Nate Jackson / Aug. 1, 2019

Demo Debate 4: Biden the Frontrunner

The former vice president knew he’d be attacked, and he was more ready for it.

Joe Biden knew he was going to be attacked again at last night’s fourth Democrat presidential debate, so the frontrunner had one job: Fend off attacks with his own offense. He did that and emerged having solidified his frontrunner status. The bad news for him and Democrats? As Barack Obama’s adviser, David Axelrod, put it, “This may be the best he could do.” And Biden may be the best “moderate” Democrats can hope for if they want to beat President Donald Trump. That’s not saying much.

Laughable as it may seem, Biden is the not-crazy one in the Democrat field. As party activists have moved ever further to the left — and are decidedly hostile to old white guys — the 76-year-old vice president to Barack “Fundamentally Transforming the United States of America” Obama is the only viable option for those who remain unwilling to jump on the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren Socialist Express, or to play the identity-politics game driving the candidacies of other Democrats.

Biden effectively parried attacks from Kamala Harris, who damaged him in their first debate and did not heed his plea before this debate to “go easy on me, kid.” The two bickered at length about health care, for one thing. Biden attempted to stake out the “reasonable” position of simply building on ObamaCare, which he insists “is working,” rather than going full-bore single-payer or what he called Harris’s “double-talk” on health care.

Harris had her own issues failing to rebut Tulsi Gabbard’s damaging attacks on her prosecutorial record on criminal justice. Harris, Gabbard alleged, “blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed” prisoners, and thus the former California attorney general owes an apology to “the people who suffered under your reign.” For Harris, who’s hoping to be the first black female president, Gabbard’s was a painful blow.

Biden also decidedly rebuked Kirsten Gillibrand’s attempts to undermine his record “fighting” for women by noting her past praise of his record. He wondered, “I don’t know what’s happened, except that you’re now running for president.”

Then again, Biden has yet to debate Warren or Sanders, which will happen in September.

The one issue last night that best illustrated Biden’s moderation (and he’s still solidly on the Left) was immigration. Much of today’s Democrat Party has rejected the policies of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and Chuck Schumer, who a decade or more ago were at least rhetorically if not actually tough on illegal immigration. Instead, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, and others on stage last night were arguing for decriminalizing illegal border-crossing so, in Booker’s words, “you won’t need these awful detention centers” anymore.

The former vice president, having real experience enforcing federal law with the administration that actually built the “cages” Democrats now scream about, still advocates a modicum of the Rule of Law. Biden said, “If you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It’s a crime.” (Caveat: IF he can win the nomination in today’s party and then, IF elected, carrying through with enforcement as president will be an entirely different matter than a debate line.) In fact, Biden practically endorsed Trump’s policy on asylum, saying, “What we should do is flood the zone to make sure we have people to make those decisions quickly.”

The irony is that Biden is running on his 50-year record in Washington, while his opponents are using that very record (criminal justice, for example) to persuade voters to reject him as yesterday’s old and ineffective white guy. Where is today’s Democrat Party? We’ll find out.

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