Joe Biden’s scorching ad against Pete Buttigieg serves a purpose (opinion)

The ad highlights the important domestic and international issues Biden has dealt with in his career, like helping pass the Affordable Care Act and negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, and contrasts those with Buttigieg’s initiatives in South Bend like the crisis of lost pets.

The attack ad signals a new phase of the primary contest where candidates need to move voters, both for them and against their opponents, in order to survive in the race. Biden, who came in a distant fourth in Iowa, knows how difficult it is to win if he can’t slow the Buttigieg momentum now.

There are two important questions the aggressive ad raises: Will it work for Biden and is it political suicide for Democrats to be training their guns on each other instead of President Donald Trump?

First Biden. Slowing Buttigieg’s momentum is critical, but the real question is whether going negative could result in damage to Biden’s standing with voters. The advertisement is unlikely to help Biden in the short term because it is so off brand.

Biden genuinely doesn’t like to go after fellow Democrats — it’s just not in his nature.

The former vice president has tried to keep the focus on Trump, and as the perceived frontrunner, has avoided hand-to-hand combat with other candidates, with the exception of responding to attacks on his record. The message to avoid the “circular firing squad” has been a consistent one since he launched his campaign and was delivered as recently as in Friday’s debate and Saturday on the stump. There is some cognitive dissonance between the Biden on the stump and the advertisement on the air. And that rarely works in campaigns.

The attack ad also comes a week too late. The campaign had to have seen the momentum Buttigieg was building in Iowa. Waiting until a rival wins, or co-wins, the first campaign test makes the negative attack seem desperate, rather than strategic. If Biden had launched the attack before the Iowa caucuses, before he severely underperformed, the ad would have had much more impact. He might have slowed the Buttigieg momentum and looked less desperate than he does today.

On the positive side for Biden, his overall strategy is to survive until the candidates get to South Carolina. Iowa and New Hampshire are two of the least racially diverse states in the country. Biden has a long history of working with and appealing to the African American community. Buttigieg does not — a point Biden’s ad hammers home by referencing the mayor’s controversial demotion of the African American police chief of South Bend.
The more important question for Democrats is does this new phase of negative campaigning doom them to the circular firing squad that Biden and Barack Obama have been warning against and make it more likely Donald Trump wins a second term?
After fiasco, Iowa results matter less

The answer to that question is no. The nomination process is a sophisticated vetting process that each party hopes produces the strongest candidate. The ability to throw an effective punch and the ability to take one is an essential part of taking the case to Trump in the fall.

Democrats want to know whether Biden has the ability to be aggressive and put his opponents on the defensive. Just as important, they want to know that Buttigieg can take that punch and neutralize whatever negatives his lack of experience on the national stage bring. The issue is especially important, given Trump’s performance as President and his noted lack of experience in any type of governing prior to taking office.

Pressure rises on Dems to stand out in the debate
Buttigieg responded directly to Biden on Sunday morning on Jake Tapper’s “State of the Union,” arguing that he had a unique set of experiences as a Midwestern mayor and military veteran. His task going forward will be to convince Democrats around the country that his lack of DC experience and his roots in the Midwest are a net positive in taking on the President.

He needs to mitigate the risk of nominating a political novice for the most powerful job in the world. In my view, he has more to do to accomplish that, but now, before we pick a nominee, is the time to do it.

Simply put, we need to play out all the political battles in the nomination process and test our candidates so that we do nominate the best candidate and there are no big surprises in the general election. In 2016, many Democrats lauded Bernie Sanders for not attacking Hillary Clinton about her emails and instead telling a debate moderator, Americans “are sick and tired of hearing about [her] damn emails.”

In retrospect, getting the email server debate out on the table and letting voters decide if it was an important issue would probably have been better for Democrats than ignoring it. My guess is Democrats voting in the primaries wouldn’t have cared much, but the issue would have been fully explored and not as ripe as it was for Trump in the fall campaign.

Tuesday night’s New Hampshire primary will give us a window, but not a complete picture of the effectiveness of Biden’s ad. We’ll have to wait until Nevada or South Carolina for a fuller judgment. But for the party, as hard as it may be to watch, this is the kind of back-and-forth that will produce the best candidate to take on Donald Trump.

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