The Atlantic Politics Daily: How It All Went Wrong for Biden

A post-mortem on Joe Biden’s disappointing fourth-place finish in Iowa. Plus: how the Trump campaign plans to weaponize disinformation in 2020.

It’s Thursday, February 6. The president took a victory lap at the White House today after being acquitted on both articles of impeachment.

In the rest of today’s newsletter: A post-mortem on Joe Biden’s fourth-place finish in Iowa. Plus: how the Trump campaign plans to weaponize disinformation in 2020.



How Joe Biden Blew the Caucus

He had it coming.

That’s my colleague Edward-Isaac Dovere’s takeaway on the Biden campaign’s apparent implosion in Iowa.

The former vice president came in a distant fourth behind former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, acknowledging his poor performance during a campaign stop in New Hampshire: A “gut punch,” he admitted.

But how did he miss the many clear signs of a flagging campaign? Isaac writes:

Biden and his aides have long insisted that they were totally fine with how few people were showing up to see him. They were not. They tried to fill the rooms. It didn’t work. They learned to accept that the crowds would never come, and tried to build a campaign around never getting them.

They failed.

The question now isn’t whether Biden can make a comeback in New Hampshire. It’s whether he has enough campaign cash left to even pay for his travel to the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday in March. A Biden collapse and a Sanders surge could open up a path to a contested convention (here’s how that happens).

—Christian Paz

(Mark Peckmezian)

On the heels of his Iowa troubles, at a televised town hall last night, Biden opened up about his own struggle with stuttering—a stunning move for a politician who’s thus far had a more complicated, cagey view toward his stutter.

John Hendrickson, one of our senior editors for politics, wrote about this key part of Biden’s life and how it factors (or doesn’t) into his presidential run. Now is a good time to revisit that profile.



1. “Trump reversed Lincoln’s famous formulation, instead promising malice toward all, and charity for none.”

Trump’s East Room speech today was the latest reminder of this president’s ability to win when the odds are against him—and gloat rather than moving on, David A. Graham writes.

2. “He tarred Joe Biden … with the kind of vague suspicion of wrongdoing that presidential candidates can’t easily shake.”

The person who seems to have taken the greatest hit from the last several months of impeachment proceedings seems to be Joe Biden, not Donald Trump, Peter Beinart argues.

3. “Today, a new anti-migration theme is sweeping the country: Build a wall to keep out the Californians.”

Signs of a “California Exodus” seem to be everywhere, with the state seeing a net loss of 40,000 residents due to migration just last year. But California’s is not unprecedented. Derek Thompson takes a closer look at the numbers.



The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President

In 2016, the Trump campaign’s rag-tag social-media operation helped power the candidate to victory. This time around, the campaign’s operation looks a whole lot different—and it could have a colossal impact on the race going forward. McKay Coppins writes:

Every presidential campaign sees its share of spin and misdirection, but this year’s contest promises to be different. In conversations with political strategists and other experts, a dystopian picture of the general election comes into view—one shaped by coordinated bot attacks, Potemkin local-news sites, micro-targeted fearmongering, and anonymous mass texting. Both parties will have these tools at their disposal. But in the hands of a president who lies constantly, who traffics in conspiracy theories, and who readily manipulates the levers of government for his own gain, their potential to wreak havoc is enormous.

Read the rest.


Today’s newsletter was written by Christian Paz, a Politics fellow and Saahil Desai, an editor on the Politics desk. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

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