Biden Sinks Beneath the Waves in Iowa

In 2008, I knew Hillary Clinton had lost to both Barrack Obama and John Edwards the morning of the Iowa caucuses. I was in a motel room breakfast nook watching Clinton being interviewed on national TV and her smile kept retreating moment by moment during the interview, like an elevator descending floor by floor. Despite trying to put a “brave face” on things, the super-disciplined candidate couldn’t hide the truth about to emerge and that her staff was probably already warning her about.

Dance ahead to 2020, and it was the same thing last night. As I write this piece, the final results from Iowa haven’t yet been announced. But the outline is clear: Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders are all bunched toward the top, with the second tier amounting to a food fight for 4th-place “bragging rights” between Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar.

020420-01 Jackie Biden Fear Smile

In short, for Biden – whose candidacy is based on his electability argument – it was a disaster. On stage, ever the pro he tried to smile big but it was the fearful, grimacing and despondent looks of his loyal wife, Jill, that told the real story. “We feel good about where we are,” said Biden. Yeah, right. “We are punching above our weight,” said Klobuchar. She might end up landing the V.P. slot on a ticket headed by Buttigieg or Mike Bloomberg, but she’s not yet (or ever) in the heavyweight class of boxers. A woman has to be on the ticket for the Democrats to win, I and others believe. In what slot, first or second, president or vice president, will a female appear? And who will get the nod (Warren, Klobuchar, or . . . somebody not named Jill and better at feigning a smile)?

020420-02 Jackie Biden Fear (2)

Trump’s State of Suffering

Comparisons are always tricky: reach too far afield, and you risk looking preposterous. But despite his surname being German (Trumpf), as I watched Donald Trump deliver his first State of the Union speech, I found my mind drifting further south in Europe, to Italy, and in specific to a pair of Italian leaders: Silvio Berlusconi and Benito Mussolini. Comparing Trump to Berlusconi is inevitable enough, two businessmen turned politicians with sexual misdeeds part of their legacy. But due to Trump’s vainglorious nature and related poses, comparing Trump to the man who boasted of having conquered Ethiopia in an earlier era is inevitable, too.

020118 - Trump Berlusconi Mussolini (resize)

Nevertheless, forget the repetition of Trump’s chin stuck out in anger and his chin raised in a sign of anger, disgust and sadness. Trump surveying his “troops” from the podium, namely, the Republican members of Congress seated before him, wasn’t the most emotionally memorable part of the speech. That would be all the attendees honored by name among those sitting in the chamber’s balcony. Like Trump, some of them were proud. Like Trump, almost all of them were given to sadness –many profoundly so. I’m thinking now especially of that pair of parents, each of them having lost a daughter killed by MS-13 gang members, as well as the parents of Otto Warmbier, the young man let free by the North Koreans at the point where he was already practically a corpse.

020118-02 - Warmbier MS-13 (resize)

You have to hand it to Trump: he’s as egocentric as anybody who’s ever walked the earth, and yet his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” had more of a memorable “we” to it than anything Hillary Clinton summoned during the 2016 campaign. Tuesday evening in giving his State of the Union speech, Trump invoked the personal stories of fellow Americans far more than the single time Ronald Reagan did so in initiating the practice of naming guests during his 1982 State of the Union speech.

Was Trump being Reaganesque, however, or still Trump? For my money, I’d say still Trump. Both Republican presidents might be known for signaling resolve, but Reagan is also associated with hope, whereas for my money Trump will forever be associated with grievances and, in a word, suffering. Those parents were clearly still grieving as they sat there in the balcony, the women dabbing away tears, the men likewise with faces contorted by sorrow.

Meanwhile, nearby sat Melania Trump, a fellow sufferer given the recent Wall Street Journal revelation that her husband likely paid $130,000 for Stormy Daniels to remain silent during the 2016 campaign. Why the alleged pay-off? Apparently, Daniels “slept” with Trump back in 2006, four months after Melina gave birth to the couple’s only child: their son Barron. There Melania sat mostly close to stone-faced in the chamber’s balcony last evening, as if playing den mother for all of the suffering on display around her.

It’s enough to make you wonder how both Barron and the country alike will turn out over the long run. Just ask his White House staff. When Donald Trump is involved, happiness is a rare bird. An old joke is that the shortest book in the world is Italian War Heroes. The second shortest book might be Donald Trump Happy. Instead, being satisfied with a state of being endlessly dissatisfied is often about as good as it gets with our current president.