The Bulwark Presents
The Triad by JVL

Why Is the Media Sleeping on Joe Biden?

September 20, 2019
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1. Biden

Here’s the big headline over at Fox:

“Fox News Poll: Biden at new low in Democratic primary race.”

Yikes! That sounds really bad!

Except that . . . well, here’s what the new Fox poll shows:

Biden’s previous high in their poll was 35 percent. That was in May. He’s now all the way down to 29 percent. Which is, as the headline says, a “new low” in their poll.

Here are some other things the Fox poll shows:

  • Bernie Sanders is in second place with 18 percent and his number has remained unchanged.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s high-water mark in the poll was 20 percent. That was in August. In the new Fox poll she’s fallen 4 points to 16 percent.
  • No one else is in double-digits.

So some alternate possible headlines for this piece might have been “Sanders reclaims second place in new poll.” Or, “Warren slips to third.”

Because there are three main findings in this poll:

  • Biden support drops by 17 percent of its total
  • Warren support drops by 20 percent of its total
  • Sanders moves past Warren to reclaim second place.

Which do you think is the most salient?

I keep talking up Biden and I realize it must sound like I’m president of his fan club. But mostly I’m just annoyed by how undervalued he seems to be by pretty much everyone in the media. Most of the liberal media wants to pretend Biden is weak because they prefer Warren or Sanders. Most of the conservative media wants to pretend Biden is weak because he’s the strongest opponent for Trump.

And the mainstream media wants to see Biden falter because “Popular. moderate, former vice president wins nomination” is the most boring storyline around. In the age of Trump, stuff like this isn’t supposed to happen in politics anymore.

None of this is to say that Biden will absolutely win the nomination. Nothing is a sure-thing. He has weaknesses. You can sketch out pathways to the nomination for two or three other candidates. I still don’t rule out someone else jumping into the race at the last minute.

But it seems to me that any objective read on the race should come to the conclusion that Biden is in a very strong position and is the clear favorite to be the Democratic nominee. If you had to bet $100 on either Biden or the field, then at this point that’s a pretty close call.

It’s weird how very little of the coverage seems to reflect that.

2. Harris

Then again, there’s a lot of stuff that happens in campaign world that doesn’t make a ton of sense. Consider this Politico story about Kamala Harris deciding that she’s going to go all-in on Iowa:

Kamala Harris is putting her stumbling campaign on the line with a new Iowa-or-bust strategy: She’s shifting away from the closed-door fundraisers that dominated her summer calendar to focus on retail politicking in the crucial kickoff state.Harris huddled with top campaign officials Tuesday in Baltimore to discuss the next steps as a series of polls show her plummeting into the mid-single digits. She’s not expected to significantly alter her message. Instead, Harris is planning to make weekly visits to the state and nearly double the size of her 65-person ground operation, sources familiar with the discussions told POLITICO.

The re-engagement in Iowa — where the California senator held a 17-stop bus tour in August but hasn’t returned since — is part of a broader acknowledgment inside the campaign that she hasn’t been in the early states enough. It’s designed to refocus her campaign and clarify her narrowing path to the nomination.

How do I put this delicately?

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Harris’s problem isn’t that she hasn’t been to Iowa enough or that she doesn’t have enough staff.

Her problem—her entire problem—is that she doesn’t have a message. She has no rationale for her campaign aside from the fact that she’s a good politician with theoretically-perfect demographic appeal.

Is she the most progressive candidate in the race? No.

Is she the most moderate candidate in the race? No.

Does she have a broad vision for changing America’s economic compact? Or for returning to the political culture of a former era? Is she running to fix climate change? Or healthcare? Or the Supreme Court? Or political corruption? Or corporate malfeasance?