Biden Uncut Could Rival Trump's Reality Show

ANALYSIS
Biden Uncut Could Rival Trump's Reality Show
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Biden Uncut Could Rival Trump's Reality Show
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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The last time he ran for president, Joe Biden was speaking during a Democratic candidates’ debate about the difficulty of quickly removing troops from Iraq when he added an unnecessary aside that he had been “shot at” in the Green Zone during a recent trip.

Pressed later on the details of the episode by this reporter, Biden walked back the comment, acknowledging that no one had pointed a gun directly at him or tried to target him specifically.

In reality, he “was near where a shot landed,” he conceded, and he believed a bullet narrowly missed a helicopter that he and his aides were flying in en route to the Baghdad airport from the Green Zone later on the same trip.

It was the type of imprecise exaggeration about coming under fire in a war zone that got Brian Williams suspended from NBC and became a defining moment in Hillary Clinton’s own failed 2008 presidential run -- and was still fodder for GOP attack ads against her in 2016.

To be fair, Clinton’s war zone recall was a much more imaginative embellishment, and Republicans lumped the episode in with a host of other perceived sins ranging from Benghazi to vilifying her husband’s sexual harassment victims.

Joe Biden’s 2020 opponents will undoubtedly try to do the same with him, but in this post-factual, no-holds-barred political climate, even an exaggerated war story or two may not shock anyone.

When the former vice president entered the race for the White House on Thursday – his third attempt at securing the Democratic nomination — he brought with him four decades of hyperbole, fibs, political miscalculations, and misstatements.

Liberal activists in the Democratic Party have recently assailed him as a two-time presidential campaign loser, highlighting his long list of gaffes and exaggerations, while also reprising unflattering aspects of his long record in the public eye, starting with his status as 76-year-old white man. This record includes a propensity of being handsy with women (and men), his overly aggressive questioning of Anita Hill, opposition to busing to desegregate schools in the 1970s, and a long legislative record of working across the aisle to forge compromises – all reasons to look elsewhere for a standard-bearer.

Critics have recalled Biden’s reputation as an undisciplined candidate, who, as recently as 2007, made disparaging comments about Indian Americans’ propensity to run convenience stores. He also called then-Sen. Barack Obama the first “mainstream African-American” candidate who is “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

While his age and relative “centrist” views – as compared to the far-left tilt of fellow presidential contender Bernie Sanders and Sanders acolytes such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- will undoubtedly dog him in the primary, Biden’s overly garrulous ways aren’t his biggest worry.

In the era of Donald J. Trump, with his freewheeling rallies and over-the-top combative Twitter jabs, authenticity reigns supreme over more scripted, polished pols. What amounted to weaknesses in Biden’s previous presidential campaigns could emerge as strengths – notwithstanding the inevitable attempts by his advisers to step in and clean up his act.

When Joe Scarborough suggested earlier this week that Biden’s aides might need a “shock collar” to rein him in, presidential biographer Jon Meacham quickly countered.

With Trump as president, the “whole topography of American politics has changed,” Meacham said. “It seems to me there’s almost nothing Biden could have said or done that would somehow startle a public that has become, I think tragically but undeniably, largely inured to public people saying things that even five years ago we would have solemnly sat and said that is the end of this person.”

Meacham also said that Biden’s “incredibly operatic highs and lows, of tragedy and comeback, of endurance and durability, is not a bad counterprogramming.”

The implication here is that the former vice president’s challenge is getting through the liberal gauntlet that is the Democratic primary and retaining his scrappy, blue-collar reputation and fighting spirit. In a general election, he needn’t worry about the occasional brain lock – or be afraid of a Twitter street brawl with Trump.

The president himself seemed to being thinking along the same lines. On Biden’s first day out of the gate, Trump took his measure of his potential opponent by trolling him on Twitter.

“Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe,” Trump tweeted, echoing a similar reference to “low-energy Jeb Bush” that helped sideline the former governor of Florida and brother of George W. Bush early in the 2016 GOP primary.

“I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. It will be nasty. You will be dealing with people who have some sick & demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate,” Trump goaded.

While touring a pizzeria in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., Biden resisted the bait.

“Everybody knows Donald Trump” was his uncharacteristically terse response.

The same is true for Biden, with the added bonus that more Americans tend to like him. His favorability ratings hover around 50 percent, roughly five points down from January but still higher than Trump’s.

Now, at the beginning of the long contest ahead, Biden also leads the president by eight points in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, 42 percent to 34 percent, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll released earlier this week.

Biden may be prone to verbal miscues, but Trump’s attempt to tar him as lethargic rings hollow. Unlike his former boss, President Obama, Biden is not the teleprompter type.

Anyway, he has other things to worry about, namely a field of 20 Democratic candidates that includes six women, five people of color and a member of the LGBTQ community whose surprising surge is still picking up steam.

If Joe Biden survives them all and ends up squaring off against Donald Trump, it just might be a fair fight.

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.



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