Syndicated columnist Susan Estrich: Biden finds his footing
By Susan Estrich
Oh, I know. He tripped.
That's the irony.
The week where he showed that he had found his footing going into the fall election, he tripped over a sandbag at a graduation ceremony and that led the news. If a younger man trips, we laugh at him because he's a klutz. Chevy Chase does Gerald Ford, if you're old enough -- old, being the point. The reason Joe Biden made the news for his misstep, and will continue to make the news if he trips, is because he is old.
The reason he should have made the news is because he managed to do something almost no one does in politics these days: He put together an honest-to-goodness bipartisan majority of legislators who quickly enacted a debt ceiling package that no one loved but was absolutely essential and passed with 17 Republican votes in the Senate after passing with more than two-thirds of House Republicans supporting it. No, it wasn't perfect, but it wasn't nearly as draconian as what Republicans had initially proposed.
Stand up for Joe. Carefully, of course. There's really not much you can do when you're old to prove that you're not too old. Ronald Reagan did well by dismissing it with a joke, promising not to make an issue of his opponent's youth or inexperience. California's Alan Cranston, in his last Senate run, was literally filmed running in one famous television ad. More recently, Joe Biden himself has taken on the age issue by pointing out that he should be credited for having the wisdom that comes with age, and compared not with some mythic 50-year-old but with the alternatives.
Starting, of course, with the not-so-much-younger Republican front-runner, who should be pleased, politically speaking, to see the pool of opponents growing on his side of the aisle. I say pleased because if you are in Donald Trump's position, with a base that seems to grow more solid with each outrage (or perhaps they just grow louder and more energized), the more contestants in the field, the smaller the plurality you actually need to win. Trump doesn't need to grow his base, just to hold on to as much of it as he can, and the more candidates who come in, the less he has to hold on to.
It also affects the process. The bigger the cattle call, the easier it is to skip -- and by cattle call, I mean the endless schedule of primary debates that can make candidates seem smaller than life and are invitations to memorable mistakes that live forever. In a three- or four-person race, a debate looks serious and skipping looks cowardly. Not so a six- or seven- or eight-person cattle call. Then skipping looks like the good judgment of a grown-up.
Of course, Trump's lawyers were at the Justice Department last week to try to convince prosecutors not to indict their client for taking classified documents, even as further details emerged about the former president supposedly admitting on tape to doing just that. If it were anybody but Trump, it might spell trouble. But Trump, having seemingly weathered liability for sexual assault without losing his footing, just continues tripping along. Age has certainly not slowed him down, and somehow, he manages to trip along without falling, at least so far. Needless to say, Biden is not the only one who needs to watch his step.
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