A campaign that was all about saving democracy is now all about saving Joe Biden

A campaign that was all about saving democracy is now all about saving Joe Biden

John Hendrickson writes:

At Joe Biden’s rally in Madison, Wisconsin, this afternoon, the men and women who had crammed into a middle-school basketball gym dutifully clapped, yelled words of support, and waved signs bearing the president’s name. But when it came time to chant “Four more years,” they sounded as if they were merely going through the motions. Most of the attendees I spoke with said they were more committed to the Democratic Party than its 81-year-old leader. Some told me that, if they could talk with the president one-on-one, they would encourage him to bow out of the race right now.

Just over a week after the president’s disastrous debate performance, Democratic voters seem down on his chances, and ready for an alternative candidate. But this is a political reality that has still not gotten through to Biden. Never has the president seemed more defiant. Never has he appeared more invested in proving himself and rebuilding his damaged self-worth.

“Let me say this as clearly as I can: I’m staying in the race!” Biden shouted from the podium. “I will beat Donald Trump! I will beat him in 2020!” Yes, he said the wrong year, a gaffe that did not go unnoticed. Biden sounded, at times, like an old man yelling at a cloud, but also a bit like Harrison Ford in the movie Air Force One shouting, “Get off my plane!” He also felt the need to announce: “I am the nominee of the Democratic Party!”

Ask Democratic strategists what this election is about, and they’ll tell you it’s about democracy. Specifically, saving democracy from Trump. But these days, Joe Biden seems to think it’s about Joe Biden. Whereas he once leaned heavily on we, Biden is now leaning into I, inadvertently sounding like his opponent. Of course, Biden’s message is not apocalyptic or despotic like Trump’s—“I am your retribution”; “I alone can fix it”—but Biden is nonetheless happy to remind you of everything that he, Joe Biden, has done for you while serving as the oldest-ever president. “I wasn’t too old to create over 50 million new jobs!” Biden shouted. “I wasn’t too old to relieve student debt for nearly 5 million Americans!” As he’s done for the past several days, Biden argued that his poor debate performance was just a blip. “I’m not letting one 90-minute debate wipe out three and a half years of work.”

He looked tan. His voice boomed. But as his 17-minute speech wore on, his gaze alternated between engaged and adrift. And he began to stumble, swallowing whole words and phrases, even sometimes losing track of his thoughts despite the teleprompter. When discussing the multilayered threat posed by Trump, he took an odd pivot: “I couldn’t … ponder.” He suddenly stopped himself. “I guess I shouldn’t say.” It was unclear where he was headed. “I couldn’t be prouder to have your support, and the support of our great vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris.”

Four years ago, Biden promised he’d bring about a return to normalcy; he’d be boring; Americans wouldn’t have to worry about him. But the hours before today’s Madison rally were filled with tension and nervous anticipation. The Biden campaign is more interesting now, and not in a good way. One attendee in my earshot wondered aloud if the campaign had staged the event to announce that the president was stepping down. Speaking to reporters later in the day, Biden dismissed the prospect altogether: “I’m completely ruling that out.” Everyone around him was still ruling it in. [Continue reading…]

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