I broke my arm as a kid. I also had all four of my wisdom teeth taken out in one day while I was in the Army. But no experience has been quite as spiritually painful and quite as numbingly soul-crushing as watching former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic debate in Westerville, Ohio, last night.
I say this not as someone who has a personal beef with Biden. He and I, in fact, used to attend a small Latin Rite Catholic Church — St. Patrick’s — together in Wilmington, Delaware, in 2016. This is when he was still the veep.
Biden was gracious, spoke to anyone who talked to him, and didn’t make a fuss.
So as an individual, he seemed decent.
That’s why it was so hard to watch the pandering hack at Tuesday night’s debate. His use of hyperbole was absurd. He called President Donald Trump the “most corrupt” person ever to serve as president. He predicted NATO end if Trump is re-elected. And my favorite: He claimed the late GOP Sen. John McCain — it’s interesting how popular McCain has become with Dems now — told him as he lay dying that “you never met a problem you didn’t want to solve.”
Ouch. For that corker, Biden earned an 11 on the 1-to-10 Maudlin Meter.
The only lines more cringeworthy were every one of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) attempts at humor.
Biden’s stuttering verbal gaffes and mispronunciations could fill an oil tanker. He wanted to say he’d “double” the tax on capital gains. He started by saying he would “eliminate it.” He confused his son Hunter with his late son Beau, saying Hunter was attorney general of Delaware when Beau held that post. He contradicted Hunter when he said he never spoke about Ukrainian business with his son. Hunter has already admitted that they did. And he tried to pronounce “exponentially” and it came out “expodentially.” Perhaps he was referring to his dentures.
It was like listening to a mumbling great uncle speaking from across the holiday dining room table. You kinda want to hear him — but mostly it’s awkward.
Biden right now is reminiscent of another Democrat former vice president, Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, who ran for president past his prime. Humphrey lost the 1968 general election to Republican Richard Nixon. He tried again in 1972 and actually won the most primary votes, but his party had turned hard Left and nominated flower-power leftist Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) instead.
Humphrey had gone from a power player to an outdated “has been” in four short years. His 1976 run was even more embarrassing.
Biden did have his moments in the second part of the three-hour Ohio debate — the fourth face-off among Democrat candidates (the next debate is on November 20 in Georgia).
Biden’s riff on national security policy wasn’t bad. He came across as an adult on packing the Supreme Court, i.e., he is against it. He pivoted the age question to wisdom — and he gave a passable final statement.
However, all of that did not compensate for his lack of coherence, his odd lexicon, and his fuzzy focus. Right now this is the race for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — which is why it’s significant that most of the candidates hit her hard last night — not Biden.
Biden muffed his frontrunner status about a month ago. Can he come back? Should he come back?
Sure, it’s early. Anything can happen. But he’s got to fix his presentation and his message — if he can.
If he doesn’t and if he can’t, he won’t be running with the big dogs past Super Tuesday in March.
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