Joe Biden The Only Candidate Talking About Trump, Except For Everyone Else Running
Elizabeth Warren has already laid out her explanation for why Trump should be impeached. Kirsten Gillibrand made her campaign announcement in front of Trump Tower. Kamala Harris, during her campaign announcement, led the audience in an anti-Trump "We are better than this" cheer.
So naturally, the New Yorker wants to know why Joe Biden is the only candidate who wants to talk about Trump?
Sigh. Are all of these women invisible or something? Am I crazy? Because I feel as though I've heard all of the candidates talk about Trump or respond to something Trump has done at one point or another. Given that Biden only officially jumped in the race yesterday, I think it is fair to say that he is not yet the only candidate to do anything.
The op-ed, really, is two different op-eds rolled together. It is mainly an essay about "what the Mueller Report tells us about Vladmir Putin" with an essay about Joe Biden's campaign strategy sandwiched in the middle of it, for reasons I do not entirely understand. We're just gonna stick to the Biden part. Okay? OKAY!
Susan Glasser writes:
Given the almost numbing predictability of the President and the ever-increasing difficulty his critics have mustering outrage toward him at this point, it came as a jolt to see Joe Biden go directly at Trump in a video announcing his Presidential campaign, on Thursday. The seventy-six-year-old former Vice-President unabashedly took the Trump-bashing course that most of the eighteen other declared Democratic candidates for 2020 have eschewed. In his launch video, which is three minutes and thirty seconds of Biden mostly talking into the camera, he calls Trump a "threat to this nation . . . unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime" and an existential challenge to the very idea of American democracy. The election of 2020 is "the battle for the soul of the nation," Biden says, and, if Trump is reëlected, "he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of" the country. In short, Biden adds, "Everything that has made America America is at stake."
Biden is hardly the only Democratic candidate to think this. But so far he is pretty much the only Presidential contender to make it the centerpiece of his campaign.
It is not that Joe Biden is the only candidate talking about Trump, it is not that he is the only candidate wiling to take Trump on -- it's that, at least as of right now, that is his only material. Other candidates have other material and things to talk about, in addition to taking on Trump.
Is this good though? She is not so sure!
They are talking instead about Medicare for All and free college tuition, about the climate crisis and identity politics. But Biden appears to be rejecting their example. He is going all in on the old conventional wisdom, which is that Presidential elections four years into a Presidency are almost always referendums on the incumbent, and this incumbent presents a very large target.
Are they though? I've always thought that the conventional wisdom that George Bush I lost his second term to Clinton because he reneged on the "no new taxes" thing gave Americans way too much credit. I think he lost because Bill Clinton was cool.
Right now, Biden has to go after Trump because his biggest selling points are that he is not Trump and that Republicans who don't like Trump might vote for him. This pretty much means that he can't really have any strong positions or policies outside of that because if you have a strong position or policy, then that is something people can disagree with.
Biden is betting on people just wanting things to go back to normal, and Glasser thinks it just might work:
We've got another five hundred and fifty-six days to go before we learn whether Biden is right. It's a big bet. He is not selling a revolution, à la Bernie Sanders, but a restoration. "We'll be back," Biden promised an unsettled crowd of Europeans at the Munich Security Conference, when I saw him speak there, in February. He is offering a return, a do-over. Usually, Americans vote for the future, not the past. But is there anything usual about this President and this political moment? Or does Trump represent some fundamental break?
It's the John Kerry gambit. It's the "Surely people will vote for a sentient shrug emoji over an obvious monster" gambit, and a lot of people believe in it very deeply. Because it makes sense, logistically. In a perfect world, the Left would vote en masse for the not-monster (and lefties like me would also graciously spend the entire election not ever vocalizing any opinions we may have that are to the left of said not-monster), and you'd gain the votes of independents and moderate Republicans who are just sick of all the nonsense.
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But this is not a perfect world. This is America. And in America, since Reagan at least, the staid, reasonable, moderate candidate does not beat the weirdo. The only exception to this rule is 1988, when neither George H.W. Bush nor Michael Dukakis were exactly what one would call a firecracker. "Vote for me because that other dude is CRAZY" does not, historically, work very well.
What does seem to be working well for Democrats, especially right now, is substance. It is tapping into the part of humanity that actually loves to care about shit and wants to be better, and doing it at a time when everyone is constantly paying attention to everything. What works well is when candidates stop being all scared about scaring people off and just trust that their ideas are actually good ideas that people will like.
If we could, I don't know, pay some attention to the women in this race instead of trying to figure out which white dude would be the least scary to people who are probably not voting for a Democrat anyway, we could all see that it is entirely possible to take on Trump, to represent a return to normalcy, and to also have some concrete and kind of exciting plans for how to get some good shit done on top of that. Walking and chewing gum at the same time. Who knew!
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse