After a fourth-place finish in Iowa and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, it’s time to take a good, hard look at former Vice President Joe Biden, the once-dominant, now-floundering Democratic “front-runner.” Not to get too technical about it, but I would like to postulate that the Democratic front-runner should be, you know, in front.
A fourth- and fifth-place finish does not in any way constitute being in front. Yes: To run on electability, one should demonstrate the ability to be elected. That’s a trope that’s illustrated by — and stick with me here — winning elections. And perhaps the guy who ran for president three previous times but never placed better than fourth was an odd choice to make the case for electability in the first place.
Things could change after South Carolina, of course; that’s the spin coming out of Biden’s headquarters, and it’s certainly true that Iowa and New Hampshire are lousy proxies for the rest of the country. But it looks as if Biden is worse than unelectable — he’s also been a huge spoiler.
He sat on the top of the polls as the default front-runner for months, and in the process, he sucked up endorsements (five senators, more than two dozen House members, state-level elected officials all over the place) and cash that could have gone to other candidates who, instead, wound up having to drop out for lack of money and establishment support. And then he lost the first two elections. It’s only since his front-runner status started to slip that other centrist candidates have had much of a chance. The promise of Biden’s electability kept former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg from entering the race until November, and as New York magazine put it, “almost single-handedly stunted the growth of every other center-left alternative.” Biden took up the space that could have been occupied by an Amy Klobuchar or a Pete Buttigieg or a Cory Booker or a Kamala D. Harris, well before Bernie Sanders set off a panic among party insiders by winning the early contests.
For a while, at least, being chosen by Barack Obama might have been enough for Biden to squeak by while Sanders and Elizabeth Warren engaged in mutual progressive destruction. But he wasn’t doing what needed to be done in a modern campaign. He didn’t go on Rachel Maddow, and he didn’t do selfie lines or Periscope or any of the other stuff that all the other modern candidates did. Biden is not, to put it mildly, a digital native. And even when the punditry class believed that he would win the hearts of white working-class men in diners, even then, Biden had trouble raising money because he just isn’t that good at this, and he has never been very good at this.
He pulled Hillary Clinton-not-going-to-Wisconsin-esque moves by disappearing in New Hampshire. Or he told bizarre stories such as the CornPop yarn, which took place in 1962, and actually, shockingly, happened. Or he called a female student “a lying dog-faced pony soldier” at a rally. But anyone who knows Biden knows gaffes are kind of his thing. And they have been for years, which is part of the reason he hasn’t already been president.
So now we’re 19 days from Super Tuesday, and suddenly the Democratic Party is scrambling to find a centrist front-runner.
It may be too late for centrists already anyway; with Warren fading, the moderates may have squandered their chance at the nomination as the Sanders wave washes over them. The best thing Biden could do for the party is to drop out before the absolutely only way for people to stop Sanders, if they want to, is to call the superdelegates in Milwaukee and have them vote for the billionaire ex-Republican.
“I’ve never paid attention to all the front-runner talk from the time I entered the race,” Biden said in New Hampshire. If only no one else had, either, then perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess.