In The Washington Post, Carlos Lozada reviews "Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won The Presidency.
I haven't read the book myself, but I hate this framing. Of course, Beltway insider journalists, while they might skew liberal, appear to loathe actually existing Democrats, with occasional temporary exceptions (Barack Obama in 2008, Pete Buttigieg in 2020).
Allen and Parnes come to this project ready to take Biden down several pegs.
Four years ago, Allen and Parnes co-authored the best-selling “Shattered,” an examination of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign, in which they placed the blame largely on the ineptitude of the losing side. In this sequel, they are only slightly more generous with the Democratic nominee.
They tell us:
Joe Biden won, of course, but mainly because he “caught every imaginable break.” He was the “process-of-elimination candidate,” emerging from a crowded set of more exciting Democratic contenders. He was “lousy in debates and lackluster on the trail,” prevailing despite “a bland message and a blank agenda.” Biden, they argue, got lucky.
Biden might have been a process-of-elimination candidate for White Democrats, but he started with very strong support from Black Democrats -- the real base of the party. But who cares what they think, right?
The fiasco of the Iowa caucuses, where the app designed to report the results failed miserably, temporarily obscured Biden’s fourth-place showing. “This was a gift,” a campaign aide later explained.
This is so insider-y it makes my teeth hurt. Regardless of the vote-counting problems, it was clear to everyone watching that Biden lost badly. Some headlines: "How Iowa Slipped Away From Joe Biden: Former vice president now must convince donors and voters in other early states to stick with him in a fiercely competitive field" (Wall Street Journal): "Bye-Bye, Biden: The former vice president is not likely to recover from coming in fourth in Iowa" (The Nation); "Biden's Poor Showing in Iowa Shakes Establishment Support" (AP); "First Head Rolls After Biden’s Weak Iowa Finish" (Politico). After Iowa, you either thought Biden was toast or you thought his only hope was the South, where the electorate would skew non-white. No one thought, "Oh gosh, how did Biden do? I completely missed that because I was too fixated on the technical glitches."
Luck returned when rival Democrats such as Pete Buttigieg (who ended up winning Iowa) and Mike Bloomberg (who won American Samoa) suffered debate night takedowns by Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren — and when Biden survived his own hit from Kamala Harris over his past positions on school busing and desegregation.
Yes, Biden caught a massive break because his rivals were attacked in debates and he wasn't... oh, wait, that's not the message here. Biden was attacked, just like Bloomberg and Buttigieg, except he survived being attacked. They didn't.
But Trump offered his rival some luck, too, when the president failed to deal effectively or humanely with the coronavirus pandemic. Allen and Parnes quote then-senior campaign official Anita Dunn, now a White House adviser, discussing how the outbreak affected Biden’s prospects. “COVID is the best thing that ever happened to him,” she told an associate early in the crisis, according to the authors. It’s a cynical way to regard a disease that would go on to take the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, even if it was, they write, what Biden campaign aides “believed but would never say in public.” Well, it’s public now.
So it was a lucky break for Biden that a president who'd faced no serious crises actually faced one, as presidents regularly do? No, that's not how it works. Trump was the lucky one because his first real crisis came so late in his term -- this after he'd had the lucky break of being inaugurated on economic third base and telling everyone he'd hit a triple.
Also, the pandemic improved poll numbers for many governors -- Cuomo, DeWine, Whitmer. If they appeared to be taking the pandemic seriously, the public responded well. COVID helped Biden because Trump had a golden opportunity to demonstrate competence and human feelings, and failed at both.
Would Biden have struggled in a normal year? It's possible -- but his poll numbers vs. Trump were as strong in 2019 as they were in 2020. He was a broadly acceptable Democrat at a time when more than half the country just wanted someone who promised a clean break with Trump (but much of the country had internalized the "scary extreme socialist Democrats" framing of the GOP). Biden promised a return to normality. Much of America wanted that even before COVID. If he got lucky, it was running against the most polarizing, exhausting, emotionally draining president ever. And maybe he was simply the best candidate to do that.
Republished from No More Mister Nice Blog.