Every pause imaginable The American Conservative
Lucky: How Joe Biden barely won the presidencyby Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes (Crown: 2021), 528 pages.
To today’s Americans who refer to Joe Biden as “Transformation” Presidents, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes Happy is a sobering reminder of how close Donald Trump is to re-election. Unlike those who see Biden as a little less than transformative, Happy suggests they were sold a bill of materials.
Allen and Parnes, their book Smashed described the dire dysfunction of the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, are seasoned journalists whose many contacts with insiders from both the Democratic and Republican campaigns enable them to reconstruct key moments on Joe Biden’s path to victory in November 2020. Allen and Parnes are making no effort to cover up their anti-Trump sentiments.
Yet, Happy provides an insightful glimpse into the drama behind Biden’s march to the White House. In 2020, they conclude, Biden “caught every imaginable break”, but his victory fell short of a slam dunk. The White House’s gain was offset by democratic losses in the house seats and in the state legislature. Biden, Allen and Parnes note, “had no coattails.”
Allen and Parnes document that the centrist core of the party was confronted with the “worst-case scenario” until February 2020, in which Bernie Sanders won the nomination. Meanwhile, Biden, “the national front runner … had played his first three debates”. He was out of money, he had fired his campaign manager, his aides “were on each other’s neck” and Michael Bloomberg was breathing down his throat.
Then came the turning point. The majority whip Jim Clyburn, a Democratic godfather and consigliere in one, endorsed Biden before elementary school in South Carolina, where he then destroyed Sanders. Clyburn’s approval and shockwaves carried Biden through Super Tuesday as Democratic voters rallied behind the former vice president as the only hope of derailing Sanders. No one in Biden’s camp had ever seen such a sudden reversal of happiness. Not in a political race with such high stakes, ”comment Allen and Parnes. One of Clyburn’s coworkers said to him, “Damn it, Jim, you’ve got more strokes than we thought.”
What Allen and Parnes call “the Clyburn Effect” catapulted Biden to the national convention. After Biden rose to victory on Super Tuesday, recommendations from Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke quickly followed. In early April, Sanders threw his support behind Biden.
By then, the “Obama world” had taken over his campaign. Neither Obama nor his “crowd” were even enthusiastic about Biden’s candidacy. “The invasion of the Obama people,” Allen and Parnes admit, signaled a major turning point in Biden’s fortune.
The real game changer, however, was COVID. The pandemic stalled the economy, closed businesses and left Americans unemployed. Biden used it as an excuse to retreat to the basement of his Delaware house, claiming he didn’t want to get sick or infect anyone. Some employees complained about the look of “confiscating your stupid uncle in the basement”, but Biden’s withdrawal from spontaneous encounters with voters made it less likely that he would deviate from the script. On March 10, in front of reporters, Biden called a Detroit auto worker “horse’s ass” and told him, “You are full of shit.” Along with Biden’s other verbal gaffes, an outburst like this gave his dealers every reason in the world to cut back on his public appearances.
One Biden aide admitted, “COVID is the best thing that has ever happened to him.” An unnamed Trump official told Allen and Parnes, “By the time the COVID thing came up, we’d won four hundred votes.” Biden was able to look compassionate and responsible in his self-quarantine, while the very public Donald Trump appeared to many voters to ignore the severity of the coronavirus.
Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as a vice presidential candidate, reader of Happy is reminded that she left the race for the Democratic nomination in December 2019 after staff argued, single-digit inquiries and donors fled her campaign. Allen and Parnes write that Harris “cultivated more enemies and opponents than friends in home state politics”. She “whirled through aides like a wood chopper.” Even the Black Caucus was “lukewarm at best on Harris”. It is amazing to see that the same woman who was “not seen as a team player” in her own party is now a heartbeat (in the chest of a 78-year-old) away from the presidency.
As gripping and eye-opening as Happy is, the full story of how Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump cannot be looked at. It seems a bit strange that Allen and Parnes refer only to Trump’s Operation Warp Speed in their foreword and not by name. There’s no mention of Tara Reade, who in March 2020 accused Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993 while she was working in his Senate office. It took that New York Times 19 days to tell the story and then just to question honesty. To a party closely tied to the #MeToo mantra that every woman must be believed, it is puzzling how Allen and Parnes chose not to write about the controversy created by Reade’s allegations.
Neither is it mentioned that Mike Podhorzer secretly fought in 2020 to make sure Trump lost the election. Americans didn’t learn about it until February 4, 2021 time Magazine about the shadow efforts made by Democratic Activists, Organized Workers, Large Corporations, Never Trump Republicans and Social Activists to counter Trump’s alleged attack on democracy through clever use of the media and electoral law. Podhorzer’s campaign turned out to be bipartisan and intended solely to defend the “integrity” of the elections, but his anti-Trump animus was never in doubt.
Last but not least, Twitter and Facebook took the “unusual steps” Washington PostOwn words, an October article in the New York Post via Hunter Biden’s laptop and email, while the accounts of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany are temporarily suspended New York Postand the Trump campaign. The tech giants defended the move, saying they didn’t want a “hack and leak” situation that swings a choice. The media’s efforts to keep Hunter Biden’s news in front of the electorate certainly deserves some attention Happy.
In other words, Joe Biden might be lucky thanks to the timing of the pandemic, but he also had strong forces working behind the scenes to get him across the finish line. Allen and Parnes are right that Biden’s “mild message and empty agenda” allowed many voters to project their hopes for a better future on him. Many envisioned Biden offering a return to a pre-Trump era. The reality is different, as confirmed in 2021. Amid the talk of statehood for the District of Columbia, an unprecedented $ 1.9 trillion stimulus plan, and legislation to legalize voting and protect gender identity under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many Americans might rightly wonder if they voted for it.
Ian Dowbiggin is Professor of History at Prince Edward Island University.