Florida senator Rick Scott’s new commercial in Iowa, ripping into Joe Biden, is no longer on YouTube but can be seen during this CNN segment. A few days ago, Iowa senator Joni Ernst said, “Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening. And I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucusgoers. Will they be supporting pres- vice president Biden at this point?”
Over at The Bulwark, Jonathan Last is appalled and declares, “it’s almost as though Republicans are terrified of Joe Biden and doing everything they can to protect Donald Trump from having to face him in November.”
Eh, maybe. The catch in that theory is that no matter how little you think of Scott and Ernst, those senators know we live in an era of intense political polarization, hyper-partisanship, and motivated reasoning. They no doubt understand that Republican senators publicly declaring, “Boy, I hope Iowa caucus goers don’t vote for Joe Biden” is not likely to spur many Iowa Democrats to respond with a “Gee, it’s a good thing Rick Scott and Joni Ernst are warning us away from this terrible mistake!” In fact, it’s much more likely that to the extent Iowa Democrats are influenced at all, wavering Biden supporters will fully jump on the bandwagon to stick it to those Republicans who are trashing him during impeachment.
But what if this isn’t an anti-Biden play at all? What if it’s an anti-Bernie Sanders play?
On paper, Joe Biden is more electable against Trump, but he’s got his own flaws and weaknesses. Biden won’t be as easy to paint as extreme, but he’s going to be a deeply disappointing nominee for the Woke Left and progressive activists, he’ll offer a gaffe a minute, and Democrats will have to spend the coming year insisting that everything with Hunter Biden’s gig with Burisma was no big deal. If you’re a conservative, the prospect of life under a President Biden is probably at least a little better than life under a President Sanders. Biden’s not really that centrist, but at least he hasn’t spent decades envisioning a full-scale socialist revolution in the United States.
If you’re a conservative, a Sanders loss in either the primary or the general is good, because it represents a rejection of socialism at the ballot box, either within the Democratic party or by the electorate at large. (A rejection of that agenda within the Democratic party might be even more enraging to socialists, because socialists believe that the Democrats are the party more aligned with their ideas.)
Many voices on the left touted Trump during the 2016 primary because they thought he would be easy to beat in the general election. Whoops. The last presidential election brought the most vivid illustration of “be careful what you wish for.” If you think a candidate on the other side would really be a menace to the country, you don’t want that candidate winning the nomination, because once they’re nominated, there’s a roughly 50–50 chance that candidate will become the next president. Eliminate the possibility of the worst outcomes early on, and the remaining outcomes are better.
Perhaps everything is exactly as it seems on the surface, and Scott and Ernst really think that their statements will make it less likely that Biden wins Iowa. If that’s really their motivation, then the efforts look pretty foolish and likely counterproductive. But if they’re trying to bait Democrats into voting for Biden in an effort to sink Sanders (or Elizabeth Warren, or Pete Buttigieg), it’s pretty shrewd.