The Memo: Upended 2020 puts Biden in driver's seat

The Memo: Upended 2020 puts Biden in driver's seat
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If 2020 had turned out to be a normal year, Democrats would be preparing to hold their national convention in Milwaukee next week.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFormer Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida MORE would have officially accepted his party’s nomination amid pomp and glitz — doing so more than a month before President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE would hold the equivalent GOP event in Charlotte, N.C.

But amid the coronavirus, the date for the Democratic convention has been pushed back a month, and the event will be held on a much smaller scale.

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Plans for the Republican convention are also in flux, and it appears Trump will accept the nomination in Jacksonville, Fla.

Biden may miss out on the publicity boost from an early, larger convention — but he is also in a much stronger position than many pundits had predicted.

After a fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Biden came back to secure the Democratic nomination faster than has happened in the last two contested cycles of 2008 and 2016.

On Wednesday, Biden and his main rival for the nomination, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters Republicans not immune to the malady that hobbled Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election MORE (I-Vt.), announced that their representatives had finalized agreed positions on key issues for the Democratic platform.

“While Joe Biden and I, and our supporters, have strong disagreements about some of the most important issues facing our country, we also understand that we must come together in order to defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history,” Sanders said in a statement.

Biden has also jumped into a significant polling lead as Trump has come under fire for his response to the coronavirus.

In the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average of national polls, Biden led Trump by almost 9 points on Wednesday evening. Biden also has leads in the RCP averages in several swing states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Arizona — all of which were won by Trump in 2016.

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Biden’s lead is at least as much a consequence of Trump’s missteps as any particular standout moment from the former vice president.

The economy had previously been seen as Trump’s strongest card by far. Now, with unemployment in double digits as a result of the pandemic, that situation has changed utterly.

Trump’s bellicose rhetoric on race has also been politically ineffective. Polling shows his response to the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May has been broadly unpopular.

But some Democrats say Biden does deserve some credit — even as they acknowledge Trump’s self-inflicted political injuries.

“I have no idea what the Trump people are doing — their messaging is all over the place,” said veteran Democratic strategist and pollster Bill Carrick. “That has certainly contributed enormously to his depressed state in the polls.”

“But, on the other hand, I think it would be wrong to assume that there isn’t also a comparative choice being made by a considerable number of people who have a much higher comfort level with Vice President Biden as a serious, stable leader,” he added.

Carrick was skeptical that the loss of the big July convention would harm Biden.

The quadrennial events can be particularly useful to introduce a nominee who has only recently come to national prominence or who represents in some sense a break with the past.

But people’s familiarity with Biden may make that kind of introduction superfluous. Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972; has run for president twice before, in 1988 and 2008; and served eight years with former President Obama.

Still, Trump allies hearken back to how bad the polls looked for their candidate in 2016, until he pulled a huge surprise on Election Day.

They believe the opinion polls are understating backing for the president, a point made by Trump’s deputy campaign manager Bill Stepien in a memo late last month. And they insist that Biden remains vulnerable, in part because of his age.

Biden is 77. His mental acuity has been questioned by Trump, and the president’s campaign is already hitting the issue repeatedly in campaign ads.

There is also the question of fundraising. Biden and the Democratic National Committee have outraised Trump and the Republican National Committee in both May and June — but Team Trump had a considerable head start.

Trump and his allies had $295 million cash on hand at the end of last month. Biden’s campaign has not released its equivalent figure but it is thought, from other financial filings, to be significantly lower.

Some Democrats, too, warn their colleagues against complacency.

One Democratic strategist who asked for anonymity to speak candidly said of Biden that he would almost certainly win an election held today.

“But the election isn’t today. Elections are not decided in June or July,” the strategist added. “120 days is a lifetime in politics, and who knows how many twists and turns we will have over the next 120 days.”

This strategist also expressed concern about people in Biden’s orbit.

“I think they are being a bit cocky,” the source warned. “They are seeing an incredibly flawed president and they … aren’t looking at what can also happen.”

The dangers, as some Democrats see them, are not just that the Trump campaign can erode Biden’s popularity. There are some fears within the party that the former vice president is relying too much on antipathy toward Trump rather than making a case for his own candidacy.

Biden is due to deliver a major speech on the economy in Pennsylvania on Thursday, which might mitigate those concerns.

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Carrick said Biden should keep making comparisons, both positive and negative, with Trump. But he said that the later, smaller convention should be the least of his concerns.

“The problems the country is facing are so intense — between COVID-19 and the economy and the issue of racial justice — that I just don’t know the conventions would have cut through in any case,” he said.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.