CS&W is mostly about international travel, celebrating different cultures, wonder at the world, and just getting out there to see what happens. But please indulge me.
These are my favorite few weeks every four years, the part of the American presidential political horse race that starts in Iowa and extends until the political parties have settled on their respective candidates. And I have a few comments.
The Biden Campaign in Action
When Joe Biden exits the 2020 race, I expect he takes with him a distinctly twentieth century campaign style. Ten days ago in Iowa the Biden campaign rallied in the Hiatt Middle School. Precinct captains, younger voters and the demographically photogenic sat behind the candidate equipped with IOWA FOR BIDEN and IFFA Firefighters for Biden placards. The rest of us stood in front of a riser.
The candidate entered stage right. But only after extended remarks from his sister Valerie Biden Owens, Harold Schaitberger, the President of the International Association of Firefighters, Cedric Richmond, Louisiana Congressman and campaign co-chairman, Iowa Congresswomen Cynthia Axne and Abby Finkenauer, the former governor, Agriculture Secretary and Iowa political icon Tom Vilsack and his politically potent wife Christie, and then Biden’s wife Jill. Interspersed were short videos on screens hung on opposite walls at eye level, and thus unviewable to anyone in the SRO crowd not standing nearest them.
Once the candidate took the stage his first eight minutes comprised thanking still other politicians, including former Senators Dodd, Kerry and Kerrey who were traveling with him. The former VP was heckled twice, the first time for accepting oil money, and I couldn’t hear the point of the second heckler. Eventually Joe Biden got round to his message, which, abridged, was: Trump, egregious. Obama and me, Obama and me, Obama and me. And I won’t let Trump continue to happen to my country.
In contrast the Yang campaign filled a Marriott ballroom. Preliminary music and flag-waving. At the appointed hour a single warm-up speaker shared three or four minutes of remarks, the candidate promptly followed, strode across the stage and did his well-rehearsed twenty, twenty-five minute rap, an inspirational thing, got on, got off, music swelled, event done.
Across town a Buttigieg rally exhibited the same production values at Lincoln High School. His well-rehearsed amen corner, already in place before the crowd was led in, stood and swayed and chanted and cheered. A brief set-up, then the candidate was there, more substantive and less inspirational than Yang (in their respective styles), fishing a mildly gimmicky handful of questions from a bowl. And then he was gone.
The 2020 attention span appreciates the approach of Yang and Buttigieg.
I feel desperately sorry for a good and decent Joe Biden whose initial candidacy, for the 1988 nomination, I expected to support until it was cut short by that darned plagarism thing.
The New Hampshire primary was last night. Correctly anticipating disaster, Biden fled to Columbia, South Carolina earlier in the day, from which he attempted to diminish his fifth-place finish. Following his wife, who often introduces him, he introduced himself as “Joe Biden’s husband” and pledged himself as the savior of minorities, or maybe even not a white male himself. “Our votes count, too,” he declared, identifying himself with minorities.
He went on about “all these candidates who have beaten incumbents, like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama….” Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s running mate. Barack Obama defeated John McCain in 1988. John McCain was not an incumbent.
All this was predictable and it was widely predicted.
On the strength of his name and his career, Biden teased his entrance to the race long past the other candidates before finally committing to the race less than ten months ago. I wish he hadn’t. Lots of moderates in the Democratic Party wish he hadn’t. He and his family surely must wish he hadn’t, too.
Early lessons after Iowa and New Hampshire:
• Small states, where retail politics works, are important and help to set expectations for the later paid-media-driven larger states.
• Joe Biden floated atop slow-to-move national polls for far too long, while the dynamics of important early state polls shifted radically. Early state outcomes radically change national momentum. Memo for next time: Discount national polls. Pay attention to early states.
• Pete Buttigieg is sharp, mostly hits all the right notes, and will remain sharp even at age 42, four years from now.
• Amy Klobuchar extends the Happy Warrior legacy of Minnesota politics. She’s demonstratively uplifting. After her better than expected performance in New Hampshire she desperately needs a thorough polishing by state-of-the-art political operatives, and in a hurry.