In his previous campaigns, Joe Biden turned out to be his own worst enemy. He spent more time removing his foot from his mouth than shaking hands with potential voters. This time around, Biden has managed to avoid making big gaffes, thanks to a strategy that seems to involve putting the former VP in public as little as possible.
The Washington Post noticed Biden’s leisure campaign over the weekend:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) plans to enjoy ice cream with New Hampshire voters to celebrate Memorial Day. He won’t be far from former Maryland congressman John Delaney, another presidential candidate, who’s in the midst of his 19th trip to the state and plans an itinerary that includes four barbecues, one parade and a wreath-laying.
In Iowa, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is rolling through the cornfields in an RV, while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) unveils a “Family Bill of Rights” and tours an ethanol plant.
And here’s former vice president Joe Biden’s agenda for the holiday weekend, according to his campaign: “Joe Biden has no public events scheduled.”
Those seven words are becoming familiar for the Biden team. Aside from a campaign swing right after announcing his candidacy, Biden has kept his head down while his rivals rush from state to state to state. Even when he has held public events, they have included only a handful of questions from voters or reporters.
Today, CNN reports on Biden’s lack of energy on the campaign trail too:
The former vice president has held 11 public events since launching his campaign on April 25. That’s fewer than most other candidates: former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas had held 12 by the end of his second night as a presidential candidate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts held the same number — four — in Iowa on Sunday that Biden has held to date there. And Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont held three in New Hampshire on Monday, matching Biden’s total for the entire campaign.
And unlike most of his opponents, Biden has usually declined to take questions from his crowds or reporters.
CNN calls this a front-runner strategy, but it’s a very curious time to choose it. While Biden has been dominating the polling, Democrats have yet to hold their first debate, and Biden’s been out of the political loop for over two years. He’s well known, but so are Bernie Sanders and the six or seven other Senate Democrats in the race.
According to one Democratic strategist, the idea is explicitly to keep Biden out of sight as much as possible:
His campaign appears to have chosen a strategy of having voters “see him less and remember him more,” said Rebecca Katz, a progressive Democratic strategist who is not affiliated with a 2020 campaign.
“And that means remembering him as Barack Obama’s vice president and the goodwill that comes from that — and not necessarily Joe Biden the 2020 candidate, who is not as great a campaigner as some might remember.”
Those who remember Biden’s earlier campaigns know precisely what Katz means. His 1988 cycle bid flamed out in a plagiarism scandal, but even apart from that, Biden was headed for a crash-out thanks to his unchecked arrogance when dealing with criticism. Biden barely took his first breath in the 2008 cycle without plugging it with his foot, calling Barack Obama a “clean” African-American candidate. Biden has traditionally done poorly in both fundraising and organization, two areas critical for frontrunners.
In short, Biden looks good on paper but has a track record of being very bad on the campaign trail. How does his team avoid making headlines for all the wrong reasons? They run a very controlling campaign, one that puts Biden out in front as little as possible. They ask people to “remember” Biden rather than “see” Biden.
That may work for now, but Biden will still have to handle himself in the debates. Who wants to bet against hearing about his superior IQ if Biden gets challenged by one of the young Turks in the race, or even the old Turks like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? The DNC solved that problem for their last terrible-campaigner coronation candidate by scheduling the debates when no one watched them, but they won’t be able to get away with that twice. And look how that turned out for Democrats in November 2016, too.