Michael Knowles: Can Joe Biden actually win?

Fourteen presidential aspirants spoke at last Saturday’s California Democratic Party convention, including plausible candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., as well as a bevy of inevitable also-rans. Joe Biden, who holds a commanding lead over his rivals, skipped the event entirely.

The former vice president snubbed the California Dems just one week after another conspicuous absence: he failed to attend a single Memorial Day ceremony. While South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sanders ran from one photo opp to another in New Hampshire and Warren saluted the Stars and Stripes in Iowa, Biden was nowhere to be found.

In recent days, Biden has resurfaced at some smaller campaign stops in New Hampshire. During one event, Biden improvised a 45-minute speech in which he reminisced about the car he drove to prom and declared homosexuality a “decision.”

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The former vice president said “lastly” three times before managing to conclude his remarks.

At another event, he mocked the Creole accent of a Caribbean electrician. While Joe was on the road, just hours after he had released his environmental plan, critics revealed that at least five sections of it had been plagiarized from groups including the Blue Green Alliance and the Carbon Capture Coalition.

It might be better for Biden to remain absent and be thought a fool than to campaign and remove all doubt.

So far, relative timidity hasn’t impinged on his frontrunner status. According to a recent CNN/SSRS poll, he leads the pack with 32 percent support. Sanders trails him at 18 percent, followed by Harris at 8 percent, Warren at 7 percent, and Buttigieg and Beto at 5 percent. But Biden can’t hide forever. Support for the former vice president has already fallen seven points since he announced his campaign in April. By playing it safe, Biden risks squandering his early lead before the first debate later this month.

Likewise, Biden can’t risk taking any risks. As the most gaffe-prone politician in the country, he has avoided major public appearances at which he might embarrass himself. Three years in relative obscurity have buoyed Biden’s public approval, much as they did for Hillary Clinton after she left the State Department and before she declared her own bid for president. Now that the former vice president has re-entered politics, nostalgia will soon give way to the buffoonish reality of Joe Biden.

No single column could recount the myriad stumbles of the Democratic frontrunner. He dropped out of the 1988 election after reporters caught him plagiarizing speeches, cribbing lines from former president John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert F. Kennedy, former Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey, and British Labour political Neil Kinnock. Not long after that, Biden admitted to plagiarizing a paper he wrote in law school.

Two decades later, during his next bid for president, Biden described then-opponent Barack Obama as “the first sort of mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and [a] nice-looking guy.” That supposedly rare combination of traits made for “a storybook, man,” as Biden put it on a conference call with reporters.

That same year, at a campaign stop in Missouri, Biden told a paraplegic state senator to “stand up” and “let [the people] see you.” Two years later, during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the White House, Biden prayed that “God rest” the soul of the Irish prime minister’s still-living mother. Over all those years, Biden developed the habit of approaching random women and smelling their hair.

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After five decades in politics, Biden’s chief if not sole legislative accomplishment is the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a laudable law nevertheless despised by today’s radical Democrat base. So the frontrunner hopes to secure the nomination by avoiding major early battles and praying the Democrat base forgets about him. How’d that strategy work in 2008 for the early Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani?

The best defense is a good offense. Sooner or later, Biden will have to reassert himself, which will open him up to a whole new slew of gaffes. Joe’s latest plagiarism faux pas proves the more things change, the more they stay the same – bad news for a guy who’s already failed to win the White House twice.

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