Whatever else we learned from the absurd and confused Iowa caucuses, we know that Joe Biden’s candidacy is in serious trouble:
Inside the castle-themed Radisson Hotel where Joe Biden has been staying, workers were preparing the ballroom for his Tuesday night election party. Outside, Biden’s campaign bus was parked and ready for events.
But on Thursday, just five days before the crucial primary here, the candidate was nowhere to be found.
Biden spent Thursday gathered with his top advisers in his home in Wilmington, Del., seeking a reset and perhaps a last-ditch effort to save his candidacy, beginning with a debate Friday night. He held no public events.
Following dismal results in the Iowa caucuses that have rattled many in his orbit, his campaign is now simultaneously trying to lower expectations here — with some suggesting they would consider a finish as low as third place a victory — while also bracing for a second straight difficult Election Day.
Less than three months ago, I referred to Biden as the faltering front-runner. He was already losing ground then, and in the months that followed his descent continued. Back then, I observed that Biden was already collapsing:
Biden’s numbers in Iowa have dropped off a cliff in the last two months as his support has been cannibalized by the improbable Pete Buttigieg. In the most recent Iowa poll, Biden was in a distant fourth place.
In the end, Biden finished in that distant fourth place. The embarrassment was lessened by the chaos and incompetence of the Iowa Democratic Party’s handling of the caucus results, but not by much. The former vice president’s electoral weakness was evident to anyone who wanted to see it, but his campaign failed to take the warning signs seriously. They allowed themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security by national polling numbers that didn’t matter while they ignored his deteriorating position in the early state polls. There was only so much that they could do with a candidate who has no compelling message or reason to run. As it turned out, Biden has suffered the fate of the party establishment favorite who believed his own propaganda. He and his supporters have insisted that he is the “most electable” candidate, but for some reason he is the candidate that very few actual voters want to elect. It has taken Biden longer to implode than some of his counterparts from previous election cycles, but the result is much the same: underwhelming support, not enough money left, and increasingly implausible scenarios for a comeback.
Even when Biden tries to project defiance and determination, he conveys futility:
Biden’s advisers have been attempting to bat down questions about his longevity — including some far-fetched suggestions that he drop out soon — and on Thursday afternoon they sent out a fundraising email with the subject line: “I’m not going anywhere.”
Perhaps if Biden had exceeded expectations or had a surprise victory, this statement would send a different message. Coming after a defeat, it just underscores what everyone already knows: Biden is going nowhere.
It is now safe to conclude that he has ceased to be the front-runner in any meaningful sense, and he is in danger of soon becoming a cautionary tale. Biden has run for president twice before this, and it is not saying much that this third campaign has already been his most successful. Whatever makes for successful presidential candidates, Biden seems to lack it. His timing has usually been terrible, his message has never been interesting or distinctive, and he has had the misfortune to run against opponents that were more charismatic or had more inspiring ideas. Biden had his best opening to take the nomination four years ago, but for his own understandable reasons he chose not to pursue that. Unfortunately for him, his otherwise successful political career will be book-ended by a presidential campaign that made no sense.