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Who’s Afraid of Joe Biden?

Why is a Republican senator from Florida running attack ads against Biden in Iowa?
January 30, 2020
Who’s Afraid of Joe Biden?
TIPTON, IOWA - DECEMBER 28: Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at Tipton High School on December 28, 2019 in Tipton, Iowa. The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses will take place on February 3, 2020, in the first nominating contest for the Democratic Party in choosing their presidential candidate to face Donald Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, a man named Rick Scott announced that he had purchased air time on TV stations in Iowa to run a political ad attacking Joe Biden. This was interesting for two reasons. The first is that Rick Scott is a United States senator. From Florida.

Florida is not near Iowa. Just look at the data:

The second reason is that Joe Biden is running for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party. And Rick Scott is a Republican who doesn’t have an election coming until November 2024.

Weird, right?

I was trying to make sense of all this and thankfully a senator who’s actually from Iowa helped me out:

So yes, this is a thing. Republican senators who are supposed to be sitting as impartial jurors in the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump are actively trying to meddle with the Democratic caucus in Iowa by throwing dirt on Joe Biden.

And just so we’re clear, this is dirt. Scott’s ad is one of the most brazenly dishonest political ads you’ll ever see. It doesn’t just cast aspersions. It actually posits a reading of facts that is the opposite of what Scott knows to be the truth.

It’s almost as though Republicans are terrified of Joe Biden and doing everything they can to protect Donald Trump from having to face him in November.

I mean, this wasn’t the first sign.

For instance, last year the president of the United States set up an illegal private channel to a foreign government in an attempt to extort that country’s leaders into hurting Biden. The president actually got himself impeached because he was so desperate to unearth something—anything—he could use against Biden.

Then there was the weird way Trump spent years obsessively calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”—until she started challenging Biden. At which point he more or less stopped talking about her. Until her campaign tanked and she was no longer a plausible threat to Biden. At which point Trump was back at it with the Pocahontas stuff again.

And there was that bizarre incident a couple weeks ago when Trump tried to alibi Bernie Sanders after he and Warren got into a he-said/she-said over whether or not he had told her that a woman couldn’t win in 2020. Trump rushed to give Sanders cover, saying, “I don’t believe Bernie said that, I really don’t. It’s not the kind of thing he would say.”

So either Trump has a pretty good handle on Bernie’s thinking or he’s in a spot where he’ll say and do absolutely anything to help any Democrat who might have a shot at taking down Biden.

Fear makes people do strange things.

Well, it’s not that strange, actually. Politicians always want to pick their opponents. It’s what they do.

What’s strange is that Democrats don’t seem to be getting the message that Trump and the Republicans are sending them. And they ought to be.

Back in 2016, Democrats argued that if Vladimir Putin’s Russia was interfering in the election on behalf of Donald Trump, then America should probably pick the other candidate. They were right.

So if, in 2020, Republicans are interfering in the Democratic primaries in an attempt to hurt Joe Biden, there’s probably a message in there somewhere, too.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.