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Election 2020

Is Trump Right That Biden Will Be ‘Limping’ Across the Primary Line to Battle Him in 2020?

Former vice president, who came out swinging in the Dem debate in Detroit, took repeated blows yet is still standing

President Donald Trump this past Tuesday predicted that former Vice President Joe Biden likely would “limp across the line” to square off against him as the Democrat Party nominee in the 2020 election.

Trump told reporters, “I think right now it will be ‘Sleepy Joe,’” using his favorite nickname for Biden. “I feel he’ll limp across the line … I think he’s off his game by a lot, but personally, I think it’s going to be ‘Sleepy Joe,’” the president added.

While it’s still too early to call, Trump could be right, since Biden has consistently led in the polls.

Biden’s fiercest opponent, however — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) — won’t just hand over the title. That was abundantly clear on Wednesday night, though Biden had vowed to be tougher and less polite this time around given what happened in the first primary debate a month ago, when Harris hit him hard on his civil rights record.

The only thing missing during the first moments of the Wednesday night debate as the contenders entered the ring was the “Rocky” theme song. The crowd at the Detroit rumble was ready — and so were the candidates as they walked toward each other. Biden — who noticeably did not hug Harris, but instead shook her hand — tried a disarming smile and said to her, as picked up by a hot mic,“Go easy on me, kid.”

She smirked and may have concluded Biden was nervous. He didn’t seem so to this communications professional.

Related: The Tuesday Night Debate: Here’s Who Flunked Key Communication Skills

In his opening statement, Biden looked straight into the camera and challenged Trump on America’s diversity. He continued to project a tough demeanor as he took swings at Harris over her proposed health care plan, which she has said would wipe out the private insurance option for consumers.

Biden’s offense clearly took her by surprise: She seemed flustered at times.

But shortly after that, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) took turns pushing Biden against the ropes, with jabs at him about immigration and deportation policies during the Obama administration. Booker also accused Biden of invoking Obama when it’s convenient for him to do so. Surprised, Biden was briefly thrown off his game and even at one point mistakenly referred to Booker as “the future president.”

Booker continued to attack Biden on criminal justice reform, but Biden laughed it off.

While Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) repeatedly talked about “children in cages” at border detention centers and wrongly blamed Trump for immigration problems, Biden declared that illegally crossing the border should be a crime. This was a punch in the gut to the other candidates — who had called for the decriminalization of border crossings.

Biden showed he wasn’t afraid to stand against the progressives, in other words.

When former Obama Cabinet member Julián Castro hit back by saying, “It looks like one of us has learned from the lessons of the past and one of us hasn’t,” Biden put the responsibility for the current border crisis squarely on the shoulders of  Trump.

Related: Trump Apparently Was in the Room During the Dems’ Opening Statements

Then came a new attack. Gabbard pummeled Harris over her record as California attorney general. The senator, pushing back, said she was proud of making decisions and not just “fancy speeches.” Gabbard had Harris against the ropes and continued landing blows when she claimed the former prosecutor blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man and kept people in prison beyond their sentences. Harris was visibly rattled.

The last-ditch effort by Harris to show dominance was when she pressed Biden on his past support of the Hyde Amendment (which bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, except to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape). Biden didn’t take that bait. He said that “everyone on stage in Congress has voted for a bill with the Hyde Amendment.” So Gillibrand’s earlier attempt to take out Biden on this failed — and Harris lost her opportunity to land a lasting blow against her main opponent.

De Blasio, for his part, kept pushing Biden to defend Obama administration policies — rather than use his time to share his own ideas for America. That didn’t work.

While the sparring was entertaining, each candidate’s main goal was to communicate to voters that he or she is the top contender to take on President Trump. Did any of the candidates achieve it?

Similar to the debaters on night one of this week, most candidates looked only at each other or at the moderators, rather than making eye contact with the audience or the cameras connecting them to millions of Americans. This was a huge missed opportunity, to my mind.

Yet most of these candidates did learn from the mistakes of the others and succeeded in sharing who they are, what they stand for, and what their goals will be as potential White House occupants.

Related: Trump Communicated a Powerful Message That Will Be Remembered for a Long Time to Come

Who won the battle and walked away with the belt? For me, it’s the individual who took the most punches, fought the hardest, and was still standing at the end without any loss of poise. That person, to me, is Biden. Though he stumbled over his words at times and took hard hits from the other candidates — and even directed voters to the wrong website in his closing — Biden still emerged the Wednesday night victor.

Does this mean he’ll be ready to face off against one of the greatest communicators of all time, President Donald J. Trump?

No — not even close.

But he showed his party rivals that “Sleepy Joe” shouldn’t be underestimated — and is ready to fight hard for the Democratic nomination.

John Di Lemme is president and CEO of DDG, Inc. (www.GiantGoals.com), a strategic business consulting firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida. As a global turnaround specialist, he has generated over $100 million for his corporate and entrepreneurial clients.

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