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1/29/20

Joe Biden hasn't been vetted

Joe Biden's plan to stay above the fray of the 2020 Democratic primaries has been wildly successful. He has only suffered a few direct hits during the debates - first on his opposition to busing, and later on his vote for war in Iraq - and none of this gave him more than a week or so of bad press. He has committed a few gaffes on the campaign trail, but that only gave him a few embarrassing viral clips on Twitter. Probably the most damaging moment for Biden 2020 came when the campaign released its dismal 3Q fundraising totals; this hurt his credibility among party elites, and contributed directly to the rise of launch of Bloomberg's campaign and a brief surge for Buttigieg.

But despite these stumbles, Biden remains largely untouched. His obvious mental deterioration and erratic behavior has not become a major argument against his candidacy. His very real corruption remains a taboo subject among the liberal-left, in part because Trump has telegraphed that this would be the center of his general election attack. His hawkishness only earned limited attention in the media when the assassination of Qasem Soleimani brought US militarism back into the media spotlight for a few short weeks. And his abysmal record on Social Security has been overwhelmingly ignored by the media - or obscured by misleading nitpicking.

Biden has not been vetted, and this means that opponents of Donald Trump are on the verge of disaster. A Biden nomination would repeat directly the catastrophic mistakes of 2016. It would pit against Trump an uninspiring establishment candidate with massive weaknesses that Trump will easily exploit:

  • Trump will use the corruption surrounding Biden to parry accusations that he is corrupt, just like he did in 2016. Liberal pundits know this and have already started trying to work the refs to try to spin media coverage against it, but when Trump brings Biden's history up at every rally and every speech the news will have no choice but to cover it.
  • Similarly, Trump will use Biden's weakness on Social Security to parry attacks on his own record, just like he did in 2016. He will lie about his own efforts to cut Social Security, and Joe Biden will lie about it, and the public will declare this a wash.
  • Trump will try to position himself as a restrained isolationist just as he did in 2016, and will highlight his opponent's support for the Iraq war to paint them as reckless and militant, just as he did in 2016.

Joe Biden is an extraordinary risk against Trump. All of these weaknesses make him unusually vulnerable to Trump's pugilistic and endlessly cynical style of opposition; we know this, because we saw how Trump campaigned in 2016. Trump will turn all of Biden's attacks around on him, and even though Democrats will find this shameless and unconvincing, much of the country will buy it. And since Biden's entire campaign depends on making this election into a referendum on Trump, this strategy will completely disarm him. Biden is not a candidate who offers an inspiring vision for America. He is not a candidate who can rely on a base of enthusiastic supporters. His campaign will be a brutal grind of attacks and recriminations; Trump will fight that battle to a stalemate, and promote himself as an incumbent presiding over a growing economy. Voters will find this persuasive enough, and Biden will lose.

If Biden finally faces any real scrutiny over the next few months all of this will be perfectly clear. But by the end of this year, it seems entirely possible that opponents of Trump will look back on this primary in disbelief, wondering how Joe Biden every won the nomination without any serious reckoning over his record.