Joe Biden should be in the catbird’s seat. He has a lead going into September against an impetuously communicating incumbent with a slowly recovering economy. There’s a pandemic and the race sports a press who will do anything the Democrat asks. Yeah, Biden looks really good, on paper.
But the pros inside the campaign know Biden’s supposed 7 point lead is really about 3, inside the margin of error. They know Republicans and conservatives are always undercounted in polls. Hence the surprises pollsters get on election days. They can see swing states gradually moving towards Trump, and they know it’s better going into the fall as the hunter, not the hunted.
And even from their own ranks there is disquiet. Barack Obama has told people to not underestimate Biden’s ability to screw everything up. Andrew Yang says people still viscerally hate Democrats. Ezra Klein is calling Kamala Harris a hard leftist and gloating about it. And people inside the Democratic National Committee are not exactly brimming with unbridled glee. Ergo, has Biden jumped the shark?
For those of you not aware of the meaning of the phrase, it references a particularly bad episode of the 70s era TV show “Happy Days” when Fonzi tries to impress his girlfriend with a water ski jump over a shark. The series slowly crashed and burned from there, even though it was not generally apparent at the time. So it means a low point that cognescenti can ascertain heralds eventual doom. So references to Pinky Tuscadero aside, why are the men, women, and all in between, at the DNC so nervous?
As a former operative I know a lot of other people in political operations in DC. Some of them from fighting at their side or against them in the internecine and general election wars in the Mid-Atlantic states in the 90s and the aughts. More of them from cigar bars in the DC area. About once every couple of weeks I call them to see if they have anything I can use in my column. Whereupon they try and spin me. Which is fine, as it’s the nature of the game.
But for me, old Army Intel analyst that I am, it’s not what they say but how they say it. It’s their tone, manner, and the likely reasons behind the spin they are dropping. Right now, none of those factors bode well for Biden in the medium term.
Oh sure, the guys and gals at the RNC aren’t jumping for joy either. They have a tough road ahead and they know it. But they also possess a grim determination that is impressive. In addition, they are under no illusions. Be them ideological or tactical. These people are ready for a very dirty fight. As such, they have an ineffable hum that you hear in most winning campaigns. It’s this undercurrent of cynical professional confidence that permeates the effort. It doesn’t guarantee victory. But it sure as hell helps.
However, the DNC personnel I spoke to this week had more to say about internal gossip regarding the rift between the establishment liberals in the campaign and the hard left PC socialists than they did to say about the fall campaign. One even waxed melancholy and wistfully about a month or two ago, before Trump’s rising job numbers and before the riots started working against the Democrats. Before Biden really looked out of it. And the upcoming debates? At that mention the DNC source audibly shudders.
I asked her point blank, “Have you guys jumped the shark?” She said no, “But we’re on the water skis.” If she’s right and my antenna are accurate, the trajectory of this race will look a lot like 1988. Trump won’t win with the margin George the Elder did. But he just might win.