Joni Ernst finally said the one things Republicans have been thinking about the Ukraine scandal, but dared not say.
“Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening and I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters,” the Senator said yesterday. “Those Democratic caucus-goers, will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point?”
If a recent USA Today/Suffolk Poll is any indication, they will; Biden has a narrow lead in the Hawkeye State. Democrats have been quick to defend the former vice president, with Biden himself tweeting: “Joni Ernst just spilled the beans. She and Donald Trump are scared to death I’ll be the nominee.”
I don’t know if Trump and Ernst are scared Biden will be the nominee, but at this point I am. Yesterday, the nation watched as Trump’s defense team ruthlessly and baselessly attacked Biden over his son’s work with Burisma. It doesn’t matter that the Ukrainians have said Hunter Biden — and by extension Joe Biden — did nothing wrong, nor does it matter that there is no evidence Joe Biden used his influence to get Hunter a job or extort the Ukrainian government like evidence suggests Trump himself may have. The Republicans have made it clear that this is a sledgehammer with which they are going to relentlessly beat Biden. That ought to concern Democratic voters.
A story doesn’t have to be true for Donald Trump to use it effectively. From Hillary Clinton’s emails to Benghazi, the 2016 election demonstrated how dirty the GOP can play. They will twist anything to attack their Democratic rivals, morals and ethics and sometimes even the truth be damned. Fifty-eight per cent of Americans already disapprove of Hunter Biden’s role with Burisma, showing the GOP strategy is working. The Republicans will use any ammunition they have to attack the Democratic nominee, and Burisma is a cannon with a lit fuse.
Biden might not want to admit it, but this is an albatross around his neck. It’s only going to get worse. He still commands a slight lead over Trump in the national polls, but the president is gaining ground. He’s also just getting started. Democrats have largely refrained from attacking Biden over Ukraine, but Trump won’t. The GOP will ensure Burisma becomes shorthand for scandal and corruption the way “but her emails” did. Just like those emails, it won’t matter that Biden did nothing wrong. The damage will be done.
It’s not just Ukraine, either. Biden is running on his storied career, touting his long record of public service and highlighting his many accomplishments. In any other year, against any other opponent, this would be an asset. In 2020, though, it is baggage. It’s only a matter of time before Trump starts digging through that record for other things to attack Biden with. His handling of the Anita Hill vote, his long history of touching women’s hair, the Obama-era “Fast and Furious” operation, any number of gaffes along the way — Biden gives Trump a lot to work with.
If all of this seems wildly unfair, well, it is. The swiftboating of John Kerry in 2004, when he was baselessly and maliciously accused of lying about his service in Vietnam, helped lead to the re-election of George W Bush. Republicans can be unscrupulous, and Trump more so. An attack doesn’t have to be true, just effective. John Kerry was unable to control the narrative about his military service and never recovered from those attacks. They cost him the presidency.
It’s concerning, then, that Biden isn’t great at responding to these scandals. His 1988 presidential campaign was derailed by accusations that he plagiarized a speech given by Neil Kinnock (then the leader of the UK’s Labour Party). Rather than accepting fault — as he finally did in his 2008 memoir — and moving on, Biden doubled down. His campaign never recovered.
We can’t afford that level of political mishandling in 2020. The stakes are too high. We need a candidate who doesn’t provide easy fodder for Republican attacks and can withstand the barrage of fire coming her or his way. That candidate isn’t Joe Biden. It’s reprehensible what the Republicans are doing, and it’s infuriating to think about what is yet to come. I feel for Biden, a consummate public servant who has accomplished so much and who now, at the end of his career, is the victim of a smear campaign by a reality TV star. It’s infuriating. The fact is, though, that as much as Biden wants to be the nominee, he isn’t the person best suited to defeat Donald Trump. In a cruel twist of fate, his greatest asset — his decades of experience and accomplishments — is his greatest liability.
In a perfect world, Biden would realize this and do what he’s always done: put the party and the country first by dropping out of the race. If not, Democratic voters should remember this as they caucus and cast their ballots. We need a candidate who won’t crumble under Donald Trump’s attacks. Joe Biden isn’t that candidate.