by Rob Stutzman
To stare down impeachment partly for the chance to take out a rival is the stuff of legend.
If it works. Only now it appears it hasn’t.
Joe Biden’s amazing week not only turned the battle for the Democratic nomination on its head, but it has also dealt President Trump the race he wanted most to avoid.
Just two weeks ago, the president was achieving record (though still shy of 50 percent) approval ratings coming off his impeachment acquittal. It was a strongman’s moment. And payoff appeared on the horizon, as Biden delivered dismal, also-ran finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But life comes at you fast. First, we all witnessed the wobbly coronavirus response by the White House and the stock market drops that threaten Trump’s central reelection narrative.
And then came the stunning, five day roll-up during which Biden clobbered everyone in South Carolina, collected the endorsements of three former rivals and grabbed the lead in delegates with a 10-state win on Super Tuesday. Within days, two other rivals quit the race. It was a breathless, unprecedented series of back-to-back wins.
The nation is getting a good look at a triumphant former vice president who has stormed the race without the legions of staff, money and small donors that are supposed to be necessary for success.
Instead, Biden is a well-known brand that, while laden with all the attributes of a career D.C. pol, also oozes authenticity and love of country. For all the wounds and warts that come with a politician in twilight, Biden is the rival Trump least wants to face.
It’s been received wisdom for much of the past year that Biden alone among his Democratic competitors was the experienced moderate who would connect with white, blue-collar, pro-Trump voters. While Bernie Sanders and Trump are the emblems of America’s populist surge, Biden embodies the establishment. Isn’t it bad to be part of the establishment? Not when it’s the opposite of what you have now — chaos, conspiracy and incompetence. Biden hails from the land of normalcy and expertise. And voters often go from outsider to insider.
Meanwhile, Trump may have finally bullied an adversary who can outspend him. Instead of a prolonged fight with a New York billionaire, Biden now has Trump nemesis Mike Bloomberg in his corner. Bloomberg wants to pummel Trump; he has made it clear he will spend a great deal even when he is not on the ballot. And Bloomberg-world has the sophistication to match Trump on every platform with complex digital targeting.
All of which should be concerning to Republicans who were counting on Sanders and the battle cry of “socialists!” to maintain control of the Senate and pick up House seats. To push back, GOP talking heads will spend the weeks and months ahead pointing to Biden’s gaffes, questions of age and health and of course Hunter Biden’s misadventures in Ukraine.
And Joe Biden will likely at times feed those narratives by fumbling his lines and resorting to his worst instincts to recite his record as a U.S. senator and vice president.
But Biden has one other move that should worry Trump and the Republicans: He has a higher gear that once made him among the best pols of his generation.
He can talk about Americans as a reflection of their best values.
He articulates powerfully about Americans, not about their grievances, but about their empathy and hopes. He says what Trump and Sanders do not say. He speaks to their aspirations and not their fears. He believes in them.
In his 2016 speech to the Democratic convention, he burned with righteous anger about Trump, a man who takes unimaginable delight in saying the words “You’re fired.” But it’s Biden’s passionate finish about an exceptionalism that comes from Americans themselves that should give butterflies to Republicans. “Given a fair shot, given a fair chance, Americans have never, ever, ever, ever, ever let the country down. … Ordinary people like us who do extraordinary things.”
In 2016, that speech was the valedictory oratory of a retiring vice president.
In 2020, that speech should be Joe Biden’s call to arms.
Rob Stutzman is a Republican consultant in Sacramento.