Mr. Biden: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Part I

As polls indicate that the lead of presumptive Democratic Party Presidential Nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is widening over President Donald Trump and the President seems buffeted – at least outside the alt-right echo chamber – by a continuing proliferation of unfavorable news, Mr. Biden and his team are presumably plotting their final campaign strategy.  I would score their efforts since the former Vice President realistically secured the nomination – buttressed (in starkly political terms) by Mr. Trump’s grotesque mishandling of the COVID crisis – very high; they have maintained a relatively low profile and let Mr. Trump be his own worst enemy.  I suspect that they wish that continuing such a laissez faire approach will be sufficient to win the White House; I would submit that it will not, and that the race will tighten.  Accordingly, what follows are these pages’ prescriptions for Mr. Biden’s winning the presidency:

Stick to the Theme.  The most important [and shortest  ;)] first.  A projection of integrity, competence, stability, caring should be the overarching thrust of the campaign.  Even some voters who are not repulsed by Mr. Trump’s personality and conduct of the presidency have been exhausted by him.  In the same manner as a lawyer designs a trial strategy, Mr. Biden’s campaign should build toward the question he renders in his “closing argument” – i.e., his concluding remarks at the end of the first or last debate:  “Do you want four more years of this?”  (Let the voter fill in the “this.”)

Pick the woman most qualified to be president as running mate.  Along with Franklin Roosevelt’s selection of Harry Truman in 1944, Mr. Biden’s choice will perhaps be the most crucial selection of a running mate, from a substantive standpoint, in American history (and arguably the most crucial one politically, since the average American had little sense of Mr. Roosevelt’s failing health during the 1944 presidential campaign.)  Given his age, Mr. Biden must address the valid voter concern that he might not finish out his term, and he accordingly needs to select a running mate that the average voter can picture immediately effectively conducting the presidency.  I indicated in a note some weeks ago that that there is no candidate whose record will not contain some vulnerabilities, and that Mr. Biden might as well do his explaining on behalf of the running mate that he considers best equipped to serve as president.  Such a choice is good politics because it is consistent with Mr. Biden’s “brand,” and the current condition of our nation and the world demands that he do no less.  (Of the names being circulated, my preferred choice would be former U.S. National Security Adviser and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.  Although certain to face renewed Republican criticism that she lied about aspects of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, a Congressional Republican-led investigation found no evidence that she had intentionally misled the public regarding the raid’s particulars; she has managed a more demanding portfolio than any other suggested candidate of whom I’m aware; and she has presidential demeanor – seemingly making her a good debate matchup against Vice President Mike Pence, who can present reassuringly when one puts aside his sycophantic record.)

Keep to the Knitting.  Maintain a policy focus that will resonate with swing voters in the generally-accepted swing states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona.  The former Vice President should return continuously to Mr. Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis (at the time this is typed, seemingly out of control in Florida and Arizona), his use of chemical agents against peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square, his Administration’s current attack on the Affordable Care Act, and his failure to act upon intelligence of Russia’s placement of a bounty on American soldiers in Afghanistan.  Mr. Biden should stick to mainstream liberal domestic and foreign policies.  So far, he has successfully resisted pressures to embrace farther-left positions that will alienate centrists while maintaining the allegiance of most progressives (with U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, cognizant of the need to beat Mr. Trump, protecting Mr. Biden’s left flank).  The “Build Back Better” plan seems a meaningful substantive policy, while being a politically-effective overture to a segment of Mr. Trump’s supporters.  At the same time:  Don’t take the bait.  Except when specifically asked, Mr. Biden should ignore the President’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence, his seemingly overwhelmingly likely pardoning of Michael Flynn if Mr. Flynn’s conviction isn’t vacated, and Mr. Trump’s other illiberal acts.  All voters who are alarmed by Mr. Trump’s aberrant conduct of the presidency are already going to vote for Mr. Biden.  Mr. Trump wants to turn the discussion back to the Russia investigation, because it distracts the voter from his blatant shortcomings to an issue in which he has successfully convinced a large share of Americans that he was exonerated. 

You Don’t Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression.  After months of Mr. Trump’s assertions that Mr. Biden is in cognitive decline, the onus on Mr. Biden to look sharp in his first debate against the President cannot be overstated.  While there is a temptation to compare the upcoming first debate to the first 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate – How will the challenger measure up? – I would suggest that the a closer parallel might be the second 1984 Reagan-Mondale debate, in which a popular President Ronald Reagan – who had appeared uncertain and diminished in his first debate with former Democratic Presidential nominee and Vice President Walter Mondale – reassured voters with a very sharp performance that arguably secured his second term.  Mr. Biden might not get a debate Mulligan.  He does, however, have the advantage that Mr. Trump’s debate approach – full out, “frontal assault” — can be readily predicted.  If advising the Biden Campaign, I would recommend that they enlist U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren – as vicious a debater as the President — to play Mr.Trump during debate preparation, and have her “let it rip.”

The last prescription, which seemingly forms a nuts-and-bolts bookend to the strategic first prescription, will appear in Part II.

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