Biden’s Great Secret: He Persisted
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Some people are saving the Sunday, November 8, 2020, New York Times with the banner headline “Biden Beats Trump.” The one I am thinking of framing and putting up on the wall, though, is the front page of the Thursday, February 27, 2020 Times. That is the one with the front page headline that says, “Biden’s Tuesday Could Turn Out Far From Super.”
The dispatch on that February front page began by sketching a contrast. At Biden’s vacant East Los Angeles campaign office, “there was no sign of life …A metal gate out front was padlocked shut, with a missed-delivery notice from the Postal Service wedged into it.” A campaign office for Senator Bernie Sanders a mile away “was humming with activity. Field organizers were busy calling supporters, and every so often the ding of a bell signaled that another volunteer was on board.”
The Times reported that “three straight losses shredded Mr. Biden’s status as the onetime front-runner.” Even if Mr. Biden were to win South Carolina, the Times reported, “his lack of resources and thin campaign organization in California and other states that vote next week on Super Tuesday present a daunting challenge to a candidacy already on precarious footing.”
Said the Times, “Interviews with party leaders in half a dozen Super Tuesday states suggest that the same vulnerabilities that plagued Mr. Biden beginning in Iowa — subpar organization, limited outreach to local Democrats and a late start to campaigning — are holding him back…Mr. Biden’s on-the-ground operations, these Democrats said, are easily dwarfed by those of Mr. Sanders and Michael R. Bloomberg, the moderate former mayor of New York who has plainly cut into Mr. Biden’s standing.”
The Times article went on, “a number of Democratic state chairmen and other party leaders said in the last week that outreach from Mr. Biden continued to be light. Some said they had not heard from Mr. Biden personally — a contrast with Mr. Bloomberg — and Mary Mancini, the chairwoman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said on Monday that she had not heard from Mr. Biden’s senior staff, either.”
The “three straight losses” to which the Times referred included what the paper called “the disastrous first two contests.” At the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Biden trailed not only Sanders but also Senator Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In the New Hampshire primary, he placed fifth, behind Messrs. Sanders and Buttigieg, Ms. Warren, and Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Nor was the Times report an outlier. A CNBC article headlined “Here’s why Joe Biden’s campaign collapsed so quickly” declared, “After a humiliating fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary and an apparent fourth-place finish in Iowa, former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential hopes are finished. …Yes, there are a couple of examples of candidates who failed in Iowa and New Hampshire who went to win their party’s presidential nomination. But none failed as spectacularly as Biden has.”
Mr. Biden had plenty of experience before 2020 in losing contests for the presidency. He entered the race in the 1988 cycle only to withdraw in September 1987 amid a series of plagiarism scandals. He tried again in the 2008 cycle.
The New York Times greeted the 2007 announcement of that Biden presidential campaign with the headline “Biden Unwraps ’08 Bid With an Oops!” The Times news report began: “In an era of meticulous political choreography, the staging of the kickoff for this presidential candidacy could hardly have gone worse. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who announced his candidacy on Wednesday with the hope that he could ride his foreign policy expertise into contention for the Democratic nomination, instead spent the day struggling to explain his description of Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat running for president, as ‘the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.’”
Mr. Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign ended after he attracted the support of a mere 1 percent of Iowa caucus-goers. “I ain’t goin’ away,” Mr. Biden said then, and he eventually wound up as Mr. Obama’s running mate in 2008 and 2012.
What to make of all this? Treat political coverage from the New York Times and even from more reputable outlets with the skepticism it deserves, sure.
There is a character lesson here, though, that goes far beyond news literacy and that transcends politics. Votes are still being counted and in some cases recounted, but at the moment, Mr. Biden looks like a winner. This effort, his third presidential run after two earlier failed efforts, itself began with three straight caucus or primary losses. In February 2020, Biden was 77 years old and had been running for president, unsuccessfully, for at least 33 years. He could have believed the negative press. He could have given up after all that failing. Nevertheless, he persisted.