GOP fears Biden’s low-key campaign is paying off
Joe Biden hasn’t held a press conference in 77 days, but Democrats aren’t feeling much pressure to put their presumptive presidential nominee front and center at the moment.
Biden has, for the most part, kept a low profile throughout the coronavirus pandemic and weeks of demonstrations for racial justice across the country. Over that time, Biden has built up a healthy lead in the polls and emerged as the heavy favorite for now to be the next president.
Meanwhile, 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.
Capping a bad stretch for Trump, the news this week has been dominated by former national security adviser John Bolton’s scathing book describing Trump as unfit for office.
“Joe Biden’s numbers keep growing, Trump’s keep falling, which means that Biden’s strategy is clearly working,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). “In contrast with Trump going back to risky rallies while COVID-19 cases continue to grow, Biden is conducting a daily schedule of interactions with voters in battleground media markets and raising money. I expect that Trump will try to bait him. I doubt Biden will take the bait.”
The Trump campaign has been keeping a daily count since Biden’s last press conference and is sending suggested questions to reporters to ask the Biden campaign.
The president’s allies are demanding that Biden get out more and that the news media livestream his events or pressure him to be more accessible.
“There’s a reason why Biden surrogates like [former Virginia] Governor Terry McAuliffe admitted that they prefer their own candidate stay ‘in the basement,'” said Trump campaign spokesman Ken Farnaso. “There’s a reason why he’s always reading off a teleprompter. There’s a reason why his campaign won’t let him go unscripted. If Biden made himself available to the American public half as much as President Trump does, the choice wouldn’t be more clear.”
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are expected to have a call this week with Frank Fahrenkopf, the co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, to press for a more robust debates schedule in the fall.
But there is little the Trump campaign can do right now to get Biden to change his strategy, though they continue to try.
“The only way to smoke him out is to start throwing haymakers directly at Biden,” said one Republican who is close to the campaign. “It needs to come from the campaign and the president directly, and they need to be the kinds of shots that force a response. Right now, the Biden campaign has no incentive to respond. But I also think at a certain point the press pool will get frustrated by the lack of press conferences and access and Biden will start to feel organic pressure to be more accessible.”
The Biden campaign disputes the notion that the candidate has been inactive since the coronavirus lockdown.
The former vice president has done nine in-person events since Memorial Day, including a wreath-laying at a veterans memorial, a visit to a protest site, meetings and roundtables with community and business leaders and public remarks on the economy.
Biden has made four trips outside of Delaware since taking on a light travel schedule earlier this month, all of them either to Texas or Pennsylvania — two states that both candidates will contest in November.
The presumptive Democratic nominee has done more than 30 virtual events since mid-March and has sat for more than 50 interviews, many of them with local affiliates in battleground states that did not get much national attention.
Biden has also been releasing new policy proposals on reopening the economy and reforming the police, while increasing his ad spending.
“Vice President Biden and our campaign have been aggressively making the case to voters and laying out the clear contrast between the strong, steady, and compassionate leadership Biden would bring to the White House in a moment of crisis like this, which was on display in his trip to Pennsylvania yesterday, and Donald Trump’s erratic and divisive behavior,” said Biden campaign spokesman Michael Gwin.
“Trump and his campaign have desperately thrown everything they can at Vice President Biden, but none of it’s sticking because voters know who Joe Biden is, and they know that Trump is responsible for the historic bungling of the coronavirus that’s left more than 115,000 Americans dead and another 20 million unemployed, and that Trump has spent every day in office dividing our country and inflaming racial tensions.”
Still, some Democrats interviewed by The Hill expressed concern that Biden is not doing enough to proactively make the case for why he should be elected.
“Voters vote for someone, not against someone,” said one Democratic strategist. “Running a campaign from the sidelines is not running a campaign.”
A second Democratic strategist worried that 2020 would play out as a repeat of 2016, when Hillary Clinton kept a light campaign schedule and polls showed her running ahead of Trump before the president pulled out an Election Day surprise.
“Get him out there,” the strategist said.
“If [New York Gov.] Andrew Cuomo can do a briefing on coronavirus every day that every network picks up, why can’t Joe Biden be out there doing pressers every day? People think it’s so great that Trump is on TV all day screwing up. But that free media is worth its weight in gold and in some of these swing states, people’s perception is that Trump is out there being a leader. There are tons of things Biden could be doing that aren’t risky, and I’m just worried we’re falling into the same trap from 2016.”
Nonetheless, Biden is polling better than Clinton ever did, surpassing the 50 percent mark in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls on his way to opening up a lead of 8.5 points over Trump.
Biden has also led in every major poll of the six core battleground states taken this month, and surveys find Trump may be in trouble in states that no one thought would be competitive, such as Iowa, Ohio and Texas.
And the former vice president’s campaign team and the Democratic National Committee raised nearly $81 million dollars in May, marking their single best month of fundraising for the 2020 cycle. Trump has not yet released his latest fundraising numbers.
“Biden doesn’t have to expose himself to any risk. He’s not in a position where he has to do that now,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “We might be in a different world in three months. But right now, there’s not any reason to create any necessary risk. Trump keeps making these self-inflicted errors, and this election is a referendum against Donald Trump.”