Elizabeth Warren speaks at an American Federation of Teachers town hall event at the Plumbers Local 690 Union Hall in Philadelphia, May 13, 2019.
There must be a Democratic presidential debate tonight.
Surrogates are on the war path and Joe Biden has deployed Ed Rendell, the voluble former Pennsylvania governor, for the attack dog role. But Rendell’s attack on Elizabeth Warren was an avoidable miscalculation, one that will loom large over Biden, the erstwhile (for now) frontrunner and not in a way that moves him closer to his heart’s desire.
Rendell’s tantalizing Washington Post op-ed—“I Like Elizabeth Warren. Too Bad She’s a Hypocrite.”—criticized her past acceptance of big-dollar campaign donations. It has brought out the best of Philly’s scribes who have been all too happy to comb through Rendell’s record to point out the numerous instances in which the former Pennsylvania governor and former Philadelphia mayor and district attorney failed to display requisite transparency.
In one of the more searing takes, entitled “Elizabeth Warren Is a Hypocrite, Says Hypocrite Ed Rendell,” Philadelphia magazine senior reporter Victor Fiorillo lays out Rendell’s penchant for calling people like Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump (OK, not going to argue with that one), well, hypocrites. He lines up a few examples of Rendell’s own two-facedness on safe-injection sites and his insistence that a former Philly congressman was to blame for failing to curb the powers of Philly’s notoriously powerful ward bosses. Pulitzer Prize winner Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer called the column a “total dirt bag move by Rendell and the Biden mafia.”
The problem with Rendell’s long track record is that it’s just too easy to dive in and unearth examples of his own hypocrisy, from lobbying for fracking companies to his role in shadiness associated with the 2016 Democratic Convention held in Philadelphia. None of these things bode well for Rendell going forward and, by extension, Biden.
The biggest rock that Rendell has turned over was his role in the 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound in West Philadelphia which leveled a city block and whose aftermath shook the community to its core for years. Rendell was district attorney at the time, and one of the key figures around Mayor Wilson Goode who approved the strike. There is probably a lot of love for Biden in Philadelphia, especially in black neighborhoods where you can still find faded Obama signs. But with his campaign HQ in the City of Brotherly Love, Biden should best beware of having this ignominious episode anywhere near his narrative.
To be sure, Biden needs Pennsylvania in his electoral column. But what is more perplexing is Biden’s reliance on Philadelphia and Philadelphia surrogates in a state where Philly politics and culture have more in common with New York than hardscrabble areas far away from the coastal megalopolises like Erie, Johnstown, or Scranton, Biden’s own birthplace. Philadelphia may be the poorest big city in America and a Democratic stronghold, but the aura of Philadelphia and its pols has about same appeal statewide that New York or Boston politicians have in their respective states—not much.
Elizabeth Warren’s huge crowds and steadily rising poll numbers have doubtlessly scared the Biden crew since her economic populism and anti-Wall Street messages are likely to resonate strongly in the depressed small cities and towns in the areas of the state between Philly and Pittsburgh, its other gentrifying economic powerhouse—some of the very areas that Trump got to the polls and the ones Biden really needs to carry the state.
Every presidential candidate needs an attack dog, and Rendell obviously relishes the role, one that he played for another erstwhile one-time, front-runner, Hillary Clinton. Hillary also focused on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and we all know how that worked out.
After her DNA-test fiasco, Warren has displayed more prudence in not allowing bullies to throw her off her game. She hasn’t responded to Rendell’s maneuvers. Obviously, she has a plan for that.