Two years ago, in August, 2017 in an InsiderNJ column, “An End to Booker’s 2020 Presidential Prospects?”,(https://www.insidernj.com/end-bookers-2020-presidential-prospects/),I predicted that former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick would be elected President of the United States in 2020.
Punditry is a hazardous exercise. While most of the time my predictions have been accurate, there are times when my forecasts have been way wide of the mark. When Patrick announced a year later in December, 2018 that he would not be seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, I chalked it up as another prediction of mine that had gone awry.
Yet the events of recent days in the US House of Representatives presidential impeachment hearings have elevated an issue for Joe Biden that could upend his status as the Democratic presidential frontrunner, to wit, the relationship of his son, Hunter Biden with the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.
And Deval Patrick, who announced his intention to enter the race on November 13, is the candidate best equipped and best situated to supplant Biden as the frontrunner.
At this point, a word is in order regarding the impeachment hearings. The uncontroverted facts prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Donald Trump attempted to solicit Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky into targeting an investigation of the Bidens, Joe and Hunter in exchange for the release of critical American military aid.
Bribery is an impeachable offense specifically enumerated as such in the Constitution. The term “bribery” is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty. Essentially, bribery is offering to do something for someone for the expressed purpose of receiving something in exchange.
And the facts in the Trump dialogue with Zelensky and the ensuing acts by American Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland establish an irrefutable “political dirt for arms” solicitation by Donald Trump, a clearly egregious commission of the impeachable offense of bribery.
And Trump’s Congressional Republican sycophants at the impeachment hearings have been an abject failure in refuting the bribery case. They have raised two pathetic and indeed ludicrous defenses.
The first is that Trump ultimately agreed to release the aid without a commitment by Zelensky to target the Bidens for investigation. This is no defense at all. Attempted bribery is as much a crime as bribery itself, and Trump had clearly made the bribery solicitation attempt prior to agreeing to release the military aid.
The second is no legal defense at all, but indeed a pure political defense, summed up by two words, “so what?” The argument is that Trump’s conduct, whether or not unlawful, does not warrant removal from office of the president. Americans are not tolerant of presidential corruption, and this GOP political defense is doomed to ignominious rejection by the national electorate.
Yet while Congressional Republican efforts to defend Trump have only made things worse for him, they scored a blow against Biden, ironically through the testimony of senior state department official George Kent, whose statements regarding Trump were most legally damaging, yet whose comments regarding Joe Biden, while actually legally absolving the Bidens, deepened a political problem for the former Vice President.
Specifically, Kent stated that he never saw any effort by U.S. officials to shield from scrutiny Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company where Hunter Biden sat on the board. But he did say that he, Kent raised concerns in 2015 that Hunter’s status could create the perception of a conflict of interest on the part of the Vice President.
There has never been a scintilla of evidence that in the course of his activities as Vice President to eradicate corruption in the Ukraine, Joe Biden took any action that benefited, intentionally or unintentionally, Hunter Biden or Burisma. Perception in politics, however, is just as important as reality, and the media will make sure that the perception issue described by George Kent will haunt Biden throughout the nomination campaign.
The timing of the Kent testimony regarding the perception of a Biden conflict of interest was most unfortunate for him. It came at a time where contrary to the media conventional wisdom, Biden was actually solidifying his status as the frontrunner.
In order to retain his frontrunner status at the time of the most critical South Carolina primary on February 29, Biden only needs to win one of the first three Democratic contests – the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, and the Nevada caucuses. The most recent polls show him leading in New Hampshire and Nevada.
If Biden wins in South Carolina, I would expect him to roll to the nomination in the primaries after that.
Much has been discussed about Biden’s campaign cash problems. He has been burning cash, evidently due to excessive expenditures on travel.
Yet Biden’s current fundraising problems would not be the first time a candidate who had run low on cash came back to win the presidential nomination. In 2008, prior to the New Hampshire primary, the John McCain campaign was hemorrhaging cash, and pundits at the time were forecasting the demise of his candidacy and the emergence of Mitt Romney as the presidential nominee.
With the aid of a few good polls, however, and the efforts of his top fundraisers, including New Jersey’s Lew Eisenberg, currently the Ambassador to Italy, McCain quickly had his campaign coffers refilled, and he rebounded to win the nomination. In the absence of some unforeseen adverse campaign, Biden could be expected to quickly rebound in the fundraising arena as well.
In my view, the one issue that could result in Biden losing his grip as the frontrunner would be the Hunter Biden/Burisma issue. It would hardly hurt him in the general election campaign, given the questionable business ethics of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. In the primaries, however, it could derail him. We will only have a sense of this in the polls over the next few weeks.
If Biden falters, the question is which center-left candidate is the most likely to supplant him as the frontrunner, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg, or Deval Patrick. Biden will not lose his lead to a Democratic Progressive Left Candidate. He was abundantly successful in the debates in tying Elizabeth Warren to her Medicare for All proposals and compelling her to concede its grossly excessive costs. The Democratic 2020 presidential campaign will not be won by the Progressive Left.
The major strength of the Biden campaign is the overwhelming advantage he has in support from the African-American community, which constitutes approximately 25 per cent of the Democratic primary election vote. And both Buttigieg and Bloomberg are anathema to a large percentage of the African-American community.
Buttigieg’s problems with the African-American community do not result primarily from anti-gay sentiment among older African-American men, as has been alleged. Rather, his opposition from the African-American community originated during his mayoral administration in South Bend, Indiana, where the local African-American community felt that he was largely non-responsive to their concerns, specifically on police practices.
Similarly, Michael Bloomberg has a major problem with the African-American community, due to his implementation of his “stop and frisk” policy. Full disclosure: While serving as Bush 43 Region 2 EPA Regional Administrator, I worked closely with Bloomberg and his top aides, Dan Doctoroff and Ed Skyler. I believe he would be an excellent president.
I do not believe that either Pete Buttigieg or Michael Bloomberg is a racist. Police practices, particularly perceived police brutality, however, continues to be the major flashpoint in relationships between largely white city administrations and their respective African-American communities. And this is fifty-one years after the Kerner Commission identified police practices as the major cause of the race riots of the 1960s. I do not foresee either Bloomberg or Buttigieg resolving their African-American community problems.
By contrast, Deval Patrick is a source of tremendous pride to the African-American community as an individual triumphing over racism and poverty and attaining supreme success in the legal, financial, and political worlds.
Most significantly, he will have the support, openly I believe, of Barack Obama and the Obama network, including David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett. Together with his Bain Capital connections, the Obama network will be of enormous value to him in both fundraising and campaign strategy.
The major problem Patrick faces is his need to create a campaign operational infrastructure in short order. The Iowa caucuses are only three months away. The Obama network could be of value to Deval Patrick in this regard as well.
It is too early to forecast a meltdown in Joe Biden’s frontrunner status. But if such a Biden collapse occurs, look for Deval Patrick to inherit the mantle of leading center-left candidate – and for Donald Trump to attack him with racist smears.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.