Enigma: Difficult to understand, mysterious, baffling. To a large extent, that has been the essence of Biden’s presidential campaign strategy so far.
First, he couldn’t decide whether or not to run, even though all the polls consistently showed him to be the clear favorite for the Dem nomination and even the election, itself. Then, when he finally did declare his candidacy, his roll-out in Philadelphia drew a crowd that can only be described as disappointing. Some would characterize it as downright sparse, particularly since on the same night President Trump drew a massive crowd in Montoursville, Pa, which, for those of you who are not geography savants, is in the middle of nowhere in Central Pennsylvania.
Since then, Biden’s campaign strategy has been to campaign as little as possible. It’s almost as if he were afraid to appear in public. Some would say that that strategy is appropriate for a frontrunner. Perhaps, but that strategy backfired on Hillary Clinton. In addition, whenever Biden has appeared in public he has come across as uninspiring and even confused. In any case, he won’t be able to ignore his opponents indefinitely; the first debate is next week, and Biden will be forced to confront his opponents (or, at least half of them) live and without a prepared script. They will be laying for him, and he will have to be sharp, articulate, and knowledgeable, traits that, so far, he has not exhibited consistently.
So, why does Biden think he can win the nomination while ignoring his opponents. In my opinion, his focus on attacking Mr. Trump while ignoring the other Dem candidates gives the impression that he is running a general election campaign in the primaries. It’s as if he is “assuming” the nomination is a “given.” He would do well to remember the old joke that when you “assume” you make an ass of you and me. Incidentally, he characterized Mr. Trump as an “existential threat to the country.” I understand he dislikes and disapproves of Mr. Trump’s politics and probably dislikes him, personally, as well, but characterizing him as an “existential threat to our country” is irresponsible and an absurd overstatement. Perhaps, Biden does not know the meaning of the phrase. Mr. Trump may be many things, but a threat to the very existence of our country is not one of them.
It appears to me that most of the media has been loath to criticize Biden in any way, lest they damage his prospects against Mr. Trump. However, recent articles in the “NY Times” and “Washington Post” have raised the same concerns regarding his strange campaign strategy that I just articulated.
Katie Glueck, writing in the “Times” pointed out that rather than focusing on the early primary states, such as Iowa and NH as is traditional, he has spent much of his time in “general election battleground” states, such as PA and Ohio. She opined that Biden is relying on his front-runner status and name recognition in those early primary states, which may prove to be a significant miscalculation.
Let’s face it. Iowa, NH and many of the other early primary states may be insignificant in the general scheme of things, but they hold their primaries early in order to get their moment in the sun. Many of the voters are sensitive and hate to be ignored or taken for granted. Due to his enigmatic campaign strategy Biden runs the risk of losing in Iowa, and Bernie, being from neighboring Vermont, has a big edge in NH. Poor showings in both of those states could do significant damage to Biden’s nomination prospects.
Margaret Sullivan, writing in the “Post,” cites several Iowan political observers who have been questioning Biden’s odd, unconventional campaign strategy. For example, Iowa journalist, Robert Leonard, who is also the head of two radio stations in the state, has admitted to being “baffled” at the media’s portrayal of Biden’s “dominance,” given that many local Dems with whom he has spoken feel Biden’s “time has passed.” Instead, Leonard says voters are excited about fresh faces, such as Warren, Buttigieg, Harris and Booker. Recently, CNN’s morning briefing newsletter labeled Biden the “most formidable threat to President Trump’s re-election.” Leonard questions that conclusion. He says that he and others with whom he has spoken view those aforementioned candidates to be as “formidable” and “electable” as Biden.
Moreover, political writer, Amanda Marcotte, writing for Salon.com, opines “Biden’s centrism, his big mouth, his age and ‘out-of-touchness,’ and his ‘handsiness'” make him very vulnerable from both Mr. Trump and the left in his own party. The fact of the matter is that he has been around a long time, has a long voting record, and makes an easy target. Already, his rivals have been attacking him for “flip-flops” on various issues, such as immigration, the Iraq War, abortion and the Hyde Amendment. He seems to change his opinions depending on the audience, and by trying to please everyone he is pleasing no one. Also, sooner or later, someone will bring up his snide and dismissive treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings, which will likely damage his standing among women and AAs.
Biden’s campaign strategy has been more akin to that of a sitting president running for re-election than a frontrunner for the nomination. He would do well to consider the lessons of history. As usual, doing so can enable one to avoid the same pitfalls.
In 1948 Thomas Dewey was a shoo-in, until he lost, in, perhaps, the biggest upset in presidential election history. (Remember the famous post-election picture of Truman holding a copy of the next day’s “Chicago Tribune” with the blaring headline “Dewey Wins?”) Or, more recently, how about Mr. Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton? Few saw that one coming. Hillary was viewed as undefeatable and inevitable. There have been many other examples throughout history, but you get the idea. Early polls are very unreliable, next to useless, except, perhaps, as an amusing post-election punchline.
Furthermore, I haven’t even mentioned the poor reliability of the polls, themselves. Presently, Fox, Rasmussen, Quinnipiac, and Daily Beast all have Mr. Trump losing head-to-head not only to Biden but also to the other major candidates as well. Keep in mind, hypothetical matchups are notoriously unreliable, especially this early in the process, when voters do not possess detailed information about many of the Dem candidates. They know all about Mr. Trump, both good and bad, but not about the others, yet. Whoever wins the Dem nomination will have been bloodied and his or her warts will have been exposed. Then and only then will the polls even approach validity.
I find it very hard to believe that Mr. Trump would lose to any of them, much less ALL of them. Pollsters have been trying to unravel the mystery of their unreliable polling for over two years now. Why do they consistently undervalue Mr. Trump’s support? Everyone has theories. Pew Research has cited the following reasons:
1. Many of his supporters are reticent about admitting it. Pew calls them “shy ‘trumpers.'”
2. Many of his supporters are the type of person who don’t respond to pollsters, so their opinions are not tabulated.
3. Pollsters often do not identify “likely voters” accurately.
I’m not saying I agree with Pew, only that it is a fact that Mr. Trump’s support has been consistently undervalued.
Hang on to your hats. The process has barely gotten started. We haven’t even had the first debate yet. At this point, the only thing we know for sure with respect to the 2020 election is that we have no idea what is going to happen. It ought to be verrrry interesting and entertaining.