Biden: Sorry, Bernie, but I think I’m done with primary debates

Ah, watching this clip made me think back to a time decades ago when I was young and carefree. I used to write posts about Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders for this site all the time.

That was … early March of this year, if memory serves.

It’s nice to tackle some Before Times content again.

Seems risky. He’s got the nomination wrapped up; what he needs to do now is deprive Bernie fans of any additional pretexts to justify doing what they instinctively want to do, which is boycott the election this fall. Snubbing Sanders’s latest demand for another debate is a pretext.

Agreeing to another debate also carries risk, though. Every sustained appearance at a microphone before a large audience gives Biden a new opportunity to commit a major “he’s lost a step” gaffe. Even if he’s cogent, new debates will be little more than an exercise in Bernie ranting about socialism and attacking Biden on his record, neither of which does Joe any good this fall. Short-circuiting the debates and trusting Sanders fans to forgive and forget might be the less risky play. It’s not like Biden needs more debates because he needs to continue to make the sale to Democratic voters. The race is as good as over:

Read that second part again. Biden could lose every remaining primary by 10 and still clinch. That’s how durable his advantage is now.

Here’s one reason why he might want to do another debate with Bernie, though: It’s one of the few opportunities he’ll have anytime soon to look “presidential” and get millions of voters to pay attention to him. Team Biden is in a quandary about how to keep him in front of the public at a moment when the entire electorate is consumed with urgent business and getting daily doses of Trump on TV as the head of the federal rescue operation. He can’t even hold fundraisers. It’s too risky. He’s been doing these remote interviews from his home office lately as a means of staying visible, but there’s too much of an Andy Rooney vibe to them. He looks and sounds like an old man just spoutin’ off from the comfort of his La-Z-Boy. I think they need to build him a little TV studio that’ll allow him to communicate more stature.

Or he and Bernie can just keep on debating. A more traditional second-place Democratic rival who was woefully behind in delegates might agree to that as a favor to the party, colluding with Biden to use the debate as an opportunity for each to attack Trump’s management of the coronavirus crisis. Bernie’s not a team player, though. If Biden grants him another debate, he’ll use it to try to win. Even though, realistically, he has no chance.

Biden’s conundrum on how to get face time with voters right now is part of the reason there’s chatter about swapping in Andrew Cuomo as nominee. Not only has Cuomo been praised for his handling of the crisis in New York, he’s on TV every morning. His pressers have become an event. He’s building stature every day as the most prominent Democrat in America at the precise moment Biden needs to be doing that. My question for the switcheroo crowd, though, is: How? How do you get Biden out and Cuomo in? If Biden withdrew “voluntarily,” Berniebros would demand that their guy receive the nomination as the second-place finisher in delegates over a neoliberal like Cuomo who didn’t even run. And black voters might resent seeing Biden, whom they rescued from the brink of catastrophe in South Carolina, summarily cast aside by the DNC in favor of a governor who’s held some effective press conferences while his state and its biggest city drown in illness.

There’s another challenge in nominating Cuomo. If it’s Biden vs. Trump, many voters will consider it a referendum on Trump. They’ll look at how he handled the coronavirus crisis, of course, but they’ll look at the previous three years of his presidency too in weighing him against Biden. If it’s Cuomo vs. Trump, voters are more likely to compare the two specifically on how they handled the coronavirus crisis (since that’s the only reference point most Democrats nationally will have for Cuomo’s performance as governor). And the trick there for Cuomo is that Trump is likely to take credit or blame as the case may be depending heavily on how things go in Cuomo’s own state. If New York avoids the worst-case scenario, Cuomo will take a bow — as will Trump. If New York sees tens of thousands of deaths, Trump will be blamed — and he’ll turn around and blame Cuomo. Cuomo’s actually gone out of his way to praise lately Trump where possible, knowing that the speed and size of the aid New York receives from the feds may depend in part on staying on the president’s good side. At what point would Cuomo shift from “The president’s been helpful” to “The president sucks” if he’s the nominee? The day after New York’s last coronavirus case? What’s he going to say — “Everything I said about Trump for the past three months was a lie”?

I think they’re stuck with Joe. Here he is in another Andy Rooney interview, pandering to the left.

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