Biden: Okay, fine, I shouldn't have been so cavalier in what I said about black voters

But … it was a joke, no? That’s what his campaign told us this afternoon.

Surely they weren’t brazenly lying in a desperate attempt to clean up an ugly comment equating partisan loyalty with racial authenticity.

Look, jack, here’s the deal: He said it because he meant it. It’s not just that he believes his record on racial issues is better than Trump’s, it’s that he’s willing to demagogue racial identity to help his party. He did it eight years ago, infamously, when he told a black audience that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains.” Whatever the particulars of his record and Trump’s, he uttered a party orthodoxy this morning so commonplace that I think you could take literally any Democratic politician in the country with literally any Republican opponent and they’d offer the same view (privately) of whether they’re entitled to black votes or not.

If there was anything interesting about Biden saying “you ain’t black” if you’re considering voting for Trump it was that in context he said it to wriggle free from criticism from the *left.* Charlamagne Tha God wasn’t grilling him about the merits of his policies relative to Trump’s, he was asking him about whether he’s considering nominating a black woman as VP. By equating blackness with preferring him to Trump, Biden was essentially telling black voters to get off his back about that and fall in line. What are they gonna do if he nominates Amy Klobuchar instead? Forfeit their blackness by supporting Trump?

I can think of two reasons why Biden might have tried to get away with that remark. They seem mutually exclusive at first blush but I don’t think they are. First, after becoming VP to the first black president and then turning the tide of this year’s primaries via black voters in South Carolina, he may believe he’s got enough cred banked with black Americans that he’s entitled to be racially presumptuous in a way most whites aren’t. He has special privileges. Not so special that he can get away with anything — he’s not going to call anyone “my nigga,” I hope — but special enough that, sure, he’ll amiably question your blackness if you support Trump. His problem is that his self-perceived privileges aren’t clearly defined even to him, which led to him crossing the line this morning.

Second, he may be panicked that he’s underperforming with black voters. Sure, he still leads Trump head to head in every national poll, but the battleground polls haven’t been quite as solid for him and some of the data even in national polling has looked worrisome for his campaign among nonwhites. The single worst number for Biden in that splashy Fox News poll I wrote about this morning was that he leads Trump by “only” 64 points among African-Americans whereas Hillary Clinton led Trump by 81. A Morning Consult poll taken a few weeks ago found Biden’s favorable rating sliding among numerous groups, including black voters, as the Tara Reade story gained traction. Last month Nate Cohn identified nonwhite voters as a surprising vulnerability for Biden, noting that Trump has made gains within that group since 2016. Quote: “It is hard to break this down further, since many pollsters do not disaggregate nonwhite voters by race, but there are signs that [the president] is overperforming among both black and Hispanic voters and perhaps especially among young nonwhite voters.”

Put it all together and Biden may be feeling anxious about his hold on the black vote. He’ll win it by a landslide, needless to say, but the exact margin of that landslide will matter to the final outcome of the election. He wants to duplicate Obama’s gigantic edge among African-Americans in 2008 and 2012 and maybe feels like he *should* be duplicating it because of his bio — but he isn’t, at least not yet. So maybe that anxiety led him into an unusually crass and desperate formulation of what black voters supposedly owe him this fall.

The irony is that this isn’t even the most damaging thing he said today. Democrats will forgive him for being presumptuous about feeling entitled to black votes because, after all, they semi-secretly share his opinion. I don’t know if lefties will forgive him for this, though:

There’s sound strategic logic in signaling that he won’t tax households earning $400,000 or less. Democrats badly want to press the advantage they gained among suburbanites in 2018 this fall against Trump. Those voters dislike the president but they’re upscale and naturally worried about a Democratic administration hitting them in the pocketbook. Losing suburbanites was a core reason the Democratic leadership feared having Bernie Sanders as their nominee, as they knew Bernie’s program called for soaking everyone. So here’s Biden promising suburbanites that he’ll cut them a break if they vote blue in November. Just one problem: Progressives are perfectly aware that they need to tax the upper middle class to pay for their policy wishlist. If Biden’s carving out earners who make $400K or less, he’s already limiting his ability to pursue a left-wing agenda. He’ll hear about this from them. A lot.

In lieu of an exit question, new merchandise from the Trump campaign shop. Made me laugh.