Which raises a question: How vulnerable is current Democratic nominee Joe Biden to a similar effort?
According to Politico, the group will try to “tear down Biden” by pushing the claim that the former vice president has refused to take on the “defund the police” movement. The initial ads feature a retired officer whose daughter was murdered insisting that Biden won’t “take a stand” against the movement, and a widow of a slain officer claiming she hasn’t heard Biden “stand up for law enforcement.”
But there are good reasons to doubt the efficacy of this effort.
First, the Biden campaign is now fully engaged on this front, with Biden just delivering a speech in which he forcefully condemned violence at protests and noted that he has worked with police for many years, while also speaking to the hardships endured by family members of those killed by police.
Crucially, Biden framed his experience with police as something that will equip him to work toward reconciliation between police departments and reform activists. That balance is likely to be appealing to the electoral middle, at a time when majorities have accepted the general argument of protesters that there is a need for systemic police reform and that this is a serious societal problem.
Unlike the Swift boating of Kerry, which concerned a murky, contested event far back in Kerry’s past, the public sees the need for police reform (and the damage inflicted by a failure to get this right) all around us every day. That underlying perception is unlikely to shift much even if many swing voters do get alienated by the violence of people who opportunistically hijack protests.
Biden’s willingness to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and his insistence that effective leadership can bring all stakeholders to the table — messages he pushed during Monday’s speech — are themselves likely to be seen sympathetically by swing voters. This is especially so in contrast with President Trump, who is trying to make all the tensions and violence far worse pretty much daily.
Second, the idea that Biden supports defunding the police is just a weak attack. It has been completely debunked, and it has already been pursued by the Trump campaign for months, including in $20 million worth of ads, with no signs that it’s working. While Trump could get a bump in this effort from his convention and from potentially worsening violence, the full engagement of the Biden camp on this front will probably limit this attack’s effectiveness.
This is just not a line that is likely to resonate with people’s already existing perceptions of Biden. Having been a vice president for eight years, Biden has probably been a known quantity to the national electorate (and a better known one, too) for far longer than Kerry was when he became the nominee.
Finally, the media is far more pointed in debunking falsehoods and its infrastructure substantially more built out for fact checking than in 2004. And right now social media, which can be very effective in tracking falsehoods circulated under the radar (as Swift boating seeks to do) and taking them down hard, is obviously a force that simply didn’t exist back then. The electorate may be more sophisticated on these issues now as well, particularly the college-educated whites who are an obvious target of this Swift boating effort.
There’s a long way to go until the election, and there’s still plenty to worry about. But this doesn’t look like something to fear all that much.