By Howard Kurtz
Published May 01, 2019
After kicking around Joe Biden for weeks, the pundits are slapping their foreheads in amazement.
Hey, they're now saying, this guy might be a pretty good bet to win the Democratic primaries after all — and might even beat President Trump.
The race has a long way to go, Biden could easily stumble and one of his rivals could catch fire. But rarely has the media's conventional wisdom done such a collective about-face so quickly.
All it took was a nice fundraising haul, a good speech, and some rising poll numbers to produce a sharp reversal, all in the space of a few days.
And Biden, in part, has Trump to thank — at least according to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who has covered him for years.
By repeatedly criticizing him on Twitter, she said on CNN, the president is "elevating Joe Biden and basically turning this into a one-on-one between himself and Joe Biden 18 months ahead of time."
The former vice president would love that because he could increasingly ignore his Democratic rivals, especially those in the single digits, and run more of a general election campaign. (This will become harder, of course, once Biden has to debate them and they inevitably ramp up their attacks.)
I wrote last week that the New York-Washington media types who are big on Twitter were underestimating Biden, convinced he was too old, too plodding and not liberal enough for his party. (See "Why the Media Are Convinced Joe Biden Will Implode.")
My view has always been that the party is more moderately liberal than it appears to left-wing commentators who are drawn to the AOC wing and are enamored of such fresher faces as Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke.
After raising more than $6 million on his first day, Biden surged in a CNN poll. That Democratic primary survey puts him at 39 percent, with Bernie Sanders back at 18 percent, followed by Elizabeth Warren (8 percent), Buttigieg (7 percent), O’Rourke (6 percent) and Kamala Harris (5 percent). (Biden also leads Bernie by 14 in a Morning Consult poll and by 8 in a New Hampshire survey.)
Even discounting for the usual bump that accompanies a candidate's announcement, Biden seems a much stronger front-runner than the handicappers had believed.
Trump has repeatedly tweeted about Biden, saying: "The Media (Fake News) is pushing Sleepy Joe hard. Funny, I'm only here because of Biden & Obama. They didn't do the job and now you have Trump, who is getting it done - big time!"
After Biden gave his kickoff speech in Pittsburgh, the president said Pennsylvania is having one of its best economic years in history, with a now-thriving steel industry.
In that speech, Biden declared that the middle class isn’t "feeling" the effects of the GOP tax cuts or the booming stock market. Given that the economy is on a tear, that's probably about the best he can do.
The ex-veep also played on the divisiveness theme: "Donald Trump is the only president who has decided not to represent the entire country. We need a president who will work for all Americans."
National Review, meanwhile, says the notion that Biden is deemed a moderate shows how far left the Democrats and the national press have moved: “A Democratic politician now qualifies as a moderate if he believes that 180 million Americans should not be forcibly removed from private health insurance and put in a government system; that third-trimester abortions should be restricted; and that deportation must continue to be a key part of our immigration regime." These were mainstream Democratic views when Biden was VP, the magazine says.
While Biden wants to talk about lunch-bucket issues and divisiveness, the media remain heavily focused on controversies. When he and his wife appeared yesterday on "Good Morning America," Robin Roberts spent most of the first segment on Anita Hill continuing to criticize Biden's handling of the Clarence Thomas hearings, as well as the allegations by eight women of unwanted touching.
Both are important issues, but I don't think the 1991 episode is going to change the primaries, and some black voters are telling reporters that they're with Biden because he was Barack Obama's partner. The polls show that most Democratic voters weren't fazed by the allegations of excessive friendliness.
I still think Biden has to show that he can operate at today's hyperspeed Twitter pace and defend his long record. But he is clearly showing more strength than most of the pundits predicted.