The Corner


The Surprises of the Early Democratic Primary That Aren’t That Surprising

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second night of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

From the moment it became clear that Hillary Clinton would not be running in 2020 as an incumbent president, Democrats began to wonder if Joe Biden would run for president. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Biden would know he had at least two glaring weaknesses: his age (he would be 78 on Inauguration Day 2021) and his rambling, unpredictable mouth.

Today reporters at the New York Times tell us that “aides and allies” watched the last debate with concern and “thought he was showing his age — that, at 76, he appeared slow off the mark, uncertain about how to counterpunch as he allowed [Kamala] Harris to land clean hits without interruption.” They warn “a repeat performance could do lasting damage to his campaign and erode his advantage in the polls.” Over at Politico, an unnamed donor who spoke to Biden says, “I think he realizes now that he screwed up.”

Who could have seen that coming?

Last week, Beto O’Rourke appeared on Seth Myers’ late night talk show and had this exchange:

Meyers: You ran against Ted Cruz in a Senate campaign. Do you ever miss how easy it was to be different from Ted Cruz? (laughter, applause)

O’Rourke: Where is Ted Cruz when you need him?

(Cruz responded on Twitter, “in the Senate.”)

Those of us who watched the Texas Senate race with open eyes could see that the media’s disdain for Cruz, and the Democrats’s ravenous hunger for a statewide victory in Texas, drove them to overestimate O’Rourke as some sort of Herculean figure, a once-in-a-lifetime political talent. Now, jumping on diner counters and sharing tales of trying to get his wife to eat baby poop, O’Rourke comes across as a paper tiger.

Who could have seen that coming?

Back in 2017, Vogue raved about Kirsten Gillibrand’s retail politics skills: “She radiates concern for regular people, and in her interactions there is an actual, unperformed engagement that people pick up on everywhere. She is the very soul of approachability.” Some observers were less convinced that Gillibrand’s sheer charisma and ability to connect with people would lead to a successful presidential campaign, and said so at the time. (Retail politicking skills are useful, but even if Gillibrand’s lived up to the hype, candidates can’t shake enough hands in enough Des Moines or Manchester diners to win the caucuses or primaries. At some point, you have to be able to connect with voters on a larger scale through television, radio, and speeches.)

Gillibrand visited New Hampshire 55 times, second only to John Delaney. Her best poll result in the Granite State all year was 3 percent in February.

Who could have seen that coming?

Everyone makes mistakes. The temptation to see what we want to see instead of what is actually there is ever-present, particularly in the realm of politics. George Orwell famously wrote, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

But some of us struggle a little more than others.

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