Alexander Pope once instructed us about the risks of damning someone with faint praise. Mark Z. Barabak at the Los Angeles Times may have skipped school on the day they taught that particular lesson judging by his column this week in which he sings, or at least hums the praises of Joe Biden as a more formidable opponent for Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. The author’s approach to making this point starts out in a rather curious fashion. He begins by listing a number of things about Joe Biden that should make him a rather unpalatable candidate including his advanced age and his penchant for unfortunate remarks. But he then goes on to almost literally say, hey… but at least he’s not Hillary, amirite?
Joe Biden is old. He has a paper trail reaching back half a century. He is, by his own admission, a “gaffe machine” who regularly trips over his own tongue.
He is not, however, as widely and viscerally disliked as the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and that’s complicating President Trump’s reelection effort.
The incumbent is deeply unpopular and, if history is a guide, stands little chance of drastically changing those sentiments by election day.
His best — and possibly only — chance of winning a second term is making Biden seem the more unpalatable of the two; turning the election, in the political shorthand, into a choice between candidates rather than a referendum on Trump’s personality and performance.
Barabak goes on to say Trump’s victory in 2016 can at least in part be credited to “making” Hillary Clinton even more unlikeable than he was. He describes Republican opinions, casting Clinton as “a figure of almost singular villainy.” As evidence, he offers polling from this stage of the 2016 campaign showing Hillary Clinton’s favorability to be underwater by a hefty margin, 40/55. Biden, on the other hand, is nearly dead even at 45/46. (Trump falls between the two currently at 43/55.)