I think Fred Hiatt is on to something in his Washington Post essay on Friday, headlined "The most illuminating answer Biden gave in his town hall:"
One answer during his Thursday night town hall appearance crystallized why former vice president Joe Biden may be exactly the right person for this moment in American history.
It wasn’t a particularly eloquent answer. It rambled a bit. Political consultants might have judged it a whiff on a fat pitch down the middle of the plate.
But that, in a way, is the point.
The exchange took place toward the end of the show, when a member of the audience, Keenan Wilson, asked Biden “hypothetically, if you lose,” how he would continue fighting for his ideals.
We know how President Trump would have answered: with his usual mix of menace and whine. I won’t lose. I can’t lose. I can only lose if the election is rigged.
Most politicians would also have refused to entertain the hypothetical.
“Keenan, I appreciate the question, but I’m not thinking that way right now,” they would have said. “This election is far too important for us to lose. I’m convinced the American people are ready for a change, and if we just make sure that we all get out and . . .”
Blah blah blah.
That’s not where Biden went.
“Hopefully, I will go back to being a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and making the case that I have been — made and at the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware, focusing on — on these same issues relating to what constitutes decency and honor in this country,” Biden said. “But it’s the thing that’s motivated — my dad used to have an expression, for real. He said, ‘Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity,’ everybody. And it was real. Everybody is.
“And so, whether I’m a defeated candidate for president back teaching, or I’m elected president, it is a major element of everything that I’m about, because it reflects who we are as a nation.”
That’s only part of Biden’s reply — trust me, we don’t have room for it all — but it gives you the idea. He didn’t pretend that losing was impossible. He didn’t pretend he’d never given it any thought. He didn’t even presume that he could, for sure, get his teaching jobs back.
And when moderator George Stephanopoulos followed up by asking, “If you lose, what will that say to you about where America is today?” Biden again accepted the hypothetical — and declined to finger potential scapegoats.
“Well, it could say that I’m a lousy candidate, and I didn’t do a good job,” he said.
That statement was met with applause, not because the audience agreed with the premise, but because we’ve all become so unaccustomed to a politician showing humility in any way.
Trump, of course, lacks such class and introspection. Here he is on Friday, talking about the same subject.
He also seemed to acknowledge things might not go his way in the end. "Running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics puts pressure on me. Could you imagine if I lose?," Trump mused.
"What am I gonna do?," he continued. "I'm not gonna feel so good. Maybe I'll have to leave the country. I don't know."
He couldn't give an honest answer, from the heart. First he had to denigrate his opponent, apparently not realizing, or able to admit, that if he loses to the "worst candidate in history" that will make him even worse. Then he gives a flippant answer, because he's not going to leave the country, and everybody knows it. He'd never get the attention anywhere else that he can get here (unfortunately). He just reeks of insincerity.