Biden lets Trump be Trump

Biden lets Trump be Trump
© Greg Nash

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE is doing everything he can to lose the presidential campaign and Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says Trump executive order is 'a reckless war on Social Security' Trump got into testy exchange with top GOP donor Adelson: report Blumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections MORE is letting him do it. The challenger’s campaign is giving the incumbent enough room to let Trump be Trump, which spells big trouble for the president and the Republican Party.

The Real Clear Politics average of national polls still shows the president’s numbers more or less in the tank, and Joe Biden with a healthy lead nationally and a slight edge in battleground states. A new ABC News national survey indicates that two of every three Americans disapprove of the president’s performance fighting the deadly coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the nation and killed more than 130,000 Americans

Election Day is still four months away, but Donald Trump is in a deeper hole than he was when he came from behind to beat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBlumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column Hillary Clinton touts student suspended over crowded hallway photo: 'John Lewis would be proud' MORE in 2016. The worst part for the GOP is that Trump keeps digging. The president’s pardon of Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneNew HBO documentary lets Gaetz, Massie, Buck offer their take on how to 'drain the swamp' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Brawls on Capitol Hill on Barr and COVID-19 Democrats blister Barr during tense hearing MORE last week makes a bad political situation even worse for the incumbent.

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Meanwhile Biden is running a restrained and effective campaign for president that reflects the strange nature of the times. The former vice president has made good use of his time on the sideline. Campaign 2020 is a referendum on Donald Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and Biden’s low-profile campaign has given Donald Trump just enough rope to hang himself.

While the president continues to push for large scale rallies that throw caution to the wind, the Democratic nominee has limited his campaign appearances and maximized the media exposure he has received from them and minimized the exposure that his supporters get from the virus.  Consequently, Tulsa, Okla., saw an upsurge in COVID-19 cases after the president’s recent campaign rally there. 

Biden’s approach has left the spotlight where it should be; on the commander in chief’s negligent mishandling of the war against the pandemic and the economic carnage that has trailed in its wake.

Less is more for Biden right now, but it won’t be enough for his presidency or the stretch run of his campaign. Biden’s laid-back approach to the campaign has worked well but will need to govern aggressively if he wins.

Running for president may be the easiest part of the process for Biden. If he is elected, he’ll inherit massive problems. Moderate and progressive Democrats are now united in a crusade to get rid of Trump. But once Trump departs, the truce between the progressives and pragmatics will disappear unless Biden works hard to keep the peace. Battles between progressive House members and pragmatic Democratic senators will ignite with Biden in the firing line. Demands for increased government spending will skyrocket, along with the budget deficit.

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Biden’s campaign thus far has been low key, but he will need to build up to a crescendo as the gap between him and Trump tightens as it inevitably will. The challenger has two high profile events that will provide momentum for the dog days of summer leading up to Labor Day and the presidential debates. The first will be his choice of a running mate. The second will be the virtual Democratic convention that will compete with the GOP convention in Florida — where the pandemic rages unabated.

The Democratic nominee began to set the stage for a more intense campaign and for an aggressive progressive presidency last week. His supporters and followers of his primary foe, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump team pounces on Biden gaffes The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election Warren urges investment in child care workers amid pandemic MORE (I-Vt.), agreed on bold party platform recommendations. The former vice president proposed 700 billion dollars in new spending over four years for the Biden “Build Back Better” plan. 

These proposals plus the pent-up demand for pandemic relief are likely to provoke a budget battle next year. Even if the pandemic abates, the economy will be slow to recover. Millions of Americans left jobless by the pandemic will continue to need financial assistance, while state and local governments facing a steep decline in tax revenues will need a lot of federal help to prop up their economies.

Where will all the money come from after the federal budget deficit has skyrocketed under Trump and defense spending sucks up more than half of the discretionary budget? Energized House progressives will push for big cuts in defense spending while pragmatic Democratic senators must reckon with their Republican colleagues to prevent filibusters of Biden budget bills.

Tough times bring out the best and worst in political leaders. Donald Trump joins the ranks of Presidents James Buchanan and Herbert Hoover, who froze in the face of crisis, while Joe Biden hopes to join the elite group of chief executives like Lincoln and FDR, who faced chaos head on and won. If Biden wins, the country loses if he snoozes.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.