In a fantastical (some might say ironic) twist, one of Joseph R. Biden’s campaign buses broke down in New Hampshire over the weekend and had to pull off to the side of the road.
The breakdown of the bus came shortly after the breakdown of the candidate.
At a New Hampshire town hall hours earlier, a college student asked Mr. Biden why he came in fourth place in the Iowa caucuses and why anyone should trust his claim that he can turn his flagging campaign around. Mr. Biden, in his most avuncular voice, asked the college girl: “You ever been to a caucus?” When she nodded “yes,” Mr. Biden snapped at her: “No you haven’t. You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier.”
Yes, the 77-year-old one-time front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and a former vice president called a young woman — and, more importantly, a supporter and a voter — a “lying dog-faced pony soldier.”
These appear to be the end days of Mr. Biden’s third run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, and while there’s lots of time in the race, Mr. Biden’s time is quickly running out.
Like his campaign bus, Mr. Biden’s campaign is broken down on the side of the road.
After his dismal finish in Iowa, things in New Hampshire have looked just as bad, if not worse. In the run-up to the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, the polls showed Mr. Biden running fourth in most polls (and fifth in a couple). He knows he’s not in good shape, which is why he said at the last Democratic debate in Manchester: “I took a hit in Iowa — and I’ll probably take a hit here.”
That may well be the understatement of the year.
On Tuesday, as voters were going to the polls, the former vice president abruptly announced that he was bailing from New Hampshire, saying he would leave right away and not spend primary night in the state (missing his own “victory” party). Instead, he headed to South Carolina, his last best chance to turn the race around.
How on earth did Mr. Biden get here? He was, after all, vice president for eight years, serving with one of the most popular presidents in recent history. His resume is a mile long, his foreign policy bona fides beyond question (and unmatched among his competitors). A professional politician, Mr. Biden was on the campaign trail and serving in the Senate before former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was even born.
Even though two dozen hopefuls threw their hats in the ring for the 2020 contest, it seemed an easy run for Mr. Biden, whose time had finally come. He’d run twice before for the nomination, both times being forced out of the race before Super Tuesday. This time, though, he appeared ready to run the table.
Mr. Biden may well rebound after New Hampshire. He argues that once the race moves to more diverse states — Iowa and New Hampshire are both predominantly white — his campaign will flourish. And even though his fundraising has been lacking of late, Democrats may come full circle and realize (rightly) that only Mr. Biden has a chance to beat President Trump (Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren almost definitely do not).
Still, for Mr. Biden to be this far down this early in the campaign is puzzling. I talked to one longtime political expert in New Hampshire, and what he had to say was eye-opening.
“Biden looks tired, beaten,” the politico said. “He’s got no energy, looks like he’s just going through the motions. That’s not how you’re going to beat Trump. And the voters here are looking for the kind of fight that can actually take out Trump. They’re not seeing that in Biden.”
The Biden campaign is presenting an optimistic face.
“Whatever happens on Tuesday, Vice President Biden will still be in this race,” Symone Sanders, a top Biden adviser, said in New Hampshire. “This race very much runs through Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday.”
But there’s a reason his ex-boss, former President Barack Obama, has never endorsed him. He’s not sure Mr. Biden is the man for the job. “‘You don’t have to do this, Joe, you really don’t,’ Obama told Biden earlier this year, according to a person familiar with the exchange,” The New York Times wrote last year.
Even Mr. Biden’s wife isn’t sure. “Your candidate might be better on, I don’t know, health care, than Joe is,” Jill Biden said on MSNBC last August. “But you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election, and maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, ‘OK, I personally like so-and-so better,’ but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.”
Let’s hope Mr. Biden isn’t traveling to South Carolina by bus.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.
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