Last week, I attended Joe Biden’s first rally in California since he launched his presidential campaign more than six months ago.
It was revealing.
The Biden for President campaign had been using social media and its email list in the Los Angeles area to urge attendance. Under sunny skies, near abundant free parking, the outdoor rally on the campus of LA’s Trade-Technical College offered a chance to hear the man widely heralded as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
No more than 500 people showed up.
Admittedly, as an active Bernie Sanders supporter, I didn’t have high expectations. But what struck me about the rally went beyond the dismal turnout and the stale rhetoric from a corporate Democrat posing as a champion of working people.
Biden’s slow decline in polls is empirical, but what ails his campaign—as reflected in that California kickoff rally—is almost ineffable. Biden is a back-to-the-future product who often seems clueless about the present. In view of so many deep and widespread concerns, from income inequality to healthcare disparities to the climate emergency, his talking points are simply beside the point.
The Biden base has two main components: the corporate media outlets that routinely protect him from critical scrutiny, and the rich people who routinely infuse his lackluster campaign with cash. When and where he isn’t getting fuel from either component of that base, the campaign sputters.
Contrasts with the large and passionate rallies for Sanders and Elizabeth Warren could hardly be greater. Not coincidentally, those two candidates are glad to rely on large numbers of small donations, while Biden relies on small numbers of large donations.
Biden is so afraid of Democratic activists that -- for the second time this year -- he declined an invitation to join other candidates in speaking to a convention of the California Democratic Party. The latest convention heard from eight presidential candidates on Nov. 16, two days after Biden’s kickoff rally, no more than an hour’s drive away in Long Beach.
While careful to stay away from engaged grassroots Democrats, Biden made a beeline for wealthy donors immediately after his sparsely attended rally. First, he hurried over to a reception in West Los Angeles (tickets up to $1,000 each). Later that evening, a local TV station noted, Biden’s fundraising schedule took him to “the Pacific Palisades home of Rick Lynch, the owner of the entertainment marketing firm BLT Communications, and music video producer Lanette Phillips,” with tickets “priced at $500 and $2,800, the maximum individual contribution during the primary campaign.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Biden “previously made eight fundraising trips to California since entering the race in late April, visiting at least once a month. He has headlined 21 fundraisers in the state, raising money at the homes of Hollywood executives, Silicon Valley tech leaders and other affluent Democrats.”
Among some who roll their eyes about Biden, a kind of conventional wisdom now says that he is sure to fade from contention. But—in the absence of comparable polling numbers from the numerous other corporate candidates in the race—the Biden campaign is likely to be the best bet for deep-pocketed political investors seeking to prevent the nomination of Sanders or Warren.
Biden’s decision last month to greenlight super PACs on his behalf has underscored just how eager he is to bankroll his AstroTurf campaign against grassroots progressives no matter what. As he said during an interview in January 2018, “you shouldn’t accept any money from a super PAC, because people can’t possibly trust you.” But ultimately, Biden doesn’t need people’s trust. He needs their acquiescence.