‘If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Joe Biden said Friday in an interview with Lenard Larry McKelvey, better known as “Charlamagne Tha God,” a co-host of the popular “Breakfast Club” radio show. Then all hell broke loose.
Mr. Biden’s remark was offensive, demeaning and dumb. Yet insulting every African-American voter who has considered supporting someone other than the former vice president drew attention away from another disturbing problem: Mr. Biden often speaks as if English were his second language.
For example, when Mr. McKelvey asked if he had an agenda for blacks who feel Democrats take them “for granted,” Mr. Biden said “Absolutely” and then launched a convoluted assault on basic sentence structure.
Mr. Biden: “What would I say? Remember when I said Biden can’t win? The primaries? I kicked everybody’s ass. Excuse me. I won overwhelming. I told you when I got to South Carolina, I won every single county. I won a larger share of the black vote than anybody has, including Barack. I increased the vote in Virginia overwhelmingly by 70%. Look, what people don’t know about me is I come from a state has the eighth-largest black population in America—the eighth-largest. I get 96% of that vote for the last 40 years. They’re the folks, as they say out my way, brung me to the dance. That’s how I got elected every single time and everybody’s shocked. I get overwhelming support from the black leadership, young and old. Every poll shows me way ahead and it’s not just—I hear this, ‘Oh yeah, old blacks are with Biden, but young aren’t.’ Look at the polling data. Polling data, let’s say it’s off by half. Come on, man. Give me a little break here,” and so on.
Mr. Biden didn’t even attempt to describe the agenda he’d offer black voters. And he didn’t win a bigger share of black South Carolina Democrats than Barack Obama did; exit polls say that then-Sen. Obama took 78% of South Carolina’s black voters in the 2008 primary, compared with Mr. Biden’s 61% a dozen years later. Plus, Delaware doesn’t have “the eighth-largest black population in America.” It has the 33rd-largest.
Earlier in the interview, when Mr. Biden was asked how he, isolated in his basement broadcast studio, would “energize people and win,” the 77-year-old candidate responded, “Well, I tell you what I’m doing, I’m following the rules, man. No. 1, I’m keeping the rules. My governor says he doesn’t want us out. I haven’t been out. I wear my mask. I have a mask. I got Secret Service outside. I walk outside, I have it on. They get tested. And by the way, I’m beating them across the board. One hundred and sixty million people have watched me so far on shows like yours. All the stuff about ‘it’s hurting me’ is not hurting me. I’m winning at all those states. I’m ahead in all the national polls.”
Again, no answer to the question, and we’re left wondering how “they” who get tested becomes “them” whom Mr. Biden is beating across the board. In politics, stream of consciousness is rarely effective.
When asked why he was defensive about the 1994 crime bill, Mr. Biden said the real problem was the drug bill a decade earlier. Mr. McKelvey reminded him, “You were a part of that in ’84 as well” (it passed the Senate 91-1). Mr. Biden then spent two minutes in evasive maneuvers, zigging and zagging like a naval convoy trying to avoid being sunk.
Unless Mr. Biden can provide sharper, more coherent answers, he’s better off in the basement. Muddled responses raise questions about his fitness for office and lead to mistakes that advisers feel compelled to overcorrect. For example, Mr. Biden has promised to select a woman as a running mate, and there’s talk that “you ain’t black” means he must now pick a black woman. His team must also be worried about the debates with President Trump, who knows his way around a stage. Just ask the 2016 GOP field.
All this makes Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential pick more important. His running mate will have to carry more of the general-election messaging than normal and spend a lot of time on clean-up duty. The Democrats’ 2020 rallying cry might be: The less of Mr. Biden, the better.