Biden’s Campaign Is Gaffe-Free (So Far)

So far Joe Biden has run a gaffe-free campaign. But how long can it last?

During past campaigns for President and otherwise, former Vice-President Joe Biden has been known for a history of often embarrassing, cringe-worthy gaffes that have left campaign staff with the task of cleaning up after him. These gaffes have ranged from comments about fellow candidates that are relatively harmless to jokes about the ethnic makeup of 7-11 workers in his home state of Delaware that he’s had to apologize for. So far in his third bid for the Presidency, the former Vice-President seems to be avoiding the gaffes:

LOS ANGELES — The mayor of Los Angeles was attempting to praise Joseph R. Biden Jr. to the press, but Mr. Biden’s aides were more focused on shooing the press away.

At the end of a made-for-cameras lunch he shared with Mr. Biden at a taco stand last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti had to raise his voice over a phalanx of Biden staff members, who were attempting to end the question-and-answer session between the former vice president and about 40 reporters and photographers swarming their table.

“I want to say one last thing,” the mayor twice said over the din, before offering his homage: “Los Angeles loves Joe Biden and Joe Biden loves Los Angeles.”

The tape recorders and cameras were soon shut off, and Mr. Biden exited King Taco without having veered off message.

As the famously voluble Mr. Biden makes his first retail campaign stops in the Democratic primary, and grows accustomed to the front-runner status he never enjoyed in his two previous White House bids, his campaign is grappling with how to showcase Mr. Biden’s never-met-a-stranger persona without exposing him to an environment where he may commit a gaffe.

So far, they have struck a safe, if precarious, balance.

Just over two weeks into Mr. Biden’s candidacy, the most notable feature of his campaign may be what hasn’t happened: He has not blurted anything out that delights his rivals, horrifies his aides and reinforces his image as “Uncle Joe,” America’s there-he-goes-again relative who makes you smile and wince in equal measure.

As the famously voluble Mr. Biden makes his first retail campaign stops in the Democratic primary, and grows accustomed to the front-runner status he never enjoyed in his two previous White House bids, his campaign is grappling with how to showcase Mr. Biden’s never-met-a-stranger persona without exposing him to an environment where he may commit a gaffe.

So far, they have struck a safe, if precarious, balance.

Just over two weeks into Mr. Biden’s candidacy, the most notable feature of his campaign may be what hasn’t happened: He has not blurted anything out that delights his rivals, horrifies his aides and reinforces his image as “Uncle Joe,” America’s there-he-goes-again relative who makes you smile and wince in equal measure.

It is early yet — which even Mr. Biden’s friends allow as they hold their breath — and precedent offers good reason to question whether his streak of mostly error-free days can last.

But his staff has sought to mitigate the risk by effectively recreating the trappings of the vice presidency: guarding question-and-answer sessions, selecting safe interview settings and remaining all but glued to his hip when he greets voters on rope lines, dips into ice cream shops and steps out of the black Chevy Suburbans that are indistinguishable from the Secret Service models he once rode in.

There are notes on his lectern to remind him of key policy points, depending on the locale, and his schedule has been carefully planned: He has appeared at nearly as many fund-raisers (five) as he has rallies (six).

As noted, it’s still early in the campaign and Biden has benefited from the fact that his staff has kept a short-leash on him, limiting press access, limiting the amount of time he spends in forums where he might be apt to speak off the cuff, and keeping him something of a protective bubble that, as the article notes, isn’t all that different from what he experienced during his relatively gaffe-free Vice-Presidency. This, no doubt, is one of the reasons that Biden has been soaring in the polls and is currently seen by Democrats as one of the few candidates in the race who is putting forward a credible case that he can defeat President Trump.

The question, of course, is how long this might last. Joe Biden is in his 70s and he’s been in politics for four decades. His history of speaking off the cuff, which is what leads him to the gaffes, is long-standing and it’s hard for someone who has been around as long as he has to change their nature immediately. At some point, there will be open mics or an unscripted question and answer session and that’s when Biden’s message discipline will be put to the test. The same can be said about the debates that will start next month, especially since that’s another forum where the former Vice-President has been known to say things off the cuff that his staff has had to “explain” later. For the time being, though, he appears to be staying n message and that is inuring to his benefit.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Joe Biden, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Hal_10000 says:

    I imagine Biden’s staff are looking at his lead in the polls and pleading with him to just keep his mouth shut. Fortunately for them, he’s no Trump.

  2. James Joyner says:

    That he hasn’t committed a serious gaffe in two weeks really shouldn’t be newsworthy when we’re talking about an incredibly seasoned politician who’s the frontrunner for his party’s presidential nomination.

  3. Slugger says:

    The whole focus on gaffes is a disservice. Finding some statement that is often in isolation or requires some twisting to embarrass a politician is not furthering our national discourse. Yes, someone said that AIPAC has a lot of influence, but hold off the dogs for a second. I applaud Trump for being gaffe proof; no matter what he says he won’t lose fans.

  4. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner:

    an incredibly seasoned politician

    A clean and articulate one, too!

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: Amusingly, I was seemingly alone in defending Biden on that one.

  6. al Ameda says:

    True that Biden gaffes frequently, but they key thing here is that Biden has a likability about him and it’s probably not going to sink him.

    Trump is the most unlikable president since Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson and that has not derailed him at all.

    These are different times. Trump has given everyone permission to be as toxic as they please

  7. Neil J Hudelson says:

    Congrats on the former VP clearing that low, low bar for the past two weeks.

  8. Kathy says:

    Since he’s bound to slip eventually, perhaps his staff could make up some inoffensive gaffes (should these exist) for him to make on purpose.

  9. al Ameda says:

    @Kathy:

    Since he’s bound to slip eventually, perhaps his staff could make up some inoffensive gaffes (should these exist) for him to make on purpose.

    We have a winner. This thread is over.

  10. Modulo Myself says:

    What’s the Kinsley quip? A gaffe is something true you’re not supposed to say. I don’t see many gaffes existing for Biden in the primary. Despite the whiny propaganda, in mainstream politics you can say whatever you want about people on the left. Just look at Virginia’s army of white guys who dressed up in blackface. No, Biden could easily zip through the primaries exactly like Hillary Clinton winning the same states and with the same promise and then slam into a wall of gaffes when he has to talk about the monsters behind Georgia’s abortion bill and how some Republicans aren’t sociopaths–they’re just dim-witted misogynistic easily-led dullards.

  11. Gustopher says:

    Biden’s gaffes are part of his likability. He’s well meaning, but says some stupid stuff that is sometimes a little racist. Awww.

    No, really. You know the worst things Biden thinks because he usually says them, and they’re not that bad. Someone with better discipline, you kind of have to wonder.

    Biden made a joke at an event a few weeks ago about how he got so-and-so’s permission to hug them before they stepped out onstage. It’s a nice mixture of making fun of himself, and making fun of the people bothered by him being a hugger and a hair sniffer. The usual parties were offended, but overall he showed that he gets it in general, but he thinks people are also being stupid and over sensitive.

    Biden is Half-Woke. Which is about the right amount.