Former vice president Joe Biden’s final TV ad, part of a $4 million campaign buy before the Iowa caucuses, neatly sums up his appeal:

We do not know if the ad was put together before or after the gobsmacking USA Today/Ipsos poll showing Americans overwhelmingly (52 percent to 34 percent) think President Trump’s killing of Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani was reckless, while more than 60 percent say it makes it more likely that we will have a war with Iran. In any case, Biden’s team has grasped that rather than rally around Trump, voters understand that an impulsive, narcissistic, ignorant and dishonest president is a danger to them personally. This is not an abstract matter of Middle East diplomacy nor about the merits per se of the Iran nuclear deal. It’s about Trump and the metastasizing danger that flows from an unhinged commander in chief. In laymen’s terms: He’s nutty and will to get us into another war.

Premised on that assessment, Biden’s ad contains some explicit and implicit arguments. First — see the picture with President Barack Obama — he reminds voters once more, he is the candidate who was at Obama’s side for eight years. Let others dump on the record of the most popular man in the Democratic Party, Biden seems to be saying. I was there during the tough times.

Second, while his opponents do not show up in the ad, Biden forces us to consider who else we would trust at the helm after Trump has created such a terrifying and chaotic situation. If he was being explicit, the announcer would intone, “You’re going to trust the kid ex-mayor, the anti-war lefties or a techie?”

Third, it is no mere coincidence Biden appears so vigorous and fit, often in the presence of the troops. The leather jacket and dark sunglasses create that familiar presidential image. Vigor, energy, strength. Is there an implicit dig at the 78-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the guy who had a heart attack and has not released his complete medical record? Perhaps.

Fourth, it’s a not-so-subtle reminder that Trump is going to use his position as commander in chief, as his allies are doing already, to claim the Democrats are terrorist-loving weaklings. Biden’s ad tells voters that he’s ready to debunk that claim. In other words, he is the most electable because of the war-and-peace issue.

The debate next week may create some dicey moments for all the candidates on these foreign policy issues. Consider how the field might respond to queries on the topic: Was Soleimani assassinated? Is it a good thing he is dead? Did Trump’s actions lead to the deaths of the passengers on the Ukrainian airliner?

In response to each question, the uber-progressives Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) might try to play to the most progressive, most dovish voices in the party. That would simply confirm Biden’s point that they risk getting outfoxed by Trump as weak on defense.

The smart answers would be:

  • Let the lawyers debate “assassination." I want to know if it is smart and makes us safer. (Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg essentially gave this answer.)
  • We should hope the life expectancy of all terrorists is short. But if the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the terrorist groups he coordinated with are still there, if we have triggered more Iranian retaliatory actions, if we get thrown out of Iraq before we’ve entirely eradicated the Islamic State (leaving Iran to dominate) and our allies run for the hills, then, no, Trump’s provocation is not a good thing.
  • The passengers of the Ukrainian plane reportedly shot down by Iranian missiles were killed, by the way, with weapons supplied by Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump will never challenge. However, when we recklessly provoke military conflict, our opponents — who do not operate with the same ethical framework and level of competency we do — will wind up killing a lot of innocent bystanders. We don’t want Iran lashing out, which is why I would not have pulled out of the Iran deal and sought regime change in all but name.

If Biden wins the nomination, it will be in part because he knows that most Democratic voters feel unnerved, worry Trump will get the best of his less experienced opponents and trust Obama’s former vice president. Biden’s last ad helps in that regard, but we’ll have to see if his final debate performance before Iowa seals the deal.

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