Remember the 2016 Republican primary, in which the also-ran candidates took turns bashing one another to establish themselves as the one standing when Trump imploded, only Trump just easily skated to the nomination? Well….
The moderators kicked things off by baiting Sen. Bernie Sanders and the former vice president into arguing about the Iraq War authorization vote in 2002. But even as Sanders stuck to his guns on this point, he wasn’t able to zoom out and explain what about Biden’s foreign policy record should make voters worried about his approach as president.
But that didn’t happen either. Instead, the biggest heat of the night came from a slightly odd Sanders-Warren disagreement over whether a 1990 election constituted something that happened “in the past 30 years.”
And it’s not just that the progressives didn’t really take on Biden; the moderates didn’t either. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota reiterated her electability pitch, and it’s a pretty good one. But right now, electability-minded moderates are voting for Biden, and you can’t win them over without making a case against Biden any more than Sanders or Warren can beat Biden without really criticizing him.
To an extent, the issue is a tactical dilemma in a crowded field. It’s in everyone’s interest for someone to go after Biden, but it’s not necessarily in any particular candidate’s interest to be the one to do it.
The collective action problem is real, although as Yglesias goes on to note the only time Harris’s campaign showed any signs of life is when she went after Biden in the debates.
Indeed, in some ways the failure to go after Biden is even more inexplicable than the Republican dynamic in 2016. There were two things that made going after Trump particularly difficult: 1)his shrewd decision to depart from party orthodoxy mainly on points where the orthodoxy didn’t command a lot of support among rank-and-file Republicans, and 2)his extraordinary ability to crowd other candidates out of media coverage. Sanders and Warren have obvious substantive lines of attack against Biden on issues where their positions are more popular among Democratic voters, they laid the background for them, and…then did nothing. I don’t get it, but I’m sure Biden is thrilled that we’re going to move on to days of Handshakegazi instead.