Many pundits joked that when former Vice President Joe Biden gave his final answer in the Democrat debate on Tuesday night in Westerville, Ohio, he missed an opportunity to tell the story of “Corn Pop” again.
So the story from Biden goes, gangster “Corn Pop” represented a serious threat to Biden when he was a lifeguard at a community pool. Corn Pop, who actually was real, supposedly carried a straight razor and after an altercation with young lifeguard Biden threatened to meet him in the parking lot later—so young Biden claims he threatened to wrap a chain around Corn Pop’s head.
The whole blowup was over Biden allegedly calling Corn Pop “Esther,” a derisive insult drawn from the swimmer Esther Williams that apparently was akin to calling the gangster a girl. But before things devolved into a razor-versus-chain race war in the parking lot later, Biden says he apologized to Corn Pop for the insult, which defused the situation—and the incident has become part of Biden’s political folklore storyline of being a grand negotiator who can calmly lead in tense political situations, especially those involving race.
Though it seems an incredible story, Biden included it in his 2007 autobiography and it was a central part of a dedication ceremony at a Delaware public pool at which Biden spoke in 2017. The NAACP even confirmed the details of Corn Pop and his existence for those questioning it.
So when moderator Anderson Cooper at the end of the CNN-New York Times debate on Tuesday night closed down the debate with a question about a unique and different friendship that has shaped their lives, one would have thought the moderators were teeing Biden up for a perfect Corn Pop moment.
Last week, Ellen DeGeneres was criticized after she and former President George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship, saying, we’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different. So in that spirit, we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us and what impact it’s had on you and your beliefs.
Cooper went to all 11 other candidates before getting to Biden, who closed it down at the end, giving Biden plenty of time to think about what he was going to say.
Instead of telling the story of Corn Pop, Biden opted for a more conventional and boring answer, and one already used by several of the other candidates: He talked about his friendship with the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ):
This is reassuring in the fact that we’re all acknowledging that we have to reach across the aisle, get things done. No other way to get anything done in this country. The two people maybe would surprise you the most were — he’s been mentioned twice, but John McCain. John McCain worked for me when he worked in the Navy, and he was — he was my assigned to me to travel around the world. We became close friends. He became very close friends with my wife, Jill. Visited our home. He was there with his children. And on his death bed, he asked me to do his eulogy. John, I would say to John, ‘John, you didn’t see a war you never wanted to fight.’ And he’d say, ‘You didn’t see a problem you never wanted to solve.’ But he was a great man of principle. He was honorable. He was honorable.
Biden finished with typical talking points from his stump speech about why he’s running for president—nothing remarkable, nothing outstanding, and nothing memorable.
Some pundits and observers on Twitter laughed about Biden leaving Corn Pop hanging in favor of the safer McCain story, mocking Biden for being unable to read the room.
Cooper: Who were your surprise friends
Warren: My brothers
Biden: I'M GONNA DO THE CORN POP STORY!!!!! #DemDebates
— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) October 16, 2019
🗣Let me tell you about my shocking friend Corn Pop
— Caity Weaver (@caityweaver) October 16, 2019
i hope Biden picks corn pop for his surprising friendship
— tracy s. rumpkins (@brokeymcpoverty) October 16, 2019
please let Biden answer the "name a weird friend you have" with "Corn Pop"
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) October 16, 2019
Missed opportunity to invoke Corn Pop
— Ellen McGirt (@ellmcgirt) October 16, 2019
While this is more of a lighthearted ribbing of Biden, in an unserious and comedic manner—Corn Pop probably was not the right story anyway for the question—it does illustrate a larger problem with the sliding campaign of the former Vice President.
He again had no major memorable positive moments on a crowded debate stage for the fourth month in a row. Donald Trump, Jr., President Donald Trump’s eldest son, mocked Biden’s lackluster performance in a tweet by noting that, at least this time in the Ohio debate, Biden’s teeth didn’t nearly fall out—as they almost did in the previous debate.
On the bright side, at least Joe’s teeth didn’t fall out this time!
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) October 16, 2019
It seems cruel, but Biden’s teeth did slip and nearly fall out of his mouth in a previous debate, and in a forum his eye exploded, bleeding on live television. Another candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), suffered a heart attack less than two weeks before this debate, pushing health questions–like whether any of these Democrats are actually healthy enough to run for and serve as president–to the forefront of Americans’ minds heading into Tuesday night. Moderators even asked several of the candidates about these concerns in Ohio’s debate.
This all comes as it has been revealed by just-released Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance reports that Biden’s campaign spent more than he raised in funds last quarter, and he keeps slipping in polls behind rivals Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and now lags in the fundraising race as well.
The bigger story that broke during the debate news cycle in its immediate aftermath is Biden spent nearly $2 million more than he raised last quarter—he raised $15.7 million and spent $17.6 million—while he had less than $9 million cash on hand at the end of September. That puts him at less than Sanders’ $33.7 million, less than Warren’s $25.7 million, less than Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s $23.4 million, and even less than the $10.5 million that the flaming-out Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) had.
NEWS: Joe Biden has $8.98 million cash on hand
Sanders: $33.7 million
Warren: $25.7 million
Buttigieg: $23.4 million
Harris: $10.5 million
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) October 16, 2019
At a burn rate like Biden’s running, with not much gas in the tank, the former Vice President could be in some serious trouble in attempting to remain near the front of the pack. He’s already lost his frontrunner status, as Warren has pulled ahead of him in most national polling and in almost every early and battleground state except in the South. CNN’s Chris Cillizza called Biden’s funding lapses a “bombshell” revelation multiple times in a post about the matter, writing that it represents a “SIREN” for Biden’s campaign.
Factor that together with burgeoning attacks on his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings from the White House and President Donald Trump, as well as a media beginning to be receptive to the criticisms, and Joe Biden has a tougher-than-ever road ahead. Hunter Biden’s interview earlier on Tuesday on ABC did his father no favors by most accounts, and even CNN and JournoList founder Ezra Klein of Vox are now saying there is something to all the questions swirling around him and that Democrats need to be prepared to deal with this.
CNN published a fact check after the debate contrasting Biden’s claims he never discussed Hunter’s business dealings with his son with Hunter’s claims he did discuss them with his father.
— CNN (@CNN) October 16, 2019
Klein, meanwhile, laid out in a Vox article how Democrats are woefully unprepared on the Hunter Biden issue should Joe Biden win the nomination, urging Democrats to learn how to talk about it, even if they don’t want to discuss the problems. Klein wrote:
A few things are true about the Hunter Biden story. One is that there’s no evidence Joe Biden did what Donald Trump has accused him of doing: pressuring Ukraine to fire a prosecutor to protect his son from investigation. But another is that Hunter Biden poses real problems for Joe Biden’s campaign, and if Democrats pretend otherwise, they’re making a mistake. Many Democrats consider raising the Hunter Biden question unfair to Joe Biden. Why should he have to answer for the legal actions of his adult son? But no one said politics was fair. And if Democrats avoid the issue, they can be certain Trump will not. Biden’s vulnerability here needs to be tested in the primary, when Democrats have other choices, rather than in the general, when they won’t.
The debate moderators and other candidates barely touched on Hunter Biden during the debate, and only to brush it aside as a non-concern. But Hunter Biden is hardly the only of Joe Biden’s problems after the debate on Tuesday.
There was a particularly memorable moment where, towards the end of the night, both Sanders and Warren extracted a pound of flesh from Biden from the left—significantly undermining his standing with Democrats.
Cooper asked Biden to respond to the broad visions of big, bold change that Warren and Sanders respectively have been laying out:
Vice President Biden, just on either side of you, Senator Warren is calling for big structural change. Senator Sanders is calling for a political revolution. Will their visions attract the kind of voters that the Democrats need to beat Donald Trump?
Biden replied with a claim he is the only one who has gotten anything substantive actually “done” in Washington:
Well, I think their vision is attracting a lot of people, and I think a lot of what they have to say is really important. But, you know, Senator Warren said we can’t be running any vague campaigns. We’ve got to level with people. We’ve got to level with people and tell them exactly what we’re going to do, how we’re going to get it done, and if you can get it done. I’m going to say something that is probably going to offend some people here, but I’m the only one on this stage that has gotten anything really big done, from the Violence Against Women Act to making sure that we pass the Affordable Care Act to being in a position where we, in fact, took almost a $90 billion act that kept us from going into a depression, making us — putting us in a position where I was able to end roe — excuse me, able to end the issue of gun sales in terms of assault weapons. And so the question is, who is best prepared? We all have good ideas. The question is, who is going to be able to get it done? How can you get it done? And I’m not suggesting they can’t, but I’m suggesting that that’s what we should look at. And part of that requires you not being vague. Tell people what it’s going to cost, how you’re going to do it, and why you’re going to do it. That’s the way to get it done. Presidents are supposed to be able to persuade.
After a follow-up question from Cooper asking Biden to further specify exactly whom he said was being “vague,” he took a not-so-veiled shot at the Medicare-for-All vision put forward by Warren and Sanders.
Well, the senator said — she’s being vague on the issue of — actually, both are being vague on the issue of Medicare for all. No, look, here’s the deal. Come on. It costs $30 trillion. Guess what? That’s over $3 trillion — it’s more than the entire federal budget… If you eliminated the entire Pentagon, every single thing, plane, ship, troop, the buildings, everything, satellites, it would get you — it would pay for a total of four months. Four months. Where do you get the rest? Where does it come from?
That opened Sanders up to decimate Biden for “working with Republicans” to back endless wars in the Middle East and trade policies that hurt America’s working class:
Joe, you talked about working with Republicans and getting things done. But you know what you also got done? And I say this as a good friend. You got the disastrous war in Iraq done. You got a bankruptcy bill, which is hurting middle-class families all over this country. You got trade agreements, like NAFTA and PNTR, with China done, which have cost us 4 million jobs. Now, let’s get to Medicare for all. Let’s be honest. We spend twice as much per person as do the people of any other major country on Earth. And the answer is, if we have the guts that I would like to see the Democratic Party have that guts, to stand up to the drug companies and the insurance companies and tell them that the function of health care is to guarantee care to all people, not to make $100 billion in profit.
After back-and-forth between Biden and Sanders in response to Sanders’ smack-down, Warren delivered another brutal blow to Biden. Warren’s reply focused on the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, with which she was intricately involved and for which she receives enormous credit among Democrats:
So you started this question with how you got something done. You know, following the financial crash of 2008, I had an idea for a consumer agency that would keep giant banks from cheating people. And all of the Washington insiders and strategic geniuses said, don’t even try, because you will never get it passed. And sure enough, the big banks fought us. The Republicans fought us. Some of the Democrats fought us. But we got that agency passed into law. It has now forced big banks to return more than $12 billion directly to people they cheated. I served in the Obama administration. I know what we can do by executive authority, and I will use it. In Congress, on the first day, I will pass my anti-corruption bill, which will beat back the influence of money and repeal the filibuster. And the third, we want to get something done in America, we have to get out there and fight for the things that touch people’s lives.
Buttigieg, who had sparred all night with Warren, seemed to sense what was coming next for Biden and attempted to interrupt to spare the former vice president any more pain from the socialists on either side of him. But Biden didn’t take the life raft from South Bend’s mayor, opting instead to further engage with Warren on the 2008 financial crisis. Biden, after fighting the moderators to respond to Warren, attempted to take credit for whipping U.S. Senate votes for the legislation that created the CFPB.
“I agreed with the great job she did, and I went on the floor and got you votes,” Biden said. “I got votes for that bill. I convinced people to vote for it. So let’s get those things straight, too.”
Big mistake for Biden, as evidenced by the leftists on Twitter ripping him for “yelling” at Warren, lecturing the former college professor on her subject of expertise and claiming she couldn’t have done it without his work whipping votes for her project.
I know I'm supposed to be commenting on this debate but honestly I blacked out when Joe Biden interrupted Elizabeth Warren to demand credit for the agency THAT SHE CREATED so I've pretty much missed the last 15 mins
— Draculeah Greenberg (@Leahgreenb) October 16, 2019
The fight over the CFPB was my daily beat for basically a year. I don't remember Joe Biden being involved whatsoever. His adviser Jared Bernstein was a strong supporter but Biden was 100% AWOL. It was well known he and Warren clashed, so it made sense he stayed out. #DemDebate
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) October 16, 2019
Ok now that it’s been a few minutes can I just say that Biden shouldn’t yell at Warren like that again. Not a good look.
— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) October 16, 2019
The fact that Biden yelled at Warren, “I got you the votes!” speaks to everything we know about peak white male fragility. #DemDebate
— Preston Mitchum (@PrestonMitchum) October 16, 2019
That set Warren up for the line of the night, when Cooper gave the spotlight back to her to reply to Biden.
“I am deeply grateful to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law, and I am deeply grateful to every single person who fought for it and who helped pass it into law,” Warren said.
— Erick Fernandez (@ErickFernandez) October 16, 2019
Warren thanking former President Barack Obama, but not Biden, was brutal to Biden. Obama has not endorsed his former vice president in the 2020 Democrat presidential primary, deliberately not supporting his one-time wingman. That void for Biden and lack of support from the Democrats’ most popular star, the former president—despite Biden’s best efforts to closely associate himself with Obama at every turn—cuts like a dagger into his support.
It raises all sorts of questions among Democrats, including most importantly about Biden’s electability, about why they should vote for Biden if Obama won’t even endorse and campaign with him. Making matters worse for Biden is that, the morning after this debate, Obama turned around and endorsed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s re-election north of the border—but still refuses to back his own former right-hand guy.
I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as President. He's a hard-working, effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change. The world needs his progressive leadership now, and I hope our neighbors to the north support him for another term.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) October 16, 2019
“You did a hell of a job in your job,” Biden interrupted Warren’s answer.
“Thank you,” Warren coolly replied to laughter from the audience. She continued:
But understand this. It was a dream big, fight hard. People told me, go for something little, go for something small, go for something that the big corporations will be able to accept. I said, no, let’s go for an agency that will make structural change in our economy.
“And President Obama said, I will fight for that, and he sometimes had to fight against people in his own administration,” Warren continued before Biden interrupted her again.
“Not me!” Biden protested, as Warren refused to credit him with any involvement in the response to the financial crisis.
Warren kept plowing through her answer, ignoring Biden’s protests.
“We have to be willing to make good, big, structural change,” she said.
By Wednesday, Biden seems to have realized just how bad Tuesday’s debate was for his campaign, as before he even left Ohio he was out ripping Sanders and Warren to anyone in the press who would listen, accusing them of “playing Trump’s game and trying to con the American people.”
He ripped Sanders and Warren for not being able to explain how they would pay for their mass increases in government benefits and claimed both were disingenuous.
Meanwhile, the establishment media keeps playing up Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) as candidates they say had big nights, as Democrats desperately look for someone to be able to effectively counter Warren’s and Sanders’ socialist vision—all while establishment-favorite blasts from the past like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the 2016 Democrat nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton are discussed as potential Democrat saviors from the leftist socialist abyss.