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 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.
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.
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.
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.