Trump: C'mon, Joe Biden's no threat to me

A solid Trumpy answer, but not an expression of his actual feelings if media reports are to be believed. Obviously Biden is a threat — universal name recognition, relatable, comfortable to most Obama voters, Pennsylvania roots. He’d be harder to frame as dangerously radical than most other would-be Democratic nominees. Not one but two different polls of Texas taken last month found Biden within the margin of error of beating Trump there. That’s unlikely come next fall, but if Biden’s competitive-ish in Texas you can imagine how he might do in Florida and Michigan and Wisconsin and North Carolina. And, of course, Pennsylvania.

White House aides have reportedly assured Trump lately that Biden, while formidable, will be bloodied by progressives in the primary and dragged to the left, providing plenty of GOP ammo for the general election. Peggy Noonan sees that coming too and pleads with Biden in a new column not to run and spare himself the ordeal:

Why will it be painful to witness all this? Because it will mark the fall of a political figure who was normal. Who knew there was a left over here and a right over there and a big middle. Who went with the flow of cultural leftism but understood the other side’s reservations and signaled that in some way he had some sympathy for them. Who knew politics wasn’t always about absolutes.

This in contrast to the up-and-coming manipulators for whom it is second nature to feign warmth and outreach, but whose every hug is backed by the sharp and crooked finger of accusation. Their engine is resentment, their fuel is unearned self-esteem, their secret is lust for power…

It would be one thing if you wanted to enter the race to persuade the party on the merits of more-centrist approaches and working with the other side. But is that your intention? You’ve been apologizing for calling Mike Pence decent, and groveling over your “white man’s culture.” If you go with that flow, it will wash you away.

I think she’s too late. Residents of Scranton, where Biden was born, spotted him outside his childhood home yesterday with a film crew. You don’t make a trip like that to cut a video announcing that you’re not running.

The most interesting bit of Trump’s answer is when he mentions Biden having to run on the “Obama failed record.” That record is a liability — but probably less so in a general election. It’s a potential liability in the primary, where progressives will want to punish Uncle Joe for Obama’s affronts to leftism as president. Noah Millman:

Biden wasn’t just a senator. He was a key player within the Obama administration’s response to the financial crisis. There’s a powerful argument from the left that said response was woefully inadequate, both in terms of responding to the economic contraction (we needed a much larger fiscal and/or monetary stimulus) and addressing the underwater housing market (the administration’s response prioritized helping banks who held the underwater mortgages over helping distressed homeowners)…

Biden is not just any older, moderate white guy with working class roots. Precisely because he is the face of the last Democratic administration, his presence in the race would force Democrats to reckon with how they feel not only about Obama as an individual, but about how he approached politics and policy. Whether you want to check the party’s trends since 2016 or affirm them, that reckoning is needed, and that is reason enough to want Biden to run.

We’ll see about that. There are three “tiers” of Biden critiques from the left. One is the easy #MeToo-style stuff that’s being litigated right now. Next and more dangerous for Biden are his sins against leftism as a senator, starting with the Iraq war and the 90s crime bill and his handling of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill face-off. That tier is where he’ll be made to suffer the most, since as a senator he was responsible for his own decisions. The third tier, if any rival dares reach it, is calling Biden to account for the sins of his old boss Barack. Many progressives would like to delve into that, I’m sure, and have a broad party-wide discussion about mistakes the next Democratic president shouldn’t be allowed to make: No more excuses for not adding a public option to ObamaCare; no more video-game-style drone killings of terrorists and hapless foreign interventions; no more timidity on gun control and amnesty if/when Democrats have total control of government again. Obama’s failures are a cautionary tale for them about missed opportunities.

…but which candidate has the stones to tell that tale? Bernie? Look back at this data from a few weeks ago and marvel at the fact that a greater percentage of Democrats identify as “Obama Democrats” than any other label you might offer them. For all the hype about how loyal Republicans are to Trump, fewer GOPers identify as “Trump Republicans” than Democrats do as “Obama Democrats.” Telling Democratic voters that “ackshually Obama wuz bad” is near-suicidal politically. Black voters especially naturally take pride in his legacy as the first black president; for someone like Sanders, who already struggles with black votes, to impugn Obama’s record might be fatal to his candidacy. Which is why I think the third tier of Biden attacks, hitting him for Obama’s ideological failures, is strictly a “break glass in case of emergency” option. If Uncle Joe looks like he’s on a glide path to the nomination after the first- and second-tier attacks have been tried, maybe a rival like Bernie will conclude that there’s nothing left to lose by trying tier three. But it’s an option of last resort.

In the primary, I mean. In the general election Trump will use Obama against Biden every day, believing that his key to victory is keeping his own base ramped up as far as it can go. A Trump/Biden election would be the closest we’ll get to a Trump/Obama election. And both sides will end up selling it that way, believing that their base is bigger.