Politico reports, “many people expect [Joe Biden’s] campaign to implode any day. It is a sensation underpinning the entire primary, evident not only in the vulturous calculations of Biden’s competitors, but also within his own orbit of supporters — a feeling that the front-runner may be made of porcelain, one direct hit short of falling apart.”
Somebody’s going to have to score a direct hit, then. Four years ago, another unpredictable, gaffe-prone septuagenarian — who also kept getting accused of touching women inappropriately — ran for president, and most of his rivals waited for somebody else to throw the knockout punch. Ask the 2016 Republican contenders how well the plan of waiting worked out for them.
The one time Biden’s lead took a significant drop this cycle in the RealClearPolitics average came after Kamala Harris metaphorically beat him up and took his lunch money in the first debate. Since then, he’s been pretty stable. There’s little sign that a lot of Democrats want to shop around or roll the dice on an untested newcomer. They just want to beat Trump, and they currently think Biden’s the safest choice. If your name isn’t Joe Biden, your job in this week’s debate is to convince everyone watching that Biden will fall apart in a tough general election fight with Trump and that you’re the best choice to beat an incumbent president seeking a second term.
A lot of party loyalists cringe when they see primary opponents attacking each others’ records. They lament that it’s “negative campaigning.” If you are a challenger, it is almost impossible to gain traction against the frontrunner without criticizing the frontrunner’s record. If Democrats don’t have any “negative campaigning” from here on out, the party will nominate Biden.
“But I intend to win this primary on the power of my message!” News flash, Democratic candidates: As far as most primary voters are concerned, you’ve all got more or less the same message. You’re all appalled by President Trump and find him a violation of American values. You all want to raise taxes on “the rich and big corporations.” You all want the federal government to take a bigger role in getting people health care. You all want abortion on demand anytime, anywhere, for any reason. You’re all deeply worried about climate change.
The only way this primary fight will hinge on policy differences is if someone convincingly argues that the difference on policy reflects a difference in values. That’s the kind of tough argument that will be needed to score a “direct hit” on the allegedly “porcelain” Biden.