Joe Biden: The Blanche DuBois of American Politics

Jessica Tandy in a scene from Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire (Public Domain)

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” — Blanche DeBois, A Streetcar Named Desire

I’ve waited thirty years — ever since becoming familiar with his dull-witted smarm and untroubled sense of entitlement — to write Joe Biden’s political obituary, but I guess I’ll have to wait a bit longer.

A nagging question remains, however, as Biden shuffles along his unobstructed way to Milwaukee: How did this guy — this guy! — engineer the greatest turnaround in American presidential primary history?

He didn’t.

To see why, let’s look at the fall and rise of Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.

When Biden formally entered the 2020 primary race, he was instantly considered the frontrunner in a crowded field. A lot of that had to do with name recognition and nostalgia — purely on the Democrats’ side, I assure you — for Barack Obama. But something was missing: Genuine enthusiasm, as shown by Biden’s mediocre fundraising. Everybody — purely on the Democrats’ side, I assure you — likes Joe, but hardly anyone loves him.

That was proven by showings in the early primaries and caucuses so dismal that nearly everyone thought he was done, toast, you know… the thing. It was so bad, I jumped the gun and wrote a pre-post-mortem for his presidential ambitions. I’ll admit to some wishful thinking on my part dating back to 1987, but I was far, far from alone.

In these heady days when Biden seems to have all-but-secured his party’s nomination, it’s important to remember just what a near-impossibility that seemed just a few weeks ago.

Iowa Democrats caucused on February 3, and while Biden wasn’t expected to do very well there, a distant fourth place was worse than almost anyone imagined. He finished ten points behind both Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, and a couple of points behind annoying-as-hell Liz Warren. The real shocker might have been that Amy Klobuchar came within a few points of knocking Biden into fifth place.

Eight days later, Biden did come in fifth in the New Hampshire primary. His 8.4% tally was so lame that he was the last candidate listed by name above “others” like Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang, who delivered in the low-single digits.

Union-heavy Nevada was supposed to be an early strong spot for Biden, and if we grade on a Biden in the Early Primaries curve, I suppose it was. Still, he got trounced nearly 2-to-1 by Sanders (34%-17.6%), and at times it looked like he might come in behind Buttigieg.

Everything at this point depended on Biden’s South Carolina firewall holding.

But with all those losses stacking up, it wouldn’t have been outrageous to expect Biden to underperform in South Carolina on February 29. Sanders was riding high off his better-than-expected runs in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, and billionaire Tom Steyer was buying up all the S.C. airtime. Biden, on the other hand, was just… well, he was Joe Biden: Onetime veep to Obama and full-time lying dog-faced pony soldier.

Nevertheless, he nailed it in South Carolina. Biden trounced Sanders by 2.5-to-1 with nearly 49% of the vote in a five-way race. That turnaround sent him flying into Super Tuesday just three days later, where he scored similar big wins across the South, while blunting Bernie’s momentum in the Midwest and the West. Two nights ago, on Super Tuesday the Lesser, Biden crushed it again, and in the exact same way.

Every place Sanders needed to crush Biden, Biden overperformed. Every place Biden needed to blunt Sanders, Sanders underperformed. Once flying high, Sanders remained in hiding on Tuesday night. When he finally appeared midday on Wednesday, the immediate assumption around the PJMedia Slack channel was that Sanders was going to throw in the towel.

So what did Biden change between Nevada and South Carolina to make this all possible?

Nothing. Not a damn thing.

Let’s back up a moment to what Team Biden might have done, following some serious soul-searching in the wake of the Iowa/New Hampshire beatdown:

• Drop out.

• Throw out the busted playbook and try something new.

• Change nothing and pray for luck.

Dropping out was never much of an option so early in the primary season, even after getting one’s ass kicked three weeks in a row. If you have a firewall, dropping out simply isn’t done until it’s been breached, and sometimes not even then.

Whatever Biden had been doing up until this point obviously hadn’t been working. The inane word-vomit speeches, verbally abusing his own constituents, the haphazard debate performances, sending his grown son out to knock up strippers — none of it was connecting with Democratic voters. This is where, if I were a campaign manager, I’d throw out my old playbook and go for a Hail Mary play.

Going a step further, changing nothing and praying for luck is the absolute last thing I’d choose for my candidate: It’s the equivalent of that famous definition of insanity.

Nevertheless, Team Biden went with “change nothing and pray for luck.” And it worked.

This might be why I’m not a campaign manager.

Instead, Biden kept plugging along, doing the same things he’d been doing, in the same way he’d been doing them — only worse, as his faculties continued to slip. This is maybe the weirdest factoid of what’s already been a very weird nominating process: The worse Biden campaigns, the better he performs. I figure we’re maybe three weeks out from Biden forgetting how to speak verbs, then getting so frustrated that he takes off a shoe and pounds a co-ed Sanders supporter unconscious with it. Then, for reasons known only to the Gods of the 2020 Process, all the states he’d lost would retroactively change their nominating rules to give Biden their delegates. It’s just freaky, but based on what we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t seem impossible.

Something did change though, something that benefited Biden greatly: Sanders was doing well enough to scare the DNC into rigging the game, and the only obvious beneficiary was Biden.

How did the DNC do it?

Jim Hanson, aka Uncle Jimbo, summed up how they tilted the playing field in Biden’s favor:

Bloomberg, who had no business being the debates by the DNC’s previous reules, kneecapped Sanders. Bloomberg got kneecapped in turn by Warren. None of the three of them, nor Buttigieg, were going to do well with South Carolin’s largely black primary electorate. Biden didn’t do much at those debates, just as he hadn’t before, but came away the winner by default.

Long-serving, respected, and powerful, South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn’s last-minute endorsement of Biden was the coup de grace for the Sanders campaign. Sanders had always struggled to connect with black and rural voters, but polls showed him making progress once he donned his post-New Hampshire Shroud of Inevitability. Clyburn tore it off him, handed it to Biden, and the rest is (almost) history.

Joe Biden is the Blanche DuBois of the Democrats’ 2020 nomination race: Increasingly frail and delusional, and dependent as always on the kindness of strangers at the DNC.

Biden isn’t winning the nomination — it’s being handed to him. If I were a Democrat, and a supporter of Sanders, Buttigieg, Warren, Klobuchar, or anyone not named “Biden,” I’d remember that with deep bitterness long past Election Day.