Joe Biden sits in a New Hampshire hotel plotting his comeback. Or maybe writing his concession speech. Whatever he’s doing he’s not campaigning. Five days before the most important election of his life — the New Hampshire primary — and Joe Biden held no town halls, gave no speeches, made no appearances of any kind.
Another poor showing on Tuesday and the “electability” argument, that’s really all he has going for him, will vanish. Word is that he’s mapping out a strategy to help him survive until South Carolina — his supposed “firewall.” But realistically, New Hampshire is Biden’s Alamo and anything less than a third-place finish there would be catastrophic.
He’s already hurting for cash. He canceled a $150,000 ad buy in South Carolina to dump it into Nevada, whose caucuses on February 22 just might represent friendlier territory for the former vice president.
But it’s a mirage. The Democratic Party — the world itself — has passed Biden by. His politics, his personality belong in another time, another political era.
But Biden is now and has always been, if nothing else, a fighter. Those close to the campaign are saying that’s the Joe Biden we’re going to see Friday night at the New Hampshire Democratic debate.
“From a Biden perspective, there’s going to be a course correction in all three states before Super Tuesday,” said Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator who is in regular contact with Biden’s campaign. “He’s got to have sharper elbows.”
He suggested that those inside the campaign realized the gravity of the moment and that Biden had to better “explain the difference with his opponents.”
“History may write that the best thing that ever happened to Joe Biden was getting gut-punched in Iowa,” he added. “It woke him up, it woke his campaign up and his supporters up. They were complacent. . . . You’ve got to talk about the other guy.”
It’s too bad that “gut punch” didn’t wake Biden up to the fact that he’s not making history, he is history. Joe Biden was a congressman, a senator, and the vice president of the United States. But despite those lofty accomplishments, he has not been a consequential figure. He hasn’t been a leading voice in any of the historic arguments in Congress. His name graces no monumental legislation.
He has largely been a non-entity over the last 40 years. It’s why he generates no enthusiasm — at least, on the scale of a Sanders or Warren. And his supporters are just beginning to see that.
Some of Biden’s supporters were growing agitated with the campaign, struggling to point to any one piece of it that has been successful. His organizing operation struggled in Iowa, his fundraising numbers have never been impressive, and his message is often muddled.
One person close to the campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, expects a dramatic reshuffling of his operation if Biden does not show improvement in New Hampshire. Biden has rarely fired staffers during his decades-long career, so any changes would probably mean internal shifting of responsibilities.
Even before then, disputes have emerged among some of his top advisers, who have generally split between an older group that has been with Biden for decades, and a younger group that, while loyal, has joined his staff more recently. There have been disagreements since the start of the campaign over how much to focus on the middle-class economic message that has defined much of Biden’s career and how much to center his message on President Trump.
There’s no “there, there” with Biden. His economic message — such as it is — is a wish list of organized labor legislation. He has bowed to the progressive majority and now makes noises that sound more friendly to the ears of radicals, but fall far short of the transformative rhetoric of Sanders or Warren.
To mount a comeback, Biden is going to have to take a page from the Book of Trump and start speaking truth to socialist power. He’s going to have to savage Warren and Sanders as candidates who will drag the Democratic Party down to inglorious defeat. He’s going to have to go after Pete Buttigieg as anti-black and too inexperienced.
He is going to have to out-Trump Trump. The media and his opponents will cry “foul.” But they did that to Trump, too. And look where he is now.