Elections

The Cipher as Presidential Candidate

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Clark County Democratic Party’s 2020 Kick Off to Caucus Gala, Las Vegas, Nev., February 15, 2020. (Gage Skidmore)
If the party had decided to order up a generic representative, it couldn’t have done any better than Joe Biden.

What William McKinley was to the front-porch campaign, Joe Biden is to the basement campaign.

Sidelined and confined to his house by the dictates of coronavirus social distancing, the former vice president has been limited to intermittent appearances from a makeshift studio in his basement. They have been awkward and low-energy, but that doesn’t really set them apart from most other Joe Biden appearances.

If there’s any candidate who could thrive by having very limited public exposure and existing mostly as a line of a ballot, it’s the longtime presidential aspirant who hadn’t won a primary until a couple of weeks ago.

Biden is winning the Democratic nomination on the basis of not being Bernie Sanders and wants to get elected president on the basis of not being Donald Trump. He’s as purely a negative candidate as we’ve seen in a very long time, running largely on who he isn’t and what he won’t do.

He’s the presidential candidate as cipher.

Prior to his recent mini media tour, did anyone seriously miss Joe Biden? Wonder what he had to say? Expect him to come up with a bold, captivating coronavirus plan or an arresting formulation?

There is no Biden movement. For much of the primary campaign, he couldn’t build a crowd to save his life. He had no organization or money.

There is no Biden charisma. He’s not young, handsome, eloquent, or interesting.

There is no Biden catchphrase. He doesn’t have “hope and change” or “make America great again.”

For decades, he’s stayed reliably within the mainstream of the Democratic Party at any given time — hence, his recent turn further left — and his views have largely reflected center-left conventional wisdom.

If the party had decided to order up a generic representative, with nothing original to say and a campaign utterly untouched by new thinking or methods, it couldn’t have done any better than Joe Biden.

He’s led on everything across the past four decades, at least according to his own account, and yet has done nothing particularly memorable.

He’s the opposite of a fresh face on the scene without an extensive record to defend — think George W. Bush or Barack Obama. But he’s proving that a very old slate can be almost as invulnerable to attack as a blank slate.

The length of his career means that most of his past controversial positions lost their political salience long ago. They are such artifacts of another era that they can’t be used against him anymore.

Kamala Harris learned this when she executed a fruitless ambush on Biden on the 40-year-old issue of busing. President Donald Trump will hit Biden on the crime bill, which passed more than a quarter of a century ago, and his vote for the second Iraq War, Biden’s most contemporary legislative vulnerability since he took the vote less than two decades ago.

Biden’s candidacy holds interest only to the extent he is gaffe-prone. His misfires aren’t Hillary Clinton–style gaffes, laced with arrogance and an insulting dismissiveness that makes them a rallying cry for the other side (e.g., “deplorables”).

Instead, Biden’s verbal tangles, incomplete sentences, and weird mix-ups are amusing — and concerning. They will be used to argue that he isn’t up to the job, but they don’t make anyone hate Biden. He can’t even generate strong feelings in his partisan opposition.

All that said, Biden deserves credit for his insight that the Democratic Party wasn’t defined by woke Twitter and that Obama-Biden Democrats, as he calls them, still constituted the party’s center of gravity. He correctly believed — or hoped — that African-American voters would see him through.

His victories on Super Tuesday and afterward showed that Democrats were willing to turn out en masse for an uninspired candidacy, and it may be that the same dynamic will hold in November.

If so, Biden could do worse than stay in his basement for the duration.

© 2020 by King Features Syndicate

Most Popular

NR Webathon

Don’t Let Them Destroy the Country

I   don’t come to you with tidings of joy. If you aren’t alarmed by what’s happening to the country, you haven’t been paying attention. I don’t simply mean the sickening violence. I mean the campaign to excuse it and normalize it by the media establishment and the intellectual elite. It’s ... Read More
NR Webathon

Don’t Let Them Destroy the Country

I   don’t come to you with tidings of joy. If you aren’t alarmed by what’s happening to the country, you haven’t been paying attention. I don’t simply mean the sickening violence. I mean the campaign to excuse it and normalize it by the media establishment and the intellectual elite. It’s ... Read More
Science & Tech

Trump Derangement Syndrome at The Lancet

Remember when we were told that the administration of Donald J. Trump posed a pernicious threat to science and medicine? In an attempt to sharpshoot Trump’s most famous scientific claim, one of the world’s leading medical journals just blew off its own foot. What other possible explanation can there be for ... Read More
Science & Tech

Trump Derangement Syndrome at The Lancet

Remember when we were told that the administration of Donald J. Trump posed a pernicious threat to science and medicine? In an attempt to sharpshoot Trump’s most famous scientific claim, one of the world’s leading medical journals just blew off its own foot. What other possible explanation can there be for ... Read More
U.S.

The Lockdowns Are Now a Scandal

A boy in my neighborhood committed suicide a few weeks ago. It’s possible that the teen’s preexisting problems were exacerbated by the seclusion, tediousness, and helplessness of a national lockdown. Maybe not. I didn’t really know him. I do know that locals were forced to pay respects by sitting parked ... Read More
U.S.

The Lockdowns Are Now a Scandal

A boy in my neighborhood committed suicide a few weeks ago. It’s possible that the teen’s preexisting problems were exacerbated by the seclusion, tediousness, and helplessness of a national lockdown. Maybe not. I didn’t really know him. I do know that locals were forced to pay respects by sitting parked ... Read More