Last night, former Vice President Joe Biden returned to Nevada early to rally supporters in West Las Vegas. As the state Democratic Party has been preparing for its big “First in the West” fundraising event tonight, Biden got a head start in campaigning in the community this weekend… And sought to get a head start in testing his message in the historically black West Las Vegas community.
As Biden’s come under attack from all sides for campaigning as a sort of “return to normalcy”, Biden sought to redefine his campaign and his ideas for a better America as something bigger. As Biden put it, “It’s about the possibility to do anything we put our minds to.”
Say it ain’t so, Joe: No really, some good news for Biden… And some not so good news
On one hand, Joe Biden has benefitted from some better headlines as of late. Earlier this month, the Mellman Group’s poll for The Nevada Independent showed Biden in the lead with 29%, followed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) at 19%. Then Fox News dropped a Nevada poll this week with a smaller lead for Biden, but he’s still in front at 24%, followed by Warren and Sanders tied at 18%, South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8%, billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer at 5%, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) at 4%, and no one else clearing the threshold to use this poll to qualify for the PBS-Politico Debate in Los Angeles next month.
On the other hand, Biden’s no longer enjoying the (relatively) smooth sailing his campaign experienced during those heady days before the first Democratic Debate. Instead, Republicans are continually trying to make President Donald Trump’s impeachment about Biden and argue that he’s somehow more of a criminal than Trump. (News Flash: There’s no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by either Joe Biden or his son Hunter.) Meanwhile within the Democratic Party, Biden’s progressive challengers continue to outpace Biden in policy ideas, fundraising, and organization, and that has prompted centrist “party establishment” types to either give Buttigieg another look or find yet another candidate to run. We may be seeing this dynamic play out in Iowa, where the Des Moines Register’s newest poll shows Buttigieg vaulting into the lead with 24% while Biden, Warren, and Sanders are about 9-10% behind him in the Register’s famous Hawkeye State poll.
Against this latest bout of “‘Democrats in Disarray!’ hot takes”, Biden’s back in Nevada to argue that not only is his campaign not in disarray, but his campaign is more than merely the embodiment of #TooFarLeft hand-wringing. Yet just hours after former President Barack Obama weighed in on this very matter, Obama’s Vice President sought to reassure the crowd that he’s got this.
“We can’t just win. We have to win soundly to send a message to future presidents and future nominees that we won’t tolerate [Trumpism].”
– Joe Biden
Unlike the past two Biden events we covered, where he went hard on his more progressive opponents, Biden mostly directed his ire towards Trump. After being introduced by Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II (D-Las Vegas) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) (who have thus far not endorsed a Democratic candidate), Biden declared, “We have one gigantic problem, and this is no joke: Donald Trump. […] As long as he’s there, everything we care about is impossible to move forward.”
Biden continued, “This man is the least qualified, most unethical president we’ve had in American history.” And he didn’t even stop there. Even as Biden apologized for going so hard against a sitting president, he seemingly flipped his own script on Trump being an “aberration” as Biden declared, “He’s sullied the character of the country in the way no other president ever has since Andrew Jackson, or perhaps Andrew Johnson following the Civil War.”
Biden then argued, “This election is way more than just electing a Democratic president. It’s about who we are. It’s about restoring the soul of the country.” From there, he tried a new twist on his classic “electability argument” (except if we count Senator Amy Klobuchar [D-Minnesota] using this argument for herself): “We can’t just win. We have to win soundly to send a message to future presidents and future nominees that we won’t tolerate [Trumpism].”
“Folks, none of this is healthy. No country should have to go through this unless there’s no other option. Here, there’s no other option.”
– Joe Biden
While Biden’s amped up his language since House Democrats opened their impeachment inquiry on Trump’s and his network’s activities in Ukraine (including their attempt to “get dirt” on Biden), his message mostly remains the same. Speaking of impeachment, Biden lamented, “Folks, none of this is healthy. No country should have to go through this unless there’s no other option. Here, there’s no other option.”
Yet even last night, even after Trump’s allies rushed to “get dirt” on Biden and after top Republicans on Capitol Hill rushed to defend the White House’s activities, Biden still sought to give Congressional Republicans the benefit of the doubt. While describing the impeachment process, Biden figured, “I’m not so sure the Senate will not hold a real trial,” even as Senate Republicans are having internal discussions on how best to game the system to Trump’s and their own political benefit.
Yet when it came to Trump himself, Biden didn’t hold back. In closing his remarks on impeachment, Biden noted, “That’s [Congress’] job. My job is to flat-out beat him.”
“It’s important to tell people the truth when you’re running. […] The one thing people are looking for the most is honesty, is candor.”
– Joe Biden
Earlier in this 2020 cycle, multiple Democratic candidates, from Elizabeth Warren to fellow Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), held fairly freewheeling town halls where voters could get in and ask the tough questions. In an interesting twist, while some of those candidates have tightened up their respective schedules and events, Biden allowed for a looser format last night and extended the town hall to allow for more audience questions.
One of those tough questions came from a voter who wanted to know if Biden has changed his mind on marijuana legalization. News Flash: He hasn’t. While Biden endorsed the removal of criminal penalties for people who are arrested for using marijuana, he nonetheless insisted, “There hasn’t been enough evidence as to whether it’s a gateway drug. There hasn’t been enough science on this.” While there hasn’t been much research on marijuana, what we have seen thus far casts doubt on the long-repeated trope that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that somehow leads to more dangerous drug addictions.
Another future voter asked about health care, and this was the one instance last night where Biden went hard-negative on his Democratic opponents. Hot on the heels of Elizabeth Warren enhancing her “Medicare for All” single-payer health care platform with a plan to implement it during her first term, Biden declared, “It’s important to tell people the truth when you’re running. […] The one thing people are looking for the most is honesty, is candor.”
And over four months after Kamala Harris specified her own “Medicare for All” public-private hybrid plan, Biden had choice words for her more detailed plan, even while he was calling for full “honesty” and “candor”. “Medicare for All is a great idea. But guess what? They’re talking about frameworks and ten-year timelines to implement. If anyone tells you it will take ten years, you’d better think twice,” Biden retorted.
“He asked, ‘Can you define America in one word for me?’ I responded, ‘Possibilities.’ It’s about the possibility to do anything we put our minds to.”
– Joe Biden
Last Friday, the nation was rocked by yet another mass shooting, this time at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California. During Q&A, Biden responded to a question on gun violence and lamented, “We send these beautiful children to school, only to be taught to duck and cover. What does that say about how morally bankrupt we are as a country?” Biden promised action on background checks and a new assault weapons ban.
The final question was on immigration, and Biden used his answer to describe how America’s become a better nation thanks to immigrants. Biden then recalled a conversation with an official from Singapore who wanted to understand what makes America great. According to Biden, “He asked, ‘Can you define America in one word for me?’ I responded, ‘Possibilities.’ It’s about the possibility to do anything we put our minds to.”
On one hand, this is bigger and bolder language than what we’ve typically expected from Biden this year. On the other, Biden seems to be using this bigger and bolder language to spice up a platform that still feels smaller than Warren’s and Sanders’ massive promises of policy and ideological sea change, and perhaps even Buttigieg’s offer of generational change. We may have to wait and see what becomes of Biden’s bolder language, but at least it signals he’s in less of a mood to hold back… And that it’s likely in his best interest not to hold back any longer.