Published February 6, 2020
Waterloo, Iowa — After trying twice before to win the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, Joe Biden has spent the 2020 primary acting like a man scrambling to catch up with his moment, afraid it may have passed him by. And with good reason.
At campaign events in eastern Iowa the week before the caucuses, Biden focused most of his meandering rhetoric on President Trump and didn’t do anything to rebut — implicitly or explicitly — claims from his Democratic opponents that his candidacy is too backward-looking, too moderate for 2020.
It turns out that Iowa caucus-goers were inclined to agree with the former vice president’s critics. The results from Iowa were incomplete at the time this issue went to press — thanks to the malfunctioning of a new app the Democratic party was relying on to report totals in each precinct — but it was clear that Biden’s campaign had flopped. In one precinct, Iowa’s attorney general was forced to switch his support from Biden to former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg after Biden was disqualified for lack of support.
This outcome isn’t surprising to anyone who witnessed Biden’s efforts to connect with voters in the final days of the campaign in Iowa. On the weekend before Monday’s caucuses, I watched the former vice president give his closing pitch in eastern Iowa, which contains the state’s second-biggest city, Cedar Rapids. In the bustling, mid-sized city — with a pretty riverfront spanned by a handful of old bridges and topped by an old sign for a still-operational Quaker Oats cereal mill — breweries seem to appear around every corner. One I visited was packed with customers at 11:30 a.m., there to taste the latest offerings just half an hour after the doors had opened for the day.
Biden’s events over the course of the week continually drew tiny crowds, and his speeches were increasingly rote, unfocused, and lackluster. On the stump, he sounds depleted of energy, substituting occasional bursts of anger for the enthusiasm his voice lacks. The Saturday before the caucuses, his campaign stops in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo attracted just a few hundred people each, compared with thousands not just for Vermont senator Bernie Sanders but even for his surrogates.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center