What Biden Must Do
What’s a master retail politician to do with no access to crowds and no elective office to demonstrate his leadership skills?
With Joe Biden securing an insurmountable delegate lead after Super Tuesday ( seems like ages ago), it’s all over but the shouting, right? Simply do the math. But it has occurred to me and presumably others that Bernie Sanders staying in the race is more than about than, say, his influencing the Democratic platform.
Perhaps Bernie is hearing echoes of “Where’s Joe Biden?” It’s an enticing vibration for Sanders’ long-shot presidential bid.
Good Joe, Bad Joe
Bernie’s flag-planting is more than a pipe dream. We all knew it would be a tough slog to sell Joe Biden to American voters. There have always been questions about his age and suspected cognitive decline. His occasional incoherence seems the result of his mind and his mouth not being perfectly in sync. His decades of holding public office will be picked apart by Trump ad makers. And then there’s the prospect of an incident of sexual misconduct that has not yet made the news cycle.
On the other hand, you can make the argument that Joe Biden is the perfect candidate to go up against Trump. He’s everything Trump’s not: Biden has empathy, warmth, likability and pragmatism. He’s a decent man. Biden’s leadership would be calming and steady. He’s trustworthy. Here is an ad that makes the contrast, published by Joe Biden’s campaign via YouTube that clocks in at one minute, 39 seconds:
Trump recently got some good news about his approval poll numbers. A couple of reputable pollsters have reported an average of a 5-6% increase, with Gallup even pushing Trump’s approval to 49%. National crises tend to have a “rally ’round the flag” effect that don’t last too long. And Trump’s bump is paltry compared with NY governor Andrew Cuomo’s 27% increase in favorability. (And don’t forget George W. Bush’s 30 point surge after 9/11.)
Biden shouldn’t worry too much about Trump’s modest rise in the polls. In the words of New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, “Trump may have a captive audience, but he’s still captive of his own profound limitations.”
What Biden Must Do
NUMBER 1: Select a “shadow cabinet” and name in advance the vice presidential nominee. Here’s Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman:
In Britain, the opposition party maintains a “shadow” cabinet, a group of spokespeople assigned to the same policy areas as [cabinet positions] of the government, to offer the opposition’s view on whatever issue is being discussed at a given moment. While Biden probably wouldn’t want to assign specific cabinet position now [he is, after all, still in a race for the nomination], but he could utilize both his own aides and the broader Democratic world to give the public a picture of what government under President Biden would be up to…and provide a contrast to the chaos, corruption and incompetence that characterizes the Trump administration.Paul Waldman
Biden needs surrogates who speak with authority. A “shadow cabinet” or whatever you want to call it, with Biden’s stamp of approval, could be just what the doctor ordered.
Trump couldn’t complain (although you know he would). He basically stalked Democratic candidates by staging his outrageously vulgar rallies at the sites of Democratic debates or primaries.
The Biden/Warren Ticket
Yes, it’s true that vice presidential candidates are chosen days or a week before the nominating convention. But that’s not set in stone. Given how so many primaries are being rescheduled for summer, it might not even be an issue.
So, on the day when Biden’s path to the nomination is assured, Joe should name Elizabeth Warren as his running mate.
Warren checks all of the boxes. Her presence on the ticket would go a long way to reuniting the party, instead of reliving the hard feelings of 2016. Warren’s progressive credentials are genuine. Her grit and intellect are tailor-made to go toe-to-toe with a bully. Racial ticket-balancing will have to take a strategic pause, given that black voters overwhelmingly propelled Biden in the 2020 primaries. Biden needs to reel in those white and Latino young people who form the core of Sanders’ “revolution.”
For suburban women, it’s a step closer to the glass ceiling.
NUMBER TWO: After four years of a sneering autocrat, Americans need to feel comfortable with their leader. Ads and messaging should showcase Biden’s empathy without mentioning Trump by name, such as this one, published by Joe Biden’s campaign via YouTube:
NUMBER THREE: Select high-minded topics and and issue them in elite “presidential” settings (sans audience). The template for this is Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center on March 18, 2008, when Obama capably took on the issue of race. The speech uplifted Obama’s campaign.
Biden’s topics should be wrapped around American exceptionalism and collective achievement, issues popular with the American people but repellent to a white nationalist president. His messages should also be self-serving: the wisdom of age, the nobility and sacrifice of public service, compassionate leadership and so on.
NUMBER FOUR: Revive “Fireside Chats.” During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt gave what became known as “Fireside Chats” to calm a nation’s fears of economic ruin (and then war). The Chats were a series of presidential addresses lasting 13 to 44 minutes that were broadcast in the evening when families could gather around their radios.
There’s no doubt that the coronavirus outbreak qualifies as a national crisis. Biden should assume the “president-in-waiting” mantle aggressively. I’m confident that Biden’s people could find a suitable format in a modern context. The historical aspect of a “Fireside Chat” gives Biden a rationale to speak to the American people on a regular basis.
Just upgrade that room in Delaware.