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Why Is the Media Sleeping on Joe Biden?

September 20, 2019
Why Is the Media Sleeping on Joe Biden?

1. Biden

Here’s the big headline over at Fox:

“Fox News Poll: Biden at new low in Democratic primary race.”

Yikes! That sounds really bad!

Except that . . . well, here’s what the new Fox poll shows:

Biden’s previous high in their poll was 35 percent. That was in May. He’s now all the way down to 29 percent. Which is, as the headline says, a “new low” in their poll.

Here are some other things the Fox poll shows:

  • Bernie Sanders is in second place with 18 percent and his number has remained unchanged.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s high-water mark in the poll was 20 percent. That was in August. In the new Fox poll she’s fallen 4 points to 16 percent.
  • No one else is in double-digits.

So some alternate possible headlines for this piece might have been “Sanders reclaims second place in new poll.” Or, “Warren slips to third.”

Because there are three main findings in this poll:

  • Biden support drops by 17 percent of its total
  • Warren support drops by 20 percent of its total
  • Sanders moves past Warren to reclaim second place.

Which do you think is the most salient?

I keep talking up Biden and I realize it must sound like I’m president of his fan club. But mostly I’m just annoyed by how undervalued he seems to be by pretty much everyone in the media. Most of the liberal media wants to pretend Biden is weak because they prefer Warren or Sanders. Most of the conservative media wants to pretend Biden is weak because he’s the strongest opponent for Trump.

And the mainstream media wants to see Biden falter because “Popular. moderate, former vice president wins nomination” is the most boring storyline around. In the age of Trump, stuff like this isn’t supposed to happen in politics anymore.

None of this is to say that Biden will absolutely win the nomination. Nothing is a sure-thing. He has weaknesses. You can sketch out pathways to the nomination for two or three other candidates. I still don’t rule out someone else jumping into the race at the last minute.

But it seems to me that any objective read on the race should come to the conclusion that Biden is in a very strong position and is the clear favorite to be the Democratic nominee. If you had to bet $100 on either Biden or the field, then at this point that’s a pretty close call.

It’s weird how very little of the coverage seems to reflect that.

2. Harris

Then again, there’s a lot of stuff that happens in campaign world that doesn’t make a ton of sense. Consider this Politico story about Kamala Harris deciding that she’s going to go all-in on Iowa:

Kamala Harris is putting her stumbling campaign on the line with a new Iowa-or-bust strategy: She’s shifting away from the closed-door fundraisers that dominated her summer calendar to focus on retail politicking in the crucial kickoff state.Harris huddled with top campaign officials Tuesday in Baltimore to discuss the next steps as a series of polls show her plummeting into the mid-single digits. She’s not expected to significantly alter her message. Instead, Harris is planning to make weekly visits to the state and nearly double the size of her 65-person ground operation, sources familiar with the discussions told POLITICO.

The re-engagement in Iowa — where the California senator held a 17-stop bus tour in August but hasn’t returned since — is part of a broader acknowledgment inside the campaign that she hasn’t been in the early states enough. It’s designed to refocus her campaign and clarify her narrowing path to the nomination.

How do I put this delicately?

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Harris’s problem isn’t that she hasn’t been to Iowa enough or that she doesn’t have enough staff.

Her problem—her entire problem—is that she doesn’t have a message. She has no rationale for her campaign aside from the fact that she’s a good politician with theoretically-perfect demographic appeal.

Is she the most progressive candidate in the race? No.

Is she the most moderate candidate in the race? No.

Does she have a broad vision for changing America’s economic compact? Or for returning to the political culture of a former era? Is she running to fix climate change? Or healthcare? Or the Supreme Court? Or political corruption? Or corporate malfeasance?

On the one hand, yes, she’s running to do all of this. Sort of.

But on the other hand, she’s not really running on any of it.

It’s not impossible to win a party’s nomination without any real ideas. Bob Dole did it. John Kerry did it.

But to do so, you normally need overwhelming institutional advantages built into your race. Harris has a lot of things going for her. But overwhelming institutional advantage isn’t one of them.

If I was advising the Harris campaign, I’d tell the candidate to forget going big in Iowa. First, sit down and ask yourself, seriously, what do I want to do as president? Why should it be me? How do I convey that—or at least the idea of it—in a phrase.

And then I’d go to work trying to explain that vision to voters.

The mechanics of campaign work are important. And ideas aren’t always enough to win all by themselves. But it’s very, very hard to win without one.

3. The Fitbit

Wired has the story of a murder whose only witness was a Fitbit:

Karen was 67 and lived alone with her two cats in a house on Terra Noble Way. She worked as a pharmacy tech at a San Jose hospital, and when she didn’t show up for work, a coworker stopped by to check on her. The front door was unlocked, and, once inside, the coworker found Karen’s corpse in a chair at the dining room table, her legs stretched out, her head slumped over the chair’s back, bloody from bash wounds that an attorney would later say “destroyed her identity.” Her right hand clutched a Flint kitchen knife with an 8-inch blade. Her throat was slit, twice.

The investigators who arrived saw no telltale spatter of a throat-slashing; the slice had happened after she was already dead. In fact, it looked not only as if the scene had been staged but ham-handedly so, without a clear idea of the faux plot. The knife in Karen’s hand seemed to suggest suicide, yet the knocked-over chairs indicated a struggle. Her bedroom and kitchen drawers were open or on the floor as if ransacked, but the drawers were neat, their contents intact, with cash, jewelry, and electronics still in the house, financial documents on the kitchen table.

The criminal oversights didn’t end there. As Karen’s body was unzipped from the body bag and laid out at the morgue, the coroner took note of a black band still encircling her left wrist: a Fitbit Alta HR—a smartwatch that tracks heartbeat and movement. A judge signed a warrant to extract its data, which seemed to tell the story Karen couldn’t: On Saturday, September 8, five days before she was found, Karen’s heart rate had spiked and then plummeted. By 3:28 in the afternoon, the Fitbit wasn’t registering a heartbeat.

Police also collected video from a neighbor’s Ring surveillance camera that pointed in the direction of Karen’s house. The footage showed that before and after 3:28 pm, a gray car was parked in her driveway. That afternoon, a Toyota Corolla of the same color had shuttled over to her house with fresh-from-the-oven biscotti in a ziplock bag and slices of foil-wrapped pizza on a paper plate—a surprise treat from the driver: Karen’s 90-year-old stepdad, Tony Aiello.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.