Sen. Kamala Harris is gone, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has risen, Sen. Elizabeth Warren seems to have lost her momentum, and overlooking the shuffling deck from on high is former Vice President Joe Biden, who was the favorite before he was even a candidate.
In many ways, voters preference for Uncle Joe harks back to a time when a party s nomination often seemed predetermined once a candidate had put decades into public service and grown his or her name recognition. You know: so-and-so has been around for x number of years — it s his turn.
The election of President Barack Obama sparked a change in that model, while President Donald Trump set the whole thing ablaze. Clearly, Democrats are willing to swing the pendulum back the other way, first with the party s chosen nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, and now with frontrunner Biden — although the latter comes with a curious caveat.
For as much as Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972, touts himself as the man who can restore dignity to the White House, the truth is he is a behavioral and rhetorical wild card as well.
Take his recent confrontation with a voter at a campaign event in Iowa. The man accused Biden of placing his son, Hunter, with a Ukrainian gas company "in order to get access to the president" (he was referring to Barack Obama) — an accusation for which there is zero evidence. The way Biden handled the moment was Trumpian. He called him a "damn liar" and later said, "You re too old to vote for me." He even challenged the man to a pushup contest. I repeat: a pushup contest.
Such a diatribe, while entertaining for some, completely undermines the idea that Biden will restore dignity and grace to the Oval Office. When faced with a similar situation in 2008 at a voter town hall meeting, then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain did not attack the voter who said she didn t trust Obama because "he s an Arab." Instead, McCain defended his opponent and respectfully corrected her by saying, "No ma am. He s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that s what this campaign is all about."
For all of the racist and Islamophobic vitriol that hovered over that year s general election, McCain s interaction with that voter pierced through the darkness to remind voters what it means to be presidential.
Biden s interaction, on the other hand, reminded voters what it means to be mean — not that we needed it.
A one-off is easy to ignore but these lapses are not a rare occurrence for Biden. I was at the Human Rights Campaign s LGBTQ town hall event in October when the 77-year-old went drifting into some bizarre verbiage about "gay bathhouses" and "round-the-clock sex."
Back in August, Biden said "poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids," which is precisely the kind of well-intended racist sentiment that would have sent liberals into a frenzy had a Republican said it. He called 54-year-old Kamala Harris "kid." Just imagine what the headlines would look like if Trump had done the same.
I m not trying to draw a false equivalency here. I recognize these two rivers likely diverge when it comes to intent. Still, it feels as if Democrats grant Biden a much longer rope with regards to error while keeping their opponent chained to a far shorter leash. And that s the Democratic voters prerogative. But with every gaffe, Biden chips away at his own claim that he s a better choice than Trump because he can restore decorum.
Calling a misinformed voter a liar and challenging him to a pushup contest reeks of the machismo present in Trump s thinly-veiled exchange about penis size with Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016. Rubio said, "He s always calling me Little Marco. And I ll admit he s taller than me. He s like 6-(feet)-2-(inches), which is why I don t understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5-(feet)-2(inches). And you know what they say about men with small hands? You can t trust them."
Days later, Trump responded to the jab during a debate and said, "If they re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there s no problem. I guarantee."
It might be perfect dialogue for a cheesy, R-rated comedy, but it s painfully disappointing for two men vying to be President of the United States.
The same can be said about Biden s exchange with that voter from Iowa.
For those who are used to Trump s crass behavior and vile rhetoric, there might be a desire among some voters to see a candidate sling some mud. And that s fine. But you can t do that while claiming to be the candidate who can clean things up.
Biden needs to decide what kind of campaign he is going to run, and Democrats need to remember there is a difference between beating Trump at his own game and restoring the dignity of the White House they believe his presidency has tarnished.