A scaled-back convention for a scaled back campaign? Seems like a good fit, actually, especially with a nominee that tends to wander rhetorically these days. While Republicans try to build up their convention platform into something ever-more spectacular, Democrats now foresee a “scaled-back” national convention in Milwaukee, Fox News reports from sources in the DNC and on Team Biden as well.
One has to wonder, however, just why they’re making this decision. Is this an attempt to contrast their approach to coronavirus concerns against Donald Trump’s, which Democrats and the media are criticizing lately as reckless? Or just a way to keep Biden’s profile low and avoid more damaging gaffes?
Six of one, half-dozen of another …
Joe Biden intends to formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination in person at a scaled-back national party convention that will be held in Milwaukee, Wis., in August.
The former vice president’s campaign and a senior Democratic Party official both confirmed to Fox News that Biden will be attendance in Milwaukee for the final night of the four-day convention, which is scheduled to kick off on Aug. 17. They add that major components of the convention, however, will be held online through virtual events.
Biden let it be known last week that he planned to come to Milwaukee to accept the nomination in person. DNC chair Tom Perez likewise said that the party didn’t plan to abandon Milwaukee, and it hasn’t … fully, anyway. The big event, with Biden on stage to accept the nomination, will take place. How many people will be there remains to be seen, and it sounds as though the rest of the convention will take place in the virtual world. In a way, it’s a bit of a reverse of the plans Trump and the RNC have for Charlotte, North Carolina — which now will only get the boring but substantive part of the convention while the parties take place in Jacksonville, Florida.
Scaling back the spectacle seems like a bit of a retreat, at least in theory. In practice, though, Biden’s low-key approach appears to be helping, and Republicans are starting to think that they need to flush Biden out into the open:
Republicans have watched with growing alarm as President Trump’s polling numbers have fallen to frightening new lows for an incumbent.
The Trump campaign is desperate to draw Biden into the fray, believing the gaffe-prone former vice president would make some potentially game-changing mistakes during unscripted moments in the public eye.
But there is little pressure on Biden to change course, at least in the near term.
Most Democrats believe Trump is imploding as the pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 118,000 and mired the country in an economic recession, while the president has come under intense scrutiny over his handling of protests against police brutality toward African Americans.
President Trump’s reelection campaign wants former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to lead an effort demanding extra presidential debates, believing Trump will gain from them by shining a spotlight on presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. …
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway pressed for extra presidential debates, calling in May for “more of them than usual” because of Biden’s time spent largely out of view.
“That’s great for Joe Biden, but there will be a campaign,” Conway told Fox News. “There will be debates, hopefully many of them, more of them than usual because we haven’t had a normal election season so far.”
During a visit to Pennsylvania earlier in the month, Trump charged that Biden was using the coronavirus pandemic to avoid having to go up against him in the debates.
“I know they want to get out of the debate,” Trump told the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito. “They’re saying they won’t be able to debate because of COVID-19.”
For now, though, Biden and his campaign prefer to play Rope-a-Dope. By keeping a low profile, Biden can avoid gaffes, but more importantly, the race becomes much more of a referendum on Trump than a decision based on Biden’s own shortcomings. That might not be the most courageous of strategies, but given the circumstances, it might be the smartest, at least for now.
Even that has its limits, however. The LA Times notes that a low-key campaign doesn’t generate much enthusiasm, an asset that Trump has in bucketloads with his base:
But for all Biden’s good fortune, there is a catch: Voters are not so much upbeat about him as they are upset with Trump. Many, in fact, don’t know much about the prospective Democratic nominee, despite his decades in high office, and some Democrats warn that Biden shouldn’t rely too heavily on Trump’s self-destructiveness to keep propelling him forward.
“The biggest challenge is filling in Joe Biden,” said Robert Gibbs, a former advisor to President Obama. “People know he was the vice president, but not a lot else.”
It is a concern broadly shared among Democratic operatives, even as earlier doubts about Biden have melted away. His once-anemic campaign war chest is bulging as money floods in, and states including Georgia and Texas that long seemed out of reach are suddenly on the battle map. Weaknesses in the campaign’s infrastructure — such as a lackluster social media operation — have been addressed, and Biden is more sure-footed on the virtual campaign trail.
But his lead has undeniably been driven more by anti-Trump animus than anything Biden has done. A CNN poll this month that had Biden ahead by 55% to 41% found that 3 out of 5 Biden voters said they were casting their ballot against Trump; just 37% said it would be a pro-Biden vote.
The real risk is that a sharp economic recovery might undermine the anti-Trump animus on which a Hidin’ Biden strategy relies. Or, for that matter, pretty much any good news on a number of fronts, economic or otherwise. It puts Biden in a very passive position, unable to control narratives or outcomes, even more so than is traditionally the case for challengers to incumbents. It’s a very large bet on Trump’s ability to self-destruct.
It’s not an irrational bet, of course. But maybe Biden and his team should check in with Hillary Clinton to see how that worked out for her … or with the sixteen Republicans Trump beat in the 2016 primary.