Earlier today, I was driving to lunch and flipped on the radio. I happened to catch about 10 minutes of Joe Biden’s much promoted (by CNN at least) speech, which has been billed the past few days as a coming “evisceration” of Donald Trump. Given that Biden has been in hiding lately, desperately trying to avoid gaffes, I was obviously skeptical that he’d be able to deliver anything really hard hitting.
What followed was a poorly performed greatest hits of every high-minded complaint we’ve heard from every anti-Trump personality, politician or otherwise, over the last three years.
Here’s a copy of the speech if you want to read all of it.
You got lines about how Trump is an existential threat (Biden clearly doesn’t know what that word means). You also got throwbacks to Hillary Clinton’s campaign with “the children are watching” pleas. He riffed on how great Barack Obama was and lamented that Trump would dare criticize London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had previously attacked Trump and denied him any official courtesy. It was pretty much what you’d expect.
Then I saw this tweet and started to think.
Seeing him on video, coupled with the substance of the attacks he was making, reminded me of someone.
The physical styling is nearly spot on. Biden looks like he’s about to pass out just reading a piece of paper. He rarely makes eye contact and his cadence is awkward and forced. It’s clear why his campaign has had him on lock-down lately. This is not a guy who can sustain another year and a half of heavy campaigning. Primary season will be a stretch, much less the general.
But, it’s really not just the low energy jabs that Trump will inevitably throw at Biden that make the comparison. Biden’s speech is also reminiscent of much of Bush’s strategy back in 2015. The virtue signaling, appeals to decency, and fearmongering that Trump is going to destroy the country. Instead of focusing on policy or at least some fresh attacks on the President, he’s preaching a message people by and large don’t care about. You can only whine about Trump’s supposed indecency so much before people tune it out and that point has long passed. Voters want policy wins and a good economy. They are much less concerned with decorum than your average beltway analyst.
Take this line for example.
Everywhere you turn, Trump is tearing down the guardrails of democracy. It’s the abuse of power. And if there is one thing I can’t stand — it’s the abuse of power.
That’s as boiler-plate and played out of a line as you can get in politics today. It’s been said a million times by every facet of the left (and some on the right). Biden’s playbook comes across as old and done already in much the same way Bush’s ideas seemed old and out of touch by the time he presented them in the summer of 2015.
Even Biden’s primary strategy reminds me of Jeb Bush. Biden has jumped out to a lead based on name recognition, donor excitement, and establishment credibility. Yet, he’s mostly an empty suit and produces all the excitement of a root canal. What happens when the Democrat primary debates start and Biden can’t hide any longer? Bush was hoping to coast to victory, largely ignoring his primary opponents early on, just as Biden is trying to do now.
In a postmortem of Bush’s campaign, The New Yorker shared this critique, which is scarily similar to Biden’s current path.
Even before Trump entered the race, Bush, despite his position at the top of the polls, was having trouble. Rather than plunging into the contest at the start of 2015 and going full out, he decided on a soft launch. It consisted of a series of speeches and carefully orchestrated appearances, some of which went badly. He spoke woodenly, he didn’t have anything very new or fresh to say, and he made a number of gaffes, which encouraged his opponents and gave the media something to feast on.
Just like Bush, Biden “launched” his campaign on the back of several soft announcements, officially entering the race later than everyone else. Since then, Biden’s appearances have been carefully choreographed, canned speeches in front of friendly crowds. His delivery is stale and tired. Instead of diving headlong into the fray, Biden has sat in the shadows, terrified of making a mistake, showing himself much more comfortable in front of donors than voters.
Lastly, much like Bush did, Biden is already falling into traps being set by Trump. As my RedState colleague Jennifer Van Laar shared today, Biden walked right into the President’s snare by giving that speech today.
There are two take-aways from Trump’s comments on Biden. One, Trump is using the same type of strategy against the Democrat contenders that he used against his primary opponents in the 2016 primary, which is to focus on one opponent then attack them endlessly until they’re destroyed. Two, Trump wanted Biden to make the Ottumwa rally about Trump so that the media coverage and sound bites would feature Biden’s weak attempts at slamming Trump instead of Biden’s own message.
Trump may not be the most well-spoken individual, but he knows how to make people look weak and he succeeded in making Biden look weak today. While Biden was grasping the podium and reciting prepared remarks with all the tenacity of the 76 year old man that he is, Trump was taking shots off the cuff and laughing about it.
Joe Biden’s strategy is to ride a wave of backlash against Trump’s character flaws because he has nothing else to run on. It didn’t work for Jeb Bush in 2016. Perhaps it’ll work this time around? If the election is purely a referendum on Trump, it might not matter what Biden does. I wouldn’t bank on it though. If he doesn’t shift gears soon, Biden is going to get destroyed from his left before he even gets a shot at Trump.
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