Biden is aware that it’s not going well. But it’s not apparent that he knows how to fix it. Recently, according to his staff, his anxieties have manifested more visibly. If he begins to question something small, he spirals, eventually questioning everything. Should he be saying this in his speech? Wait, should he be giving this speech at all? Should he even be focusing on this group? Is this even the right position? He freaks out over minor stuff on the trail that staffers don’t believe he should be concerning himself with and yet is unable to make strategic adjustments. But the staff concern themselves with unimportant matters, too, running what they think is a general-election campaign when they need to be running a primary. Inside the campaign, the Biden brain trust seems to exist more to comfort the candidate than to compel him, and strategy meetings inevitably devolve into meandering, ruminative roundtables that feel purposeless except to fill time in the day.
Nobody will tell the candidate in plain terms what they think he needs to change. Not that Biden really listens anyway.
Some on the campaign still believe he can win, in part because they believe he should win. But even to them, the path to a collapse seems clear: Biden loses in Iowa and New Hampshire, where his leads have been steadily declining for months and where, recently, Elizabeth Warren has overtaken him, and then, as a result, loses his sheer aura of electability, too. But inside the campaign, they reportedly see another path, though it might not seem, at first, an optimistic one: Okay, so he loses Iowa and then New Hampshire, but so what? Because he is who he is and represents what he represents — the embodiment of both the white-working-class model of the electorate and the glow of the Obama years — he can weather the losses and march to victory through Super Tuesday and beyond. “Their theory is a long, twilight struggle where they accumulate delegates everywhere as minority voters start playing a larger role,” Axelrod said. “But in reality, it’s tough to be a winner when you keep losing or at least appear to be.”
Biden would obviously like you to think about his age as experience, but another way of thinking about experience is as a record. He’s got a long one. When he was elected to the Senate, Pete Buttigieg was still a decade away from birth. There’s a lot of material, then, for Biden’s critics to work with. All sorts of stuff that doesn’t age well, or doesn’t quite compute, in this season of absolutism: Anita Hill and allegations that he violated the personal space of several women, controversy over his crusade against busing as a desegregation measure and his eagerness to work with segregationist lawmakers. Last week, after Biden attacked Trump for calling his impeachment a “lynching,” video emerged of Biden calling Bill Clinton’s impeachment the same thing. If it was relevant to American political life at any point since Richard Nixon was president, Biden probably said something about it, but it’s new to many younger voters and activists and talking heads now.