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Biden projects weakness — a tough sell to Americans

For several months, Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE’s most consistent campaign message has been: “I wear a mask and I’m not Donald Trump.” Somehow his basement bunker team believes that’s enough to defeat the sitting president.  

Biden prominently features photos and videos of himself donning a mask. His message, implicit or explicit, is that he takes the coronavirus more seriously than President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE does. He seeks to capitalize on polling that suggests more Americans trust him to handle the virus and its ramifications than trust Trump. Biden apparently is betting that when Americans see him in a mask, they’ll perceive him as responsible and conscientious.

Or, they might just perceive him as a fragile, frail old man, unable to articulate his own message and scared into running a presidential campaign from his basement. Whether he can erase that perception through his debate performance tonight remains to be seen.

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Americans don’t like weak politicians and they don’t choose leaders who accept a weak America. The former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, made that point in his book, “A Nation of Wusses.”

Now The Associated Press reports that several key Democrats are concerned about Biden’s lackluster campaign and lack of personal appearances. They have good reason to be concerned. 

Last week the New York Post, mimicking “Where’s Waldo,” asked on their front page, “Where’s Joe?”

The low-key approach of the Biden campaign contrasts sharply with the style of President Trump. Biden has made only a dozen appearances outside of Delaware since he was nominated. During September, Trump doubled up the number of appearances Biden made.

Biden’s campaign has made “lid,” previously the jargon of campaign insiders, part of the 2020 election lexicon. That’s because Team Biden has routinely put a lid on Biden’s daily activity. 

The physical contrast between the two men is dramatic. So is the campaign.

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When Biden does emerge from his home, it’s to appear before tightly controlled “events,” sometimes with audiences of fewer than 20. Trump holds his trademark rallies, raucous and energetic events packed with throngs of cheering supporters.

Not only is Biden hiding himself, he’s hiding his views on many key issues. There’s plenty of flowery language written for Biden by speechwriters carefully parsing every word. But there’s not much by way of definition of his position on key issues.

While Trump, before the death of Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgCOVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries Defusing the judicial confirmation process Conservative justices help save ObamaCare — for now MORE, put forth a lengthy list of individuals he’d consider for nomination to the Supreme Court, Biden was mute. That’s not surprising. He knew that whomever he named would put him between the dog and the political fire hydrant. So he “played it safe” and said nothing.

When he has ventured into the fray, the weakness of his strategy is manifested in several ways.

In defending his plan to enforce a nationwide mask mandate — complete with heavy fines, and even outdoors with no other people nearby — the former vice president told us, “It’s not about your rights.”  

That message is a tough sell to a country proud of its history of protecting individual liberty against big government interference. It’s not a message of strength; it’s a message of compliant weakness. 

From 1977 until 1980, Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterCan Biden vanquish Democrats' old, debilitating ghosts? CNN acquires Joe Biden documentary 'President in Waiting' French radio station mistakenly publishes obituaries of celebrities MORE brought malaise. Voters in 1980 wanted more. They wanted it to be “Morning in America.” They wanted strength. They chose Ronald Reagan.  

In 1984, when voters had the opportunity to return to Carter’s policies and style, they overwhelmingly rejected Carter’s former vice president and re-elected Reagan in a 49-state landslide.

In 2016, voters rejected the policies of the Obama administration, which gave us a sluggish economy, an inability to control our borders, a sacrifice of American energy development and the jobs that went with it, and a cowardly and ineffectual nuclear deal with Iran.  

Instead, they voted for a leader who was the antithesis of the “Washington insider” policies that had caused America to question its greatness and had families saying they didn’t believe their children’s future would be better than what they had enjoyed.  

They brought to the White House a president who was determined to “Make America Great Again” by making America strong again.

President Trump needs to make strength the defining image of his campaign. And there are plenty of images he can use. Biden projects his own physical and mental weakness; Trump projects vigor.  

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Biden depends on Teleprompters, even telling a staffer to scroll the script during a recent “town hall” meeting. He relies almost exclusively on the carefully crafted words others have written for him to read. 

Trump inspires audiences by speaking directly to them. While some shudder when he wades in, there’s no doubt about audience reaction.   

Having both Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Trump campaign appeals dismissal of Pennsylvania election challenge Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win MORE (D-Calif.), refer to the Democratic ticket as the “Harris-Biden team” in recent days did nothing to suggest any Biden strength. Instead it helped to cement the view of his weakness.

The difference in the two campaigns is also vividly seen in the field. Team Trump has a high octane door-to-door effort in battleground states. Biden is relying on digital efforts and Mike Bloomberg’s millions to get out the word.

Biden’s lack of street-level campaigning caused one Biden supporter to lament to the Washington Post, “I can feel the difference. … I just feel like it’s a missed opportunity.” A Democratic operative was quoted in the same story as saying, “For us (African Americans), we still have that yearning … for that personal touch.”

The difference extends to policy. Biden has no interest in defending our borders; Trump is building the southern border wall. 

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Biden has been soft on the Chinese Communist Party for half a century; Trump is standing up to them.  

It took Biden weeks to speak out against rioters. Trump forcefully spoke and acted to bring back law and order to American cities.  

The Biden campaign clearly believes the polls that suggest he’s currently leading the president.  They’ve adopted the equivalent of football’s “prevent defense.” As football fans everywhere will tell you, that often only prevents teams from winning. It’s a strategy of weakness. The best defense is still a good offense. 

Strength prevails over weakness. Joe Biden may be in for a surprise if he thinks America wants a leader who hides in his basement.

Charlie Gerow, first vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, has held national leadership positions in several Republican presidential campaigns. A nationally recognized expert in strategic communications, he is CEO of Quantum Communications, a Pennsylvania-based media relations and issue advocacy firm. Follow him on Twitter @Charlie_Gerow.