It's a beauty of a beast: a 2019 Chevy Silverado, complete with the Z71 off-road package and a Duramax turbo-diesel engine, as black as a night in Mammoth Cave, as glossy as a freshly groomed Derby winner. But that's not why I'm transfixed. I'm looking at the bed of the truck, where 76-year-old Joe Biden is about to stand and deliver encouraging words to members of the striking United Auto Workers. More precisely, I'm looking at the very small, very steep step from the uneven ground to that elevated perch.
Certain questions arise when politics meets gerontology. President Donald Trump and three of the leading Democrats running for president are all 70-plus years of age. Call me ageist, but I can't help wondering how Biden is going to negotiate the climb into that truck bed in the 50th year of his campaigning career.
Now, his car pulls up. The former vice president pops out wearing a big smile under his Clint Eastwood squint and a red union T-shirt over his blue button-down. And after the briefest of introductions, Biden seemingly levitates - step, step, sure-footed as a Sherpa - to take the microphone and announce, "I'm Joe Biden, and I'm UAW!"
We should all be so spry. The rest of his appearance on Sunday went just as smoothly. His remarks were focused and appropriate. None of the rambling riffs that have, in the past, made Biden supporters grit their teeth and pray. His glad-handing was masterful, striking the all-important balance between making connections and keeping the line moving. "G od love ya!" Biden said. And: "Keep the faith!" "What's the dog's name?" "How are ya, sis!" All the while, people were handing him their cellphones and leaning in for selfies, which Biden framed and snapped before returning each phone in an almost perpetual motion.
Summing up: A robust, relaxed and disciplined Joe Biden visited the picket line outside the General Motors factory here, and for the first time I found myself thinking, as I watched the performance, that he just might have what it takes to nurse his little lead in the polls all the way to the Democratic nomination. He spoke the language and basked in the love of exactly the sort of working men and women who are the keys to victory in swing states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Yet it was a terrible day for Biden, because while he was winning labor votes on the picket line, Democrats in Washington were freshly lathered over impeaching the president. And it appears they are going to feed Biden into a wood chipper as part of their vain quest.
At issue is a Trump phone call with the president of Ukraine, during which the leader of the free world cajoled his counterpart to dig up dirt on the Biden family and may have used U.S. foreign aid as both carrot and stick. Pretty jaw-dropping behavior from a man who spent two years in hot water over the issue of foreign election interference. Except that, by all appearances, Trump has been trying for months to goad the House Democrats into impeaching him.
Having watched 20 years ago as President Bill Clinton's poll numbers soared after a failed impeachment attempt, Trump is apparently ready to take that same medicine in hopes of a similar cure. His firm grip on Senate Republicans virtually assures his survival because a two-thirds majority in the Senate is necessary to convict and remove an impeached president from office.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has for months struggled to quiet her caucus of feckless impeachers, but the drumbeat is now so deafening that she had no choice but to authorize an impeachment inquiry. And the price of impeachment for Biden will be weeks, perhaps months, of nonstop discussion of his son Hunter Biden and Hunter's activities in Ukraine and elsewhere.
While some people will find the younger Biden a sympathetic figure - he lost his mother and sister in a car wreck as a boy, and lost his older brother, Beau, to cancer in 2015 - others will likely focus on his long record of drug abuse and reckless behavior, documented in detail this summer by the New Yorker's Adam Entous.
More to the point: Trump's defenders will pick apart Hunter Biden's work history, which is full of employers and partners who, one way or another, sought the good favor of his powerful father. Among these was a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma, which invited Hunter Biden to serve on its board. Burisma has been accused of being part of the rampant corruption that bedevils Kiev.
Make no mistake. While Trump's behavior would certainly be on trial, it would be set alongside the awkward question: What did Burisma expect to achieve by allying with the then-vice president's hot mess of a son? And because impeachments are rare and historic events, that awkward question will be a centerpiece of the biggest political news event of the year.
For candidate Joe Biden, it could be an obstacle too steep to overcome.
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