In fairness, aren’t we all? The polling frontrunner at the start of this cycle had twice run for president and had twice embarrassed himself out of contention. The third time’s the charm for Joe Biden, who has managed not just to keep his lead this time around but has started to consolidate it ahead of the opening contests, Politico reports:
It took more than a year, but the Democratic presidential primary is finally coming to terms with the fact that Joe Biden isn’t going to collapse before the first votes are cast.
If anything, the landscape is tilting more in his favor.
Biden’s fundraising has improved. His polling is steadier, and his opponents barely touched him in the presidential debate on Tuesday — the final debate ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
How did Biden manage to survive one of the largest Democratic primaries in recent memory? Partly from good fortune, plus the blessing of having bad competition:
Two of his top rivals, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have started feuding, raising the prospect of a splintered progressive vote. Pete Buttigieg, a well-funded, well-organized, moderate alternative to Biden, has still not demonstrated that he can appeal to people of color. And three of the five top-polling candidates in Iowa — Sanders, Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar — are about to be pulled away from the campaign at the most inopportune time, stuck in Washington for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
There will be those who will claim that Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment strategy was exquisitely timed to produce just this result. That seems unlikely; if she wanted to guarantee that, Pelosi would have strung out the impeachment process until January and passed the articles then. If the Senate ends up calling Hunter Biden as a witness, this strategy isn’t going to turn out to be any help at all.
As it turns out, Biden probably doesn’t need the help. After making a run on Biden this summer and fall, Warren has fallen off the pace by double digits in the last three months. Sanders has picked up a small amount of Warren’s voters but still is lower overall than he was before Biden officially entered the race. Buttigieg’s support has declined back into single digits after a brief bump in the late fall, pushing him back into the lower tier of candidates. Biden might be caught in tight races in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he’s going to score delegates in both states, and then will commence blowing out his competition in South Carolina.
In one sense, the large field might have played into Biden’s hands, just the way a similar field played into Donald Trump’s in 2016. Everyone in the field ran to the Left, leaving Biden with his claim — dubious or not — to the center; Trump ran as the only real populist among GOP establishment figures. In more ways, though, this resembles Mitt Romney’s win in the 2012 primaries against a somewhat smaller coterie of candidates. Several of them got their momentary polling burst as the Not-Romney Of The Moment, only to collapse back to the bottom tier. Romney just outlasted everyone as the party’s Next In Line and won the nomination.
If Biden still manages to make it to the brass ring without killing his own chances, that’s not a great model for a general-election campaign against an incumbent president. Biden survived, too, mainly because the other candidates spent more time attacking each other than Biden. At least Romney came out of the 2012 primary somewhat tested by the experience. Biden’s going to run into a buzz saw in the general election, and that’s true even if the Senate never calls Hunter Biden to testify.
That’s still an if, however. Biden still has time to screw it up, and he’s got the track record to prove he can do so in fairly short order.