candidates — including 37-year-old South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — close in on him.
New York magazine Washington correspondent Olivia Nuzzi, who follows Biden on the campaign trail, accused the former vice president of running “a zombie campaign” before asking a key question: “Joe Biden is the least formidable front-runner ever. Will it matter?” “Biden has spent a half century grasping for this position (the presidency) and watching it slip through his fingers,” she wrote in her devastating profile. “To anyone paying attention… it looks, unmistakably, like it’s happening again.”
I was thinking the same thing as I watched Biden debate other Democratic contenders last month. “He’s hanging on by a thread,” I thought. Biden’s meandering, sometimes near-incoherent answers to questions certainly didn’t help his current quest for the presidency. In fact, his debate performance made him look old and unsure of himself.
Apparently, Biden’s staff feels the same way. “Joe Biden speaking off-the-cuff is something the entire staff seems focused on preventing at all costs,” Nuzzi wrote. “Watching Biden can feel like being at a rodeo. You’re there because at some level you know you might see someone get killed.” Ouch!
“It’s not just his age,” she opined. “It’s his tendency to misspeak, his inartful debating style (and) his status as a creature from another time in the Democratic Party.” After all, Biden has been a Washington swamp-dweller for nearly 50 years.
Later, Nuzzi observed that “Biden is cocooned by his family, longtime advisers and (former) White House staff. …For many of these staffers it feels like it should be a coronation. He’s surrounded by entitled staff who don’t feel they have to fight for the nomination.”
“They have him in the candidate-protection program,” said David Axelrod, one of Hillary Clinton’s top advisers. “I don’t know if you can get through a whole campaign that way. …If you’re worried that the candidate can hurt himself by talking to a reporter, that’s a bad sign.”
The more I watch and listen to Biden, the more I’m convinced that he won’t be the Democratic candidate for president in 2020. But if he is, I think our hateful, obnoxious president will make mincemeat out of the elderly career politician on the debate stage.
Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt, an astute observer of the current political scene, was skeptical, as I was, about Biden’s answers to questions put to him by Norah O’Donnell of CBS News in a recent “60 Minutes” interview. Biden actually claimed he asked former President Obama NOT to endorse him in his current run for the presidency. “I asked him (Obama) not to, and he said ‘OK, I think it’s better,’” Biden told O’Donnell. Personally, I think that was a make-believe conversation that came to Biden in a dream.
Nevertheless, the former vice president had “no doubt” that Obama will be “out on the campaign trail” for him if he’s the 2020 nominee. Of course Obama will be supporting whoever the Democratic candidate is next year.
Nuzzi of New York magazine assessed Biden’s prospects accurately when she wrote that his “vulnerabilities are close to the surface,” including “his ability to stay agile and alive for four more years.” That’s a painful but accurate assessment.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.