Is Frank Capra scripting Joe Biden’s campaign?
Biden’s presidential bid was moribund and broke heading into the Feb. 29 primary in South Carolina, with poor showings in all three prior elections. Then Biden broke through with a thunderclap win that drove competitors from the race and led to a pile of Super Tuesday victories on March 3. Biden has overtaken Bernie Sanders to become the Democratic frontrunner and assuage fears of a failed socialist revolution. Biden’s revival has been so dramatic critics would call it treacly and unrealistic if this were a Hollywood film.
The biggest prize for Biden may be the millions, or billions, of dollars Mike Bloomberg could now spend on Biden’s behalf. The former New York City mayor prudently dropped out of the race on March 4, after more than half-a-billion dollars in ad spending failed to buy him more than a few delegates. Bloomberg promptly endorsed Biden, whom he called “my friend and a great American.” Bloomberg also reiterated that his primary interest is beating Donald Trump, suggesting he’ll continue to spend unprecedented sums in pursuit of that goal.
The Biden revival is also beginning to look like a Democratic tour de force. Just two months ago, the Democratic primaries seemed a shambolic mess, with too many candidates bickering over ancient grievances and trivial policy differences in almost unwatchable debates. The entrance of the multibillionaire Bloomberg into the race triggered Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s class warfare impulses, leading to more interparty attacks rather than a unified assault on Trump.
Now, the once-disorderly Democrats are becoming remarkably unified, avoiding the multi-lane free-for-all that allowed Trump to win the 2016 Republican nomination. Moderates have quickly closed ranks around Biden, who may now be the best-funded candidate in history, if Bloomberg does his bidding. It’s still a two-man race, with Sanders likely to remain competitive. But Sanders’ main advantage has been a handful of moderates splitting that part of the vote, while he gets most of the liberal tally. That advantage has evaporated. Moderates still outnumber liberals in the Democratic primaries, and with all of their vote going to Biden, Sanders is in trouble.
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Biden still has many vulnerabilities. He has not been a vigorous campaigner. He looks his age, 77. He misremembers names and facts. He’s long-winded. His son Hunter clearly took a sweetheart job at a Ukrainian energy company to cash in on the family name. But Sanders may be more flawed. His call for revolution isn’t wooing the millions of young voters Sanders needs to win, even among Democrats. He’s weak among black voters who are a core part of the Democratic base. And his radical agenda turns off Democrats who think Trump will shred him as a crazy socialist and win easily.
If Biden become the Democratic nominee, he’ll be running against a president who’s down on his luck at the moment. Trump didn’t cause the spread of the coronavirus, but he’ll get much of the blame if there’s a full-blown U.S. epidemic. The virus already seems certain to harm economic growth, and it’s possible there could even be a recession. That would come on top of Trump’s general unpopularity, due to impeachment, harsh treatment of immigrants, inaction on healthcare and counterproductive trade policies. Trump has catered to his hardcore base so aggressively that many moderate Republicans and Independents would welcome an alternative they can live with. Bernie Sanders isn’t it, but Joe Biden might be.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.