Joe Biden passed another test Thursday as he and President Donald Trump staged competing town halls.
Facing a neighbourly moderator in liberal George Stephanopoulos, the Democrat was relaxed, knowledgeable, coherent and dull. He did what he had to do. He didn’t stir his winning pot. He cast himself as a bridge over troubled waters.
By contrast and by good fortune for Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump was confronted by an aggressive, argumentative moderator in NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. She had more reason to be that way. The show turned hot with the President, who looked healthy despite his recent COVID-19 affliction, getting all worked up and stirring more controversy in failing to disavow the wacko conspiracy theory QAnon, which the FBI has labelled a terrorist threat.
This was the night that the second presidential debate was supposed to be held. But while needing to make up ground, Mr. Trump passed on it because he didn’t want to do it remotely. It was an opportunity lost for him and yet another stroke of fortune for Mr. Biden in a year that has been chock full of them.
He won the Democratic nomination following a listless campaign and if his luck and the polls hold – they didn’t for Hillary Clinton – the Oval Office will fall into his lap as well.
In the Democratic party race, he was routed in the first primary in Iowa. He was pummelled in the second in New Hampshire. Lose both and habitually you’re a goner. There followed another loss in the Nevada caucuses. He was weak in fundraising and in organization and mediocre in debate performances.
But all it took was one big triumph for him in South Carolina and challengers Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar folded their tents and endorsed him. Party members soon followed en masse. He was deemed to be the safe choice.
Donald Trump was riding a robust economy back then and was reasonably well positioned, despite being impeached by Democrats in the House of Representatives, for re-election. But the onset of the coronavirus torpedoed his economic gains and showed him to be inept in confronting a crisis. He’s been on the defensive ever since. Reaping the windfall, Mr. Biden hasn’t had to do much except sit back and behold a slow-motion train wreck.
In the campaign’s biggest event to date, the first debate, Mr. Biden didn’t perform impressively but didn’t have to, not given Mr. Trump’s shameful 90-minute temper-tantrum.
Mr. Biden has vulnerabilities. He’s caught in a contradiction. He’s promising jobs, jobs, jobs while at the same time saying he’ll impose another national economic lockdown to deal with COVID-19 if recommended by public health authorities.
But instead of keeping the focus on this, the helter-skelter Trump campaign has gone all-in trying to paint Mr. Biden as mentally deficient. So desperate is Mr. Trump that, in a new low, he tweeted a doctored image of him in a wheelchair in a nursing home.
It isn’t working, nor is the obsession with trying to tag Mr. Biden for influence peddling in allegedly arranging windfalls for his son Hunter for work for foreign governments. The charges, unproven, have gained little traction. Even if some nefarious practice is proven, trading on one’s fathers name in politics is hardly uncommon.
Another obsession has been the attempt to tag the Obama-Biden administration for corrupt practices against the Trump campaign in 2016. That isn’t working either. A probe by the Department of Justice on whether the Democrats engaged in wrongdoing in requesting classified information on individuals during that campaign has come up empty. A separate probe by attorney John Durham into the origins of the Russia investigation also appears to be going nowhere.
A notable success sees Mr. Trump on the verge of installing another conservative, Amy Coney Barrett, on the Supreme Court. But polls aren’t showing any resultant gains for him.
Despite cleavages between moderates and leftists in his party, Mr. Biden has been able to present a united front. Democrats smell success. Their financial war chest far outdoes Mr. Trump’s. They’re all aboard while on the Republican side, cracks are showing, with senators distancing themselves from their mad king.
They include Colorado senator Cory Gardner, Arizona senator Martha McSally and John Cornyn in Texas. Most embarrassing was the publication in the right-wing Washington Examiner of a brutal takedown of Mr. Trump by senator Ben Sasse during a telephone town hall with his Nebraska constituents.
He decried the way Mr. Trump “kisses dictators' butts.” He spoke of how “The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor.” He said Mr. Trump “mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.”
Joe Biden couldn’t have said it any better. It was yet more manna from heaven for him.
It’s wondrous what the fates can do. In February, following the beatdowns in the primaries, it looked like all was lost for him. Eight months later, Donald Trump needs a historic comeback – another one – to prevent Mr. Biden from taking his place.
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