This Was Biden's Best Week of the Whole Campaign

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The debate was a bust, Bernie’s momentum hit an Elizabethan buzz saw, the Russians hacked Burisma, Lev Parnas claimed Trump’s Ukrainian shakedown was all about the Bidens, there are good new polls and more endorsements from the House Democrats’ most valued front-liners -- could things have gone any better for Joe Biden this week?

Rapturous celebration in Bernie World, when he ranked first in the all-important Des Moines Register poll just days ago, was cut short when other surveys then placed the former vice president at the top, and Biden has now slid into first place in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, New Hampshire polls, Iowa polls, Nevada polls, South Carolina polls and the betting odds

But the Register poll results capped an alarming period when the establishment realized their silence was helping Bernie’s surge, and panic had set in. Jim Messina, campaign manager for President Obama’s reelection in 2012, gave an interview days ago saying socialism would help reelect Trump, and that Sanders was the candidate Trump would be most excited to run against. Then CNN reported this week on the pie-in-the-sky-high-price tag of a Sanders agenda, the precise cost of which isn’t even calculable, according to an extensive study of his plans by former Treasury Secretary and chief White House economic adviser Larry Summers. The assessment showed his agenda would more than double federal spending, with increases larger than any Republican president has sought to cut it by. Jim Kessler of the centrist Third Way group noted that not only had Hillary Clinton given this subject a pass in 2016 but no current rival had questioned the outlandish cost of Sanders plans yet this cycle: “He’s allowed to skate. He gets graded on a curve. But if he were the nominee, the curve is over. The Republicans will spend a billion dollars picking apart every one of his plans.” 

Pushback against Sanders from leading party voices, even those who don’t support Biden, redounds to Biden’s benefit each and every time. Then the front-runner easily coasted through his responses to questions about the Iraq War and Middle East troop deployments at a newsless debate Tuesday. 

Now that the hot-mic exchange between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren following Tuesday's debate has suggested Sanders was the one who lied about their 2018 conversation, he is facing on-the-record disgust. First Sanders may have told Warren a woman can’t beat Trump, then, on national television, he implied she was lying. 

“What I’ve really enjoyed about the last couple of days of Dem primary twitter is the reliving of the nightmare of ugliness and divisiveness of the 2016 primary. You know, where the woman is an opportunistic establishment shill, the intensely personal attacks on her character,” tweeted Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a former aide to President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Tanden is correct that on Twitter Bernie supporters weren’t having it, and accused Warren of lying. That brawl, of course, advantages Biden. Instead of Bernie knocking off Warren and consolidating progressive support, he is now bleeding it, and -- at best -- it will be split between the two senators, paving the way for a larger Biden share of the vote. 

As progressives fight over who will lead the revolution, Biden continues to roll out endorsements from the House members Speaker Nancy Pelosi prizes most -- swing district Democrats who swept her party back to a House majority and her back to the speakership in 2018.

This week Rep. Colin Allred announced his support, saying, “Joe Biden’s life, his record of accomplishments and his fighting spirit are exactly what we need in this pivotal moment for our nation’s future.” Allred defeated former Rep. Pete Sessions in a Trump-won Texas district in 2018, and his announcement follows endorsements from Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney, Elaine Luria, Conor Lamb, Abby Finkenauer -- all of whom represent Trump-won districts. 

As centrist Democratic members made the case for Biden, they got some uninvited backup from the Russians. The day six candidates prepared to take the debate stage in Iowa, the Biden campaign responded to a report in the New York Times that security experts found the Russian military started hacking Burisma in November in an operation similar to the 2016 hacking of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, for which the Department of Justice indicted seven members of the Russian GRU. While it wasn’t clear what the hackers found, the experts concluded: “the timing and scale of the attacks” suggested the hackers were looking for communications that could prove embarrassing to Hunter or Joe Biden.

“Donald Trump tried to coerce Ukraine into lying about Joe Biden and a major bipartisan, international anti-corruption victory because he recognized that he can’t beat the Vice President,” a spokesman for Biden said. “Now we know that Vladimir Putin also sees Joe Biden as a threat. Any American President who had not repeatedly encouraged foreign interventions of this kind would immediately condemn this attack on the sovereignty of our elections.” 

Even as Biden is sometimes treated as the nominee-in-waiting, Iowa is still a wide open race that will determine the trajectory of the rest of the primary campaign. And Sanders remains a threat to Biden, for sure. Nearly all of his donors can give again and he raised the most money of any candidate last quarter. He lost Iowa four years ago to Clinton by three-tenths of a percentage point, has his infrastructure still in place and wants it badly.

Biden takes the threat seriously, keenly aware that, unlike the other candidates who attract different voters, Sanders cuts into his coalition of working-class and non-white voters. All along he has courted former Sanders supporters in Iowa and has managed to win some endorsements from them. 

For now, Biden’s stars are aligning. In the final days before the Hawkeyes vote, the former vice president will campaign on the ground in Iowa as Warren and Sanders are grounded at a Senate impeachment trial, six days a week, perhaps even up through caucus night and beyond New Hampshire’s primary eight days later. On Feb. 3 we will learn whether a late crest, combined with some luck, made the difference for Biden.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. 



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