The unmaking of a presidential front-runner - GulfToday

The unmaking of a presidential front-runner


Joe Biden

Martin Schram, Tribune News Service

Just about any time in the past half-year that any voter in Iowa or anywhere looked for the latest Joe Biden campaign news as it poured out of the Great News Funnel and onto their news screens or news pages, what they most often saw or heard following Biden’s name was “and his son, Hunter.” And then, “Burisma.”

That’s because they weren’t really looking at Biden’s campaign news after all, but the latest impeachment news about President Donald Trump. And of course it was impossible to talk about Trump’s impeachment charges without also conveying, right at the top, some negative impression about Biden. After all, Trump’s impeachment charges began with Trump’s and Rudy Giuliani’s determination to spread a negative message (never proven, just implied) about Biden. The Ukrainian gas company Burisma had apparently tried to buy influence a few years ago by paying huge bucks to Biden’s untrained, inexpert, personally troubled son, Hunter. Just because his dad was President Barack Obama’s vice president and point man for aid to Ukraine.

The tireless Giuliani and Trump had just spent the summer pressuring Ukraine’s new president to announce he was investigating the Bidens and Burisma. Never mind actually proving impropriety, just make it seem there must be something smarmy that required investigation. Then let the mass and social media spread the smarmy news that would start the rumors and whispers that would do big-time damage to Trump’s front-running Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

And that’s why, by any measure of objectives and outcomes, Biden’s weak fourth-place finish in Monday’s Iowa caucus debacle — plus Trump’s Republican-Senate impeachment acquittal on Wednesday — means Trump and Giuliani have every reason to be celebrating today.

Indeed, Trump and Giuliani could be veritably strutting across a flattop deck on a virtual aircraft carrier, high-fiving and posing beneath a huge banner that proclaims: “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”

After all, Trump and Giuliani achieved just that — aided by Biden’s many mistakes and misplays this year and in past years in his handling of the crucial message politics that reaches voters. I have written for decades about the fact that voters make decisions based upon the clutter of facts, themes and impressions that reach them via print and video media, social media, late-night comic monologues, whatever.

Before going on, I really ought to explain that I have known Biden for decades. As a young correspondent for Newsday, I got to know Biden by riding from Washington, D.C., to Wilmington, Del., with him at the end of a workday. He went home; I caught the next train back to D.C. Sometimes I interviewed; other times we just talked.

So in 2014, when his eldest son, Beau, was battling his terminal cancer, I can understand the pain Biden felt as vice president when his other son, Hunter, who had battled alcoholism and drug abuse, landed a huge-paying job on the Ukraine gas company’s board when his dad was Obama’s point man for corruption-plagued Ukraine. I can guess Biden was probably reluctant to instruct Hunter to reject the job (not wanting to trigger new personal problems). But I can’t understand why Biden then didn’t tell Obama he must drop the Ukraine assignment because of that conflict of interest. I know Biden was shattered as Beau struggled and died.

Biden’s failure to resolve the conflict immediately is the real cause of the negative political message woes that were triggered in every Trump impeachment newsbreak. And that had a major role in the fact that Biden was unimpressive on the stump throughout the Iowa campaign. He has a strong case to make, but he mostly made it unconvincingly. Voters never did see a rollout of a new Biden innovation for his health care plan, for an international environmental climate initiative, or whatever. He was failed by his underperforming staff. But he was failed most by his underperforming self. No wonder he was shocked by a fourth place Iowa finish he never expected.

Yet this week, Biden just had a most extraordinarily impressive performance at a CNN town hall event. A member of the clergy asked Biden if he had any words to share with a young boy who stutters. And Biden was stunningly compassionate and more like his former self as he told the questioner and the world of his own ordeals and triumphs in curing his once-severe stuttering problem.

It’s a tale he’s told before. But this was Biden at his best. And as he revealed himself so caringly and compassionately, it began to seem that Biden’s best may be yet to come.

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