Joe Biden: A candidate with no campaign

Joe Biden: A candidate with no campaign
© Greg Nash

Earlier this year, voters in focus groups from swing states were shown photos of leading Democratic presidential contenders. The results were startling. No one could name Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues MORE as a U.S. senator, let alone as hailing from California. The same was true for Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting MORE (D-Mass.). Swing-state voters recognized Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Hawaii primary Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden Julián Castro to become senior advisor for Voto Latino MORE (I-Vt.) — the winner, by far, of the name ID contest. And what about all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' How will COVID-19 affect the Hispanic vote come November? MORE, the guy who served for eight years as vice president? The focus group participants could remember his former role, but they could not name the state where he lives (Delaware), nor could they recall his former job (U.S. senator). 

I share that story because here we are, months after contentious Democrat primaries that resulted in heated televised debates and many bizarre gaffes from Biden, and he’s the presumptive nominee. While his ascension to the Democratic nomination likely has exceeded even his own expectations, the fanfare, visibility and political momentum that typically follow when one’s rivals quietly bow out of contention has left Biden a candidate without a campaign. 

Joe Biden is a candidate who excites no one. He doesn’t inspire hope or possibilities about the future. He always talks about the past, but people aren’t interested in looking backward; they want to look forward, which is why many in his party have serious reservations about his chances of winning the White House.   

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The coronavirus pandemic is the single biggest driver of this phenomenon. Who would want to fire up a rally when no more than 10 people can attend? Large crowds are what drive fundraising and campaign tours through battleground states, and signal to big-dollar donors that they no longer can afford to sit on the sidelines. The coronavirus is silently killing any hope that Biden’s struggling presidential campaign can defeat President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' GOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order MORE in November. 

One might argue that much of this is beyond Biden’s control. Yet some of his political fortunes still rest in his hands. Here are three things Biden and his team can start tomorrow to position for a full-throated campaign in just a few short weeks.

First, stop repeating everything you hear. From travel bans to and from China — Biden called them racist, only to later support the idea — to calls for help in New York, Biden has appeared as a Johnny-come-lately on virtually every policy related to COVID-19. I understand; he’s not part of the White House briefings. But that’s another reason to stop reacting. He runs the risk of appearing as a mere political bystander. 

The second is related to the first: Develop a coronavirus strategy. Extraordinary times reveal extraordinary leaders. From the economy to health care to infrastructure, every federal policy and political debate now will be colored by COVID-19. There’s no escaping that reality for the remainder of this year. So use this downtime to carefully plot a recovery and rebuilding initiative for America.

Take the time to study how diagnostic tests can play a role in equipping employers and policymakers with the tools to determine who can safely return to work. Don’t just draft something according to what Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciBiden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' Top New Mexico tourism official says mass gatherings may not be possible for 18 months Officials urge caution as Americans venture out for holiday weekend MORE says, or critique his moves. Understand what a V-curve return of the virus potentially means (a sudden reversion in deaths and new cases). Speak to the millions of seniors who, right now, may doubt Trump’s handling of the issue. Exploit the president’s weaknesses but come up with an original, authentic plan because, so far, Biden is no different from a political pundit offering nothing but perfunctory comments.

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Third, set July 4 as the relaunch date for the campaign season. Yes, Americans are itching to be freed from stay-at-home orders. But they’re willing to wait a little longer to ensure that they and their fellow citizens are safe. Independence Day might be too soon for immunology and public health experts, but it might be the economic breaking point. The Biden camp should pick July 4 as the first day of a renewed campaign.    

The 2020 presidential race is shaping up to be one that will live in the annals of politics as truly historic, but for the wrong reasons. Yes, COVID-19 will loom over everything. However, history may report that this campaign — for the challenger, at least — was over before it ever really started. Joe Biden is the only person who can change that trajectory. 

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”