I recently noted the bizarre observation that 2020 Democrats aren’t launching any substantive attacks on the frontrunners for the nomination. Biden, Warren, and Sanders have, generally speaking, gotten off pretty easy with their single-digit-polling rivals. If you think they’re waiting for the next debate to unload, you’d be wrong.
Democratic presidential candidates are likely to stick to script if they’re asked on the debate stage next Tuesday about rival Joe Biden, his son Hunter and the newly developing impeachment inquiry, according to sources on several campaigns.
“I think a lot of candidates have been out there defending Biden, and if more questions come up at the debate, a lot of the candidates know that answering in a certain way is playing into Trump’s hands,” a staffer for one of the campaigns told Yahoo News. The staffer, whose boss is set to be onstage next week, said comparisons of that candidate’s record against Biden’s wouldn’t be off the table.
“I’m sure that’s going to be the posture of a lot of candidates,” the staffer added.
According to Beto O’Rourke, “There is no reason [to look] into Joe Biden or his son Hunter Biden. They have been cleared of any wrongdoing whatsoever.” According to a Beto staffer, if pressed on the issue at the debate next week, his remarks would be “consistent with what he’s said” in the past.
Hey Beto, that’s why your poll numbers are terrible.
Beto is not the only one pulling punches.
“I can promise you right now, my own daughter, who’s only 24, does not sit on the board of a foreign company,” said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on CNN. “But that is not the issue. The issue here is what the president is doing.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris said she would “probably not” let her vice president’s child serve on a foreign company’s board, but she criticized Trump’s attacks on Biden. “Look, as far as I’m concerned, leave Joe Biden alone,” she said. “I’m not going to be distracted by what this president is trying to play.”
Appearing on CNN, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker praised Biden as a “very honorable man.”
“This in no way can besmirch his character, his honor and his incredible service to this country over decades,” he added.
Booker also recently said, “If you come after Joe Biden you’re going to have to deal with me in this case.” Booker is averaging 1.3 percent in the polls right now.
Considering how early it is in this campaign, there is no reason for any of these struggling candidates to hold back. While campaign staffers think this unity poses a “serious threat” to Trump, the potential for this to backfire on them is very real. If Biden’s opponents hit him on his son Hunter’s shady Ukraine dealings and apparent selling of access to the White House while he was vice president, it would be significantly more effective at taking him down than Trump using that line of attack. But by pretending it’s no big deal during the primary, they risk Biden getting nominated and having his Ukraine quid pro quo scandal be a major issue of the general election—one that could make it significantly easier for Donald Trump to get reelected.
The only reason for Democrats not to hit Biden on Ukraine is that they’ve conceded he will be the party’s nominee, and they are playing nice because they don’t want to risk an opportunity to be selected as his running mate. But, Beto, for example, has nothing to lose. As of Friday, he still hasn’t qualified for the November debate, if he’s running for president and not vice president, he has no excuse for holding back. Not qualifying for the debate will effectively end his campaign. Meanwhile, Biden’s campaign strategy of anticipating losing in Iowa and New Hampshire leaves open the possibility of a dark horse candidate making an impressive showing in the early primary states and taking the nomination.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis