Friday 18 October 2019

Jennifer Rubin: 'Biden and Beto both face big challenges to get Democrats to rally to their cause'

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O’Rourke has all the problems Biden doesn’t –and few of the deficits that Biden must address. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW
O’Rourke has all the problems Biden doesn’t –and few of the deficits that Biden must address. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW

Jennifer Rubin

Neither former vice president Joe Biden nor former congressman Beto O'Rourke of Texas has officially entered the presidential race, but Democratic insiders have little doubt both will take the plunge.

O'Rourke may leap into the fray in the next week or so, Biden early next month. Each will be a top-tier candidate, entering the race with high name ID, a donor base and considerable political talent.

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Biden's challenge is four-fold: Mastering online fundraising; coming to terms with his record on race; maintaining self-discipline; and setting out a vision that is more than a defence of the Obama years.

As for fundraising, the 76-year-old must know what he doesn't know and let social media gurus teach him new fundraising tactics. Presumably he can attract top talent.

On race, Biden's decades-old remarks about segregation and his championing of the crime bill in the 1990s (which led to mass incarceration of African-Americans) are a potential, not unsubstantial problem with one of the most critical groups in the coalition. He will need to take this issue head-on, right up front, express remorse and explain how he has learned about racial injustice over the years. Humility and candour in a major speech (perhaps his kick-off) with an African-American audience might be his best chance to put this behind him.

As for self-discipline, Biden's infamous proclivity for gaffes may not be as much of a danger as an outburst of anger directed at President Donald Trump (Biden's done it before, declaring he'd have "beat the hell out of" Trump in high school) and/or in defence of his family.

In a way, O'Rourke has all the problems Biden doesn't -and few of the deficits that Biden must address. O'Rourke (46) can raise gobs of money online - and likely will when he enters the race. His Senate race showed he can generate wild enthusiasm among non-white voters and young people. He has a vision - healing America, listening to one another, embracing diversity. However, he will have to answer three questions.

First, is he going to run a national, professional campaign or try to wing it with a handful of advisers? If the latter, his campaign will be a disaster waiting to happen and will make plenty of Democrats nervous that he's ill-equipped to take on an incumbent president.

Second, what does he really want to do? "Stronger together" got Hillary Clinton nowhere because it didn't give voters a firm idea of what they were going to do after they got together. Yes, healing and reconciliation, plus optimism and a return to American values, will get plenty of applause. But after that, what will he want to do as president? Showing he has a concrete vision and policy specifics will be essential if he is going to retain and expand support. No more over-sharing on social media. No more "I don't know" answers on big issue. He could use some serious policy speeches with some forward-looking initiatives.

Third, he will be attacked fairly and unfairly. He'll have to reach a balance between showing he can defend himself, on one hand, and, on the other, avoiding the mistake Marco Rubio made in trying to out-Trump Trump.

O'Rourke has more upside than any candidate in the race - if he can show he's serious, competent and tough. Biden will start with a reservoir of goodwill. He'll use his experience to run up a big lead - if he can show he's learned from the past and knows where he wants to take the country. (© Washington Post)

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