At first it looked as though the Democratic debate in Miami last night was going to be sickening. Candidate after candidate described their personal illnesses or medical traumas, ranging from car accidents to prostate cancer, to try and demonstrate their sympathy for the healthcare challenges that ordinary Americans face. But then the debate took a fiery turn as Kamala Harris targeted Joe Biden for destruction, zeroing in on his conciliatory remarks about working with segregationist senators and his past opposition for school busing. John Cassidy observed, ‘Considering the debate over all, Biden’s performance raised fresh doubts about his preparation, age, grasp of the environment in which he is operating, and basic political skills.’ Indeed, Biden looked as though he was in a state of cataleptic shock, lending unintended gravity to his plaintive remark, ‘My time is up, I’m sorry.’
Actually, it isn’t. Biden may have experienced a stinging setback last night as Harris propelled herself into the front-rank of candidates. But there’s no cogent reason to believe that he’s toast. For one thing, Harris may have successfully deployed race to shake up the presidential race, but it’s also the case that it’s not as though she herself comes to this debate without a controversial past. She has repeatedly come under fire for her record as a prosecutor, earning a reputation for being tough on black people, not crime — something that Biden alluded to when he replied, ‘I was a public defender. I wasn’t a prosecutor.’ She’s defended that record. But in targeting Biden, she does at least open herself up to the charge of hypocrisy. Now that Harris has earned the limelight, she will come under much closer scrutiny as the media inevitably tries to tear down what it has built up.
Nor is this all. The upside for Biden is that he’s experiencing a severe buffeting at the outset. Harris delivered her best shot early on. Now Biden has time to adapt. He will be able to see who in his campaign has the nerves and fortitude to carry on without panicking. His would hardly be the first campaign to experience turmoil before recovering. Ronald Reagan suffered some severe setbacks during the 1979 campaign, when George H.W. Bush won Iowa, claiming ‘Big Mo.’ Reagan ended up firing his campaign manager, John Sears and replacing him with William Casey.
For now, however, Biden doesn’t need to adopt any drastic measures. He simply needs to show that he can take a punch and rebound. His appearance before the Rainbow/PUSH International Convention today in Chicago gives him a moment for a fresh start. Harris may have put Biden in a Miami vise last evening, but he has sufficient time to wriggle out of it.