Joe Biden and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week
Still reeling from the drubbing Kamala Harris gave him on race, busing, and desegregation at the first set of Democratic presidential debates, Joe Biden on Friday tried to put a stop to the slide, with a not-so-veiled warning to his rivals that he's got plenty of dirt on them. In an interview with CNN, the former veep said, "I mean, I get all this information about other people’s pasts, and what they’ve done and not done. And you know, I’m just not going to go there. If we keep doing that — I mean, we should be debating what we do from here."
Message: You'd better be nice to me or I'll stop being nice to you.
Fat lot of good it did him.
Just one day later, Biden was forced to make a special trip to South Carolina to apologize for the positive comments he'd made about working with segregationist senators. UPI reported Biden saying, "Now was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again? Yes, I was. I regret it. I'm sorry for any of the pain or misconception that I caused anybody."
The story continues:
"I'm going to let my record stand for itself and not be distorted or smeared," he said, not directly referencing Harris.
He also cited his time working with President Barack Obama and disagreements they had over issues such as the "three-strikes" sentencing policy.
"I'm flawed and imperfect like everyone else. I've made the best decision that I could at the moment they had to be made," he said. If the choice is between doing nothing and acting. I've chosen to act."
Naturally, President Donald Trump had a little Twitter fun with Biden's predicament.
Harris, for her part, isn't quite ready to let it go. She told reporters in Hartsville, S.C., yesterday that Biden "is right to recognize the impact of his words, and I applaud him for doing that," but that "there is still a point of disagreement between he and I, and that remains ... which is the issue of busing."
Harris's less-than-total forgiveness comes alongside news of last quarter's fundraising totals, which at $12 million leaves her "far behind some of her competitors."
Is it wise to make bussing an issue again, when it remains overwhelmingly unpopular with general-election voters? Probably not. But it's generating plenty of heat for Harris.
It looks like Harris might have found an issue that resonates with Democratic primary voters. It took a week of getting slagged in the press, a week where Biden couldn't talk about much else, before he finally admitted defeat and made a major apology speech. That's a week of lost campaigning, topped off with the embarrassment of caving to his competitor. For Biden then to have Harris partly reject his apology adds even more embarrassment.
WaPo's Aaron Blake reported on what might be the most embarrassing detail, following Biden's awkward interview with Chris Cuomo:
Biden's answer is a bit confusing, but he seems to suggest that he wasn't exactly expecting Harris to come after him because of their personal connections. (He alluded to this earlier, too.) He even invokes his late son, Beau, and the fact that Beau and Harris knew each other when both served as state attorneys general - Beau Biden in Delaware and Harris in California. The implication, though Biden never really finishes the point, seems to be that this was someone Biden couldn't have expected would ever do this to him.
Poor Joe. By his own words, he doesn't seem to think he was going to have to actually fight for the nomination. What that says about his fitness, his readiness to be president, I'll leave to you to decide -- and besides, it's a long road from here to the nomination.
But I am reminded a bit of Barack Obama's one big stumble during his battle with Hillary Clinton in 2008. When it was revealed that the Obamas had spent 20 years listening without protest to the sometimes anti-American diatribes of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, it set the young candidate back on his heels. Rather than, I dunno, beg forgiveness from a mostly white crowd, Obama went on the rhetorical offensive. His March speech on race "was praised even by some of his adversaries," and effectively neutered the issue for the rest of the campaign.
But Biden isn't a young black man who might be forgiven for attending a black church where the sermons could get a little radical. He's an old white guy who worked with even older white guys who happened to be segregationists, on an issue involving segregation. Plus, it needn't be said, Biden hardly shares Obama's rhetorical skills.
Harris drew blood last week, and she's only one of a wide field of mid-tier candidates looking for ways to make the frontrunner bleed. Biden, by his own admission, wasn't ready for the first attack. Will he be ready for the next one, or is his very bad week about to become a very bad season?