Opinion | White House

In politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over

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When the great Yankees catcher and everyman-philosopher Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over till it's over," he probably had in mind a surprise ninth inning comeback by his power-hitting Bronx Bombers. But Yogi's wisdom applies to the world of politics, too.

At the moment, things are not looking good for Donald Trump. Virtually every poll has him losing to Joe Biden. But November - the political equivalent of the ninth inning - is a long way off. 

So far, Joe Biden's strategy has worked: Keep a low profile, say as little as possible, keep off-the-cuff remarks to a minimum. And he's got something else going for him: Donald Trump, whose foot keeps winding up in his mouth.

Yet, sooner or later, if he can discipline himself, President Trump will remind voters that Joe Biden ran as a traditional Democrat; that he ran as a moderate. And that that's why the former vice president beat Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg and a few other progressive contenders in the primaries. 

Democratic voters sent a clear message during those primaries: They didn't want radical change; they rejected progressive promises to fundamentally alter the landscape of America.

But now it looks like Joe Biden somehow missed all that. He recently tweeted that, "We won't just rebuild this nation - we'll transform it."

Transform it? Really? To what?

Running as a moderate won him the support of not only Democrats who opted for modest reform, but also independents and even some conservative Republicans who are unhappy with President Trump. Telling voters that he now wants to "transform" America may not be the message moderate Democrats and swing voters were hoping to hear from Joe Biden. 

And it may even hit them that "transformation" is part of the vocabulary of people such as Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y,), two pols no one has accused of being moderate.

Then there's a possible Biden running mate, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who was asked by Dana Bash on CNN if statues of George Washington should be taken down. Bash never got a straight answer to her direct question. Instead, Duckworth claimed - incorrectly - that President Trump "spent all his time talking about dead traitors" in his speech at Mount Rushmore on July 3. 

The president didn't mention even one Confederate general in that speech, so Bash said: "But George Washington, I don't think anybody would call him a traitor. And there are moves by some to remove statues of him. Is that a good idea?"

Another direct question from the journalist that drew another wobbly response from the politician: All Sen. Duckworth could muster was, "I think we should listen to everybody. I think we should listen to the arguments there." 

Again, Duckworth is said to be on a short list of Biden running mates. And if she believes Americans should even consider removing statues of George Washington, then it's not unreasonable to conclude that so-called mainstream Democrats are so timid, so frightened, that they're prepared to surrender to the hard-left wing of the party. 

As for Joe Biden himself: He already has moved to the left - and he'll probably need to move even further in that direction in order to make peace with the "Bernie Bros," if he doesn't want them to sit at home on Election Day. (Just to make sure his supporters understand that Joe Biden isn't really the moderate he claimed to be, Sanders told them that with all the compromises Biden is making, he would be "the most progressive president since FDR.")

Something else voters will take into account between now and Nov. 3 is that it isn't Trump supporters who want to defund the police - or eliminate police departments all together. It's the progressives who want to do that.

And it's not right-wing goons who are toppling statues they don't like.  It's the left wing mob that's doing that.  

If Donald Trump can control his combative instincts and make a reasonable case that if voters choose Biden, they'll get the whole left-wing package along with him, if the president can make the case that Biden is his party's presumptive nominee because he sold himself to them as a middle-of-the-road politician but really isn't - then Trump will have a chance to turn things around by November. 

With every statue that is toppled, with every call to "transform" America, with every demand that some poor soul be fired for having an unacceptable opinion, Joe Biden runs the risk of looking like a hostage, trapped inside a party that's defined not by a moderate political philosophy, but by the vision of the revolutionaries in the streets.

There still are the debates to come, in which Joe Biden won't be able to keep a low profile, say as little as possible and keep his off-the-cuff remarks to a minimum.

There's still the much-anticipated Durham report, which may put Democrats in a bad (and possibly criminal) light, and may get voters to rethink who they want to run the country for the next four years.

There are still hot summer nights to come that will entice more revolutionaries to hit the streets with their ropes and chains and a mission to rid America of its history - both good and bad.

At the moment, the polls are telling us that voters don't like Donald Trump. But that doesn't mean they've fallen head-over-heels for Joe Biden, who I think it's fair to say is not an impressive figure.  

These are not normal times. In just a few short months we've witnessed a worldwide pandemic and an American cultural revolution, which came to life as George Floyd lay on the street in Minneapolis dying. 

The political landscape is no longer on terra firma; it's shifting by the minute. 

The ninth inning is looming but it's still a long way off. And so, it ain't over till it's over.

Bernard Goldberg, an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist, is a correspondent with HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel." He previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.