This is the first time I’ve seen someone in the 2020 Democratic field take a hard shot at Biden. I didn’t expect it would come from a guy to whom Team Joe reportedly reached out at the beginning of the year to gauge his interest in being Biden’s vice president.
But O’Rourke has nothing to lose. He’s not going to be Biden’s VP no matter how much ass he kisses. Democrats won’t tolerate an all-white-male ticket in 2020. He’s at two percent in the polls, a.k.a. barely above “the Gillibrand line,” having lost his title as the Engaging Young Upstart in the race to Pete Buttigieg several months ago. Plus, he and Biden are competing for some of the same voters. Beto’s not as centrist as Biden is, I think, but he and Uncle Joe are both firmly in the “not nearly socialist enough for progressives” lane. He’ll have to take a shot at Biden eventually.
I wonder if he read this NYT piece this morning before doing his “Morning Joe” interview. The secret to Buttigieg’s and Elizabeth Warren’s polling surge is simple, claims the Times. They’ve both set out to reach larger audiences than the rest of the field over the last few months.
More than most of his Democratic rivals, Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has cracked the code of the early months of the presidential campaign, embracing TV appearances while mastering the art of creating moments for social media and cable news. The 37-year-old’s campaign was the first to grasp that the early primary race would unfold on mobile devices and televisions instead of at the traditional town-hall gatherings and living rooms in the early states.
He’s not alone: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has inundated reporters with policy proposals, prompting hours of cable news coverage and forcing fellow candidates to respond to her ideas during live interviews.
Over the first six months of the presidential campaign, Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren have out-maneuvered the other 21 Democratic candidates, demonstrating an innate understanding of the value of viral moments and nonstop exposure that drives politics in the Trump era.
Right on cue, here’s Beto with the buzziest moment he’s had in months, smacking Biden as a relic of the past, for his Iraq war vote, for his Hyde Amendment flip-flop, even for his sanguine attitude towards China. “You cannot go back to the end of the Obama administration and think that’s good enough,” he says, an allusion to Biden’s belief that Trump is a little hiccup in American politics and that things will return to “normal” by electing Obama’s VP. The rest of the field has stayed far away from that idea; some, like Buttigieg, have challenged it directly by claiming that a candidate as unorthodox as Trump simply couldn’t be elected in a country in which the Obama-era status quo was working well enough for enough people. O’Rourke’s making the same point.
But he and Mayor Pete will need to be careful. Deriding Biden is fine but deriding Obama and his accomplishments is risky business in a party that now defines itself largely by its support for O. This message will evolve over time for Beto and everyone else from “the Obama administration just didn’t do enough” to “the Obama administration was awesome but Barack told us to keep going and build on what he achieved to make America even more awesome,” especially as the race moves to the south and black voters became a larger part of the primary electorate. I mean, Biden is using his dubious claim that there was never so much as a hint of scandal or even a lie(!!!) in Obama’s administration as an applause line, knowing that many Democrats to the right of the Bernie camp seem to view O’s tenure as something close to ideal. I’m not sure O’Rourke or anyone else can talk them out of believing that they can do better as president than Obama’s VP.
Watch about three and a half minutes here, a bit past the point of O’Rourke talking about Biden’s Iraq vote, for the key bit.