James Clyburn: I admit it, Biden's "you ain't black" comment made me cringe

A noteworthy (if gentle) rebuke from the man whose endorsement may have decided the Democratic nomination this year. Biden was probably destined to clean up in the South Carolina primary no matter what but Clyburn’s announcement in the final days before the vote was valuable as a show of confidence in his flagging candidacy. What would have happened if he had looked at the results in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada and concluded that it wasn’t worth spending any political capital on Biden? Even if Joe had still won the primary, would his final margin have been diminished?

And if it was diminished, what would that have meant to Biden’s gamechanging showing on Super Tuesday the following week?

Given his kingmaking status, it’s news when Clyburn inches away from Biden. But as you’ll see, it’s only an inch. This is an expertly handled bit of damage control, registering the requisite disapproval of what Biden said while attempting to keep the viewing audience in the Democrats’ corner. (“My decision now is to determine who I feel should be the next president of the United States and I do that by comparing the candidates to each other, not to the Almighty.”) He even comes armed with a playful jab at Whoopi Goldberg to disarm any critics on the panel.

Not everyone is so forgiving. At the Root, author Michael Harriot says the “you ain’t black” gaffe is proof positive that Biden needs a black woman as VP:

This unique time in American history requires someone who is familiar with the consequences and can swing a machete. Kamala Harris and Val Demings go to work surrounded by dozens of mini-Trumps every day having to deal with racism and sexism while still passing legislation and proposing policy. Their careers have basically been training camps for balancing policy and politics inside the institutions built to subjugate them…

Now, can you imagine even thinking some bullsh*t like what just happened with Biden knowing you were about to go meet with Kamala Harris or Val Demings?…

[S]omeone has to stop Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Only a black woman can.

Eh, I don’t know about Demings. She was on CNN yesterday morning and delivered an even lighter wrist slap to Biden than Clyburn did before pivoting to criticism of Trump and Republicans:

“We know we have some serious issues that we’re dealing with in this country. If we’re going to be able to address them effectively, then we have to hold everybody accountable, even those that we do support,” Demings said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “Look, the vice president shouldn’t have said it. He apologized for it.”…

“I think it’s interesting that the president searched high and low to find African-American members of the Senate and a former member of Congress to speak out on this issue,” Demings said.

Maybe Demings and Kamala Harris have said, or would say, something harsher to Biden behind the scenes but if he picks either as VP he’s going to expect that person to be his human shield to the public on all racial and gender transgressions. That means defending him on substantive liabilities, like the 1994 crime bill, not just the “you ain’t black” ephemera. And it means declaring loudly that you don’t believe Tara Reade and don’t find Biden’s habit of hair-sniffing and massaging women’s shoulders to be anything more than ominous than a “people person” being hands-on in expressing affection.

The fallout from his “you ain’t black” comment isn’t the most interesting and ominous news out there for Biden today. Take five minutes to read this Politico piece about mounting anxiety among Democrats that the economic recovery America’s expecting in the third quarter of this year will be big. Real big. As in “the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country,” according to top Obama economist Jason Furman. No one’s expecting a full recovery by Election Day given the staggering number of lost jobs right now but a huge momentum swing towards optimism is exactly what Trump needs to convince undecideds to stick with the status quo when they’re voting. “Trump beats Biden on the economy even right now!” exclaimed one lefty, imagining how wide Trump’s margin could get if record-setting jobs reports are flowing in during late summer and early fall.

Said another, “On Election Day, we Democrats need voters to ask themselves, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ Republicans need voters to ask themselves, ‘Are you better off than you were four months ago?’” That may be all Trump needs — four months of steady progress to convince voters that he’s right when he says he built a gangbusters economy before and can do it again.

But that assumes that the race is susceptible to huge momentum swings in reaction to major events. Uh, what evidence is there to date that that’s true? For that matter, what evidence is there that Trump’s higher ratings on the economy before the coronavirus crisis mattered head-to-head against Biden? Biden has the steadiest lead in history. He’s led in every live interview poll this year. The polling between him and Trump has scarcely moved despite an unprecedented pandemic and equally unprecedented economic collapse. Trump is so polarizing a figure that even mega-quakes in geopolitics like COVID-19 can’t shake his support and opposition. Harry Enten notes at that last link that even though Hillary led steadily during the 2016 campaign, her lead grew and shrank repeatedly — an indication in hindsight that that race was unsettled and that a meaningful number of undecided voters were out there. The Biden/Trump race is striking because that dynamic is absent so far. Maybe a skyrocketing economy in September will finally move things in Trump’s favor or maybe a second wave of the disease will move things in Biden’s favor. But if you had to bet right now, you’d bet on stasis. No matter what’s happening in the world.

Update: Here’s Biden being asked about this today, insisting that he and Charlamagne tha God were both being “wise guys” when he made the “you ain’t black” comment.

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