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PoliticsBiden’s First Run for President Was a Calamity. Some Missteps Still Resonate.

19:30  03 june  2019
19:30  03 june  2019 Source:   nytimes.com

Joe Biden’s campaign of limited exposure: How long can he keep it up?

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Some Missteps Still Resonate . In 1988, Joe Biden was prone to embellishment. Young, Brash and Reckless: Why Biden ’ s First Run for President Failed. When Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. sought the 1988 Democratic nomination for president , he was a young lawmaker running on a message of

That' s why I 'm running for president . Let' s build opportunity for every American and restore integrity to our government.” Is best known for being a part of the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group that crafted a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013.

Biden’s First Run for President Was a Calamity. Some Missteps Still Resonate.
Biden’s First Run for President Was a Calamity. Some Missteps Still Resonate.
Biden’s First Run for President Was a Calamity. Some Missteps Still Resonate.
Biden’s First Run for President Was a Calamity. Some Missteps Still Resonate.
Biden’s First Run for President Was a Calamity. Some Missteps Still Resonate.
Biden’s First Run for President Was a Calamity. Some Missteps Still Resonate.
Biden’s First Run for President Was a Calamity. Some Missteps Still Resonate.

Joe Biden was riffing again — an R.F.K. anecdote, a word about “civil wrongs,” a meandering joke about the baseball commissioner — and aides knew enough to worry a little.

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Walk, Run, Cha-Cha. Biden ’ s First Run for President Was a Calamity . Some Missteps Still Resonate . Best of Late Night: Joe Biden ’ s Run Has Late Night Looking for a Fight. After weeks on run, yak that escaped while headed to a butcher in US is found dead. One of Peter Thiel’s closest aides

But this video, aimed at her neighbors, was an announcement: Redemption was here. A nonprofit called Mined Minds, promising to teach West Virginians how to write computer code and then get them well-paying jobs, was looking for recruits. “ I wholeheartedly believe, and will always believe,” Ms

“When I marched in the civil rights movement, I did not march with a 12-point program,” Mr. Biden thundered, testing his presidential message in February 1987 before a New Hampshire audience. “I marched with tens of thousands of others to change attitudes. And we changed attitudes.”

More than once, advisers had gently reminded Mr. Biden of the problem with this formulation: He had not actually marched during the civil rights movement. And more than once, Mr. Biden assured them he understood — and kept telling the story anyway.

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By that September, his recklessness as a candidate had caught up with him. He was accused of plagiarizing in campaign speeches. He had inflated his academic record. Reporters began calling out his exaggerated youth activism.

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“I’ve done some dumb things,” Mr. Biden conceded at a stop-the-bleeding news conference at the Capitol. “And I’ll do dumb things again.”

He vowed that day to fight on. He quit the race within a week.

Thirty-two years later, as Mr. Biden seeks the presidency for a third time, his disastrous campaign for the 1988 Democratic nomination offers a revealing look at the personal tics and political flaws of the front-runner in the 2020 race — traits that, in many ways, continue to color Mr. Biden’s public life.

Mr. Biden was, and remains, a “gut politician,” as he has long told associates — swaggering, ad-libbing, liable to get carried away in front of a crowd. Already this year, he has boasted of his purportedly peerless foreign policy knowledge, comparing himself favorably to Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state. He has suggested, implausibly, that he has the most progressive record in the 2020 field. He has muddled through explanations of his treatment of Anita Hill when she accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, at times stopping himself midsentence to abandon a line of defense.

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Read: Is Joe Biden running for president ? Biden pulled the plug at the last minute in 2015, and some of those closest to him warn he still may this time. Biden and his aides think Bernie Sanders, who is a year older, might help neutralize the issue of Biden ’ s age. He would be attempting to run a first -among-equals campaign, which Biden allies think might be helped by all those in the Democratic

Former president Barack Obama is reportedly worried in running for president , Joe Biden will But despite Biden and Obama's relationship being largely rosy, "Mr. Biden ’ s simmering ambition was a First , in 2016, Obama pressured Biden to sit out the race because he believed Hillary Clinton was the

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Biden allies insist this run will succeed where his others failed. His discipline has improved, they say. He is now widely known and admired in the Democratic Party, affording him more latitude for slip-ups. For the first time, he enters the race as a genuine favorite, requiring no introduction.

But interviews with top advisers and confidants from then and now help explain how Mr. Biden came to see himself as presidential material in the first place, and suggest that the central tensions and vulnerabilities laid bare during Biden ’88 remain the most urgent questions at the core of Biden 2020:

Can he credibly present himself as a man in step with the times without sounding off-key or stretching the truth, as he did while gilding his 1960s-era biography?

Can he win while mounting another campaign premised as much on personal characteristics — his decency, his integrity, his presumed electability — as any particular policy platform?

In both the 1988 race and today, Mr. Biden has seemed to see the nation at a turning point, in need of a particular kind of leader.

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During his first run, he liked to say that presidential history ran in cycles: bursts of progress and upheaval, followed by periods of correction in which voters choose a candidate who can “let America catch its breath.”

His implication then, as a 44-year-old senator from Delaware, was that he belonged to the first group of political figures: the sprightly agitators. His pitch this time, as a septuagenarian two-term vice president, places him firmly in the second camp: He is now the stabilizing statesman, in his telling, poised to deliver the nation from the Trumpian tumult.

“It’s kind of funny in retrospect,” said Mike Lux, a top Biden aide in Iowa in 1988. “A lot of the message was based on sort of ‘time for generational change.’ Now, he is sort of the opposite of the changing of the guard.”

These days, Mr. Biden, whose campaign declined to make him available for an interview, keeps an understated schedule, holding far fewer events than most rivals. But in his first race, his candidacy could feel like an exercise in performative stamina — sustained by an uncommon talent for talk-until-they-leave speechifying and an oversize bottle of Tylenol that helped ease foreboding headaches on the road.

Storming across Iowa in a maroon and gray campaign van, Mr. Biden asked his team to blast the “Les Misérables” cassette (“One day morrrrrrre / Another day, another destiny”) because it helped him think. At events, he would smile almost mockingly at staff members signaling for him to wrap up, long after they had handed reporters prewritten text with a semi-wry warning in capital letters atop the page: “Senator may stray from prepared remarks.”

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The downsides of this high-intensity approach became clear in time. Oversubscribed and running himself ragged — presidential contender, Senate committee chairman, father of teenagers — Mr. Biden began making the mistakes that would shape his enduring reputation for carelessness in speech: loose talk, citation-free borrowing, outright misstatements. (Twenty years later, he reinforced the trope almost immediately upon entering the 2008 presidential race, giving an interview in which he inelegantly called Barack Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”)

Other old habits have likewise persisted. Long before he hesitated on campaign decisions before the 2016 and 2020 elections, Mr. Biden spent much of his 1988 run doubting its very wisdom: Was the team ready? Was he?

At one point before his official announcement, he asked his son Hunter what to do.

“If you don’t do it now, I couldn’t see you doing it some other time,” Hunter reasoned, according to a Time magazine article in 1987.

“Yeah,” Mr. Biden agreed. “That’s the thing.”

‘I decided I could beat them’

For a while, Mr. Biden’s mouth was his best asset.

He had flirted with a run in 1984, establishing himself as an estimable orator with a speech in Atlantic City invoking the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Just because our political heroes were murdered,” he said, months before the 1984 primaries, “does not mean that the dream does not still live, buried deep in our broken hearts.”

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The flourish seemed to signal the kind of candidate Mr. Biden hoped to be four years later, when he decided to explore a run more seriously: aspirational, of the times — but also a bit of a throwback, a bridge between political moments.

While many Democrats weary of Reagan-era Republicanism envisioned their party racing to the left, Mr. Biden chafed as some advisers nudged him toward a kind of zealous populism, an imperfect fit for the candidate’s within-the-system sensibility. “I wore sport coats,” Mr. Biden told reporters once, explaining his limited involvement in antiwar fervor. “I was not part of that.”

Presaging his current bet on political centrism, Mr. Biden appeared wary of catering to the party’s base. Asked in February 1987 if Democrats’ success in the 1986 midterms showed that the country was becoming more liberal, Mr. Biden gave an unqualified no. “I think my party would make a big mistake if they read it that way,” he said.

Less clear to Mr. Biden was precisely what he did want to say. In his 2007 book, “Promises to Keep,” Mr. Biden wrote that his early message felt “a bit opaque, like audiences were hearing me through a veil.”

He struggled to verbalize a campaign rationale that felt true to him, in “words that felt absolutely authentic.” He went ahead anyway.

“I started looking at the race through the wrong prism,” he wrote. “I looked around, judged myself against the other potential candidates for the nomination, and by the beginning of 1987 I decided I could beat them.”

For a time, he had a case. On raw ability, few in the underwhelming field — known derisively as “the seven dwarfs” in the political press — could hope to match Mr. Biden, who quickly outpaced many of them in crowd size and early fund-raising.

Rival camps took notice of Mr. Biden’s progress, viewing him as a growing force in a primary race that included Gov. Michael Dukakis, Representative Richard A. Gephardt and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Gary Hart, a former senator and the early front-runner, dropped out in the spring amid allegations of an extramarital affair.)

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“He was going to be a problem,” Joe Trippi, a strategist who worked for Mr. Hart and later Mr. Gephardt, said of Mr. Biden. “He always had that ability to connect.”

Ever the tactile politician, Mr. Biden seemed to relish finding the holdouts in an audience and trying to flip them. At one event in Iowa, Mr. Biden came upon a woman who refused to turn to face him. He approached from behind and continued the speech with his hands on her shoulders. “The woman looked like she’d swallowed her tongue,” the journalist Richard Ben Cramer wrote in “What It Takes,” his magisterial book about the 1988 campaign.

Mr. Biden also engendered fierce loyalty on his team, growing close to several aides who remain part of his extended political family. Staff nicknames were assigned as a matter of course, “almost like ‘Animal House,’” said John Anzalone (“Zo” to the candidate), a pollster who worked on the 1988 campaign and has advised the current one.

But for all the enthusiasm on the ground, there were early signs of indiscipline, starting at the top.

In February of 1987, Mr. Biden borrowed from a Robert Kennedy speech without attribution, later saying the remarks had been written for him; the incident initially went unreported. In April — as one of his headaches flared, Mr. Biden would later recall — a camera crew caught him berating a New Hampshire man who asked about his academic history.

“I probably have a much higher I.Q. than you do, I suspect,” Mr. Biden shot back, before exaggerating his record in school. The clip did not initially find wide circulation.

By June, on the eve of his planned kickoff, Mr. Biden was still unsure if he wanted to run at all.

“He said, ‘I just don’t feel right about this,’” recalled Ted Kaufman, a longtime adviser and close friend who briefly succeeded Mr. Biden in the Senate when he became vice president.

It was left to Mr. Biden’s wife, Jill, to talk him down: Too many people, she said, had already committed too much to the cause.

The campaign summoned reporters to Wilmington, Del., for a special announcement.

Hints of a troubling pattern

Much of Mr. Biden’s reluctance owed to concerns about balancing his duties in Washington. He was right to be worried.

Within weeks of Mr. Biden’s official entry, President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Robert H. Bork, an unflinching conservative, to the Supreme Court. Mr. Biden, leading the Senate committee overseeing the confirmation process, was gifted a high-profile showcase, with the court’s balance at stake.

Quickly, though, the drawbacks of this ostensible political blessing became clear: His Senate work was dividing his attention and limiting his preparation for campaign events.

The first major primary debate came just after Mr. Bork’s nomination, and Mr. Biden has said he was plainly distracted. Reviews were unkind. “Unless we ditch television for the remainder of the campaign,” wrote Tom Shales of The Washington Post, “Biden will never be president.”

A debate in Iowa the next month would prove far more damaging. On the drive to the venue, Mr. Biden found himself without a closing statement. An aide, David Wilhelm, suggested he repurpose something that had been working well on the trail: a refrain — credited to Neil Kinnock, the British Labour Party leader — about giving citizens “a platform upon which to stand,” with anecdotes from Mr. Kinnock’s family of Welsh coal miners.

Not long before, Mr. Biden had received a videotape of Mr. Kinnock’s remarks from Bill Schneider, a writer and political commentator. The candidate instantly admired their emotional power. At campaign events, Mr. Biden had repeatedly attributed Mr. Kinnock’s words properly. At the debate, compressing his closing argument into the allotted time, he did not.

“It was an unremarkable moment to me,” Mr. Wilhelm said. “Shows how much I know.”

Rivals knew better. With a nudge from the Dukakis campaign, several news outlets, including The New York Times, The Des Moines Register and NBC News, reported weeks later on Mr. Biden’s lifted passages.

He has suggested his whole life might have changed if he had said two words on the debate stage: “Like Kinnock …”

But the criticism ran deeper than finger-wagging about proper citation. The burgeoning scandal seemed to confirm a persistent critique of Mr. Biden: that he lacked his own vision, his own story to tell.

“He talked as if the details of Kinnock’s background were details of his own,” Mr. Schneider said. At the debate, Mr. Biden had implied that he descended from coal miners, like Mr. Kinnock did. (Years later, as Mr. Biden sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Schneider recalled encountering him shortly after a primary debate. Mr. Biden had not forgotten Mr. Schneider’s role in the fateful Kinnock affair. “Got any hot videotapes?” the candidate joked.)

Perhaps most concerning for his 1988 campaign, news accounts began to hint at a troubling pattern in Mr. Biden’s behavior. The San Jose Mercury News flagged his failure to cite Robert Kennedy. Newsweek wrote about the video of Mr. Biden insulting a voter while misstating his academic record. And that record, according to a rash of new reports, included an episode of plagiarism in law school.

“It was a tsunami,” Valerie Biden Owens, his sister and longtime top campaign adviser, said in a recent interview.

Aides believed that reporters — perhaps emboldened by the sensational fall of Mr. Hart — were overhyping Mr. Biden’s misdeeds. Top advisers insist to this day that their candidate’s sins were minor, and that he was wronged.

On Sept. 17, Mr. Biden called a news conference at the Capitol to explain himself. By turns contrite and simmering, he said the law school citation issue was not “malevolent.” He took responsibility for not knowing that he was using Mr. Kennedy’s words in the February speech. He acknowledged that he had forgotten to cite Mr. Kinnock at the debate. And he seemed to seethe at reporters’ questions about the extent of his activism on civil rights and Vietnam.

“I find y’all going back and saying, ‘Well, where were you, Senator Biden, at the time?’ — you know, I think it’s bizarre,” Mr. Biden said, adding: “Other people marched. I ran for office.”

He said he had no plans to drop out.

“I am in this race to stay, I am in this race to win,” he said. “And here I come.”

An excruciating decision

And there he went.

Initially, Mr. Biden convinced himself there was a way to do it all: defend his name, win the Bork fight, charge into primary season.

“This would have passed,” said Mr. Kaufman, Mr. Biden’s longtime adviser. “Most of it had no substance to it.”

Others were less certain. Congressional supporters asked Mr. Biden if they should expect more shoes to drop. “I just, honest to God, don’t know,” he said, according to Mr. Cramer’s “What It Takes.”

As the campaign team convened in Mr. Biden’s Wilmington living room, most saw no choice but to quit. Mr. Biden’s eldest son, Beau, then a college freshman, argued the other side, saying that exiting the race would validate the allegations.

Mark Gitenstein, a top aide on the Judiciary Committee, feared that Mr. Biden’s flagging reputation might imperil the Senate vote if he did not end his candidacy: “If we win Bork, it will be in spite of us,” he told Mr. Biden, according to Mr. Biden’s book. “If we lose now, it’s going to be because of us.”

Mr. Biden had his advisers draft a statement. Reporters were told to gather at the Capitol for an announcement, six days after the last one.

“With incredible reluctance,” Mr. Biden told them, he was ending his campaign.

“It’s time for me to assess my mistakes and make sure I don’t make them again,” he said, while also lamenting “the environment of presidential politics” that had allowed his biography to be reduced to a few missteps.

He collected himself. “Lest I say something that might be somewhat sarcastic,” Mr. Biden said, “I should go to the Bork hearing.”

Within weeks, he would help defeat the Bork nomination, paving the way for a more moderate choice, Justice Anthony Kennedy, to join the court.

Within months, he was hitting the speaking circuit again, cautiously going about repairing his image, even as he smarted over how the campaign had collapsed.

That is how Mr. Biden found himself in Rochester in February 1988, settling into his hotel room after a speech. Only snippets remain memorable to him now: mulling a late-night pizza delivery, waking up on the floor some time later, straining to understand the impossible pounding in his head — “something like lightning flashing,” Mr. Biden wrote in his book.

An aneurysm.

Mr. Biden made it back to Wilmington, weak and gray, before it was diagnosed. He was hustled to a hospital, where family members gathered. A priest was called in to administer last rites.

That would prove premature. And after surgery, the family developed a grand theory of it all — the campaign, the scare, the cosmic plan for Joe Biden.

In his book, Mr. Biden recalled a conversation with his wife as he was recovering. The emergency had come in the middle of the primary calendar, she reminded him. He would have been going full blast across New Hampshire, campaigning like his life depended on it.

“Would I have stopped long enough for treatment?” Mr. Biden wrote. “Would I have tried to push through the pain?”

Both of them seemed to know the answer: One loss had prevented a bigger one.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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