Where is Joe? (Revisited)

Thoughts on Biden's low profile and Trump's daily exposure.

A month and a day ago I wrote a post with the title question of Where is Joe? It was based on numerous comments I had seen calling for Joe Biden to be more front-and-center in trying to provide a leadership alternative to Trump in the time of Covid-19. Concerns still seem to roil on this topic given Trump’s daily dive into disorientation and deception.

My position from last month remains the same. First, it is not the nominee’s job to lead. Indeed, I think it is dangerous for non-elected individuals to pretend like they are a shadow government figure. Second, Biden’s job is to criticize Trump and present himself as an available alternative. He can do that pretty easily by just letting Trump talk at the moment.

Quite frankly, as James Joyner noted earlier today, the current numbers suggest that Biden is doing just fine. Indeed, I think that Daniel Drezner is correct about both worries about Trump’s TV time that some have expressed as well as Biden’s relatively low profile:

Furthermore, spending two hours a day at a podium does not help Trump. His antics might appeal to his base, but there’s a reason other Republicans want him to cut down his appearances. They put all of his weaknesses on display. And for those who fear that this crowds out Biden, let me suggest that at this point in the race, the more Biden appears in the public mind as “Generic Democrat,” the better his chances for victory as the safer “not Trump” choice.

I am not yet ready to take state-level polling for the general election all that seriously–it is just so early, especially given the way political time (heck, time in general) is moving at the moment. Note that the Senate voted on impeachment on February 5. That was not even three full months ago and it feels like a year or more, so it is hard to make any real projections to, say, September. Nonetheless, it is also the case that the broader electorate is just not paying that much attention to electoral politics at the moment and that the real issue is not Biden’s policy positions as much as the fact that Biden isn’t Trump.

As such, being the “generic Democrat” strikes me as very much in Biden’s favor (as opposed to being Hillary “I am not well-liked” Clinton, for example).

The number that remains key to me is Trump’s approval rating, which is at 43.4% according to FiveThirtyEight at the moment. His “rally around the flag” moment got him to a strong and powerful 45.8% (briefly). If the best that he can muster at a time when he has a national crisis to manage (and he is getting two hours a day in TV for free) then I honestly think his odds of reelection have to be low. This is doubly true given job loss and GDP contraction.

In regards to “rally around the flag” effects, note how governors have done during this same period of time:

Source: FiveThirtyEight

Executives who act decisively and in a way that appears in concert with the public interest tend to get bumps in approval during a crisis. That Trump received only a small, temporary bump is indicative as to a) how poorly he has handled this situation, and b) how much opinions of him are set in concrete.

(And, as a side note, clearly Michigan wishes to be liberated…)

Trump’s approval scores also indicate that hand-wringing about his free TV time is misplaced. Indeed, at this point, I am not sure that he isn’t just providing a remarkable amount of TV commercial materials for the DNC, the Biden campaign, and anti-Trump organizations. He is frequently incoherent and has contradicted himself over and over.

Meanwhile, given Joe Biden’s gaffe-machine abilities, maybe being quiet isn’t such a bad thing,

I will also note that he was pretty quiet going into South Carolina, and somehow managed to unify the party behind him not long thereafter.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Joe Biden, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. inhumans99 says:

    Anyone who wants Biden to be more out-front and public facing during this pandemic (and that includes sites like Politico) want to try and give the impression that a horse-race is going on and also want something to report on (it is fun for news orgs to report on the latest Biden gaffe) so yeah…c’mon, wanting this over 6 months before the election is crazy.

    Biden is just shutting up and letting the President dig a deeper hole for the GOP to have to get out of which is the best gift he could give the DNC and anyone else who is trying to get him elected.

    President Trump I am sure would love to have Biden out front and center as a shiny new object to distract the press but holy heck why would Biden try to provide cover for Trump’s incompetence during this crisis, why?

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  2. EddieInCA says:

    I have said from the beginning that the best thing that Biden can do is stay quiet as Trump self-destructs. When these outbreaks continue in red states I predict that he’s going to be in the high 30s approval within a month.. Meanwhile the DNC and the Biden campaign are going to be creating ads that will only use Trump’s own words. They won’t need to say anything else.

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  3. Kathy says:

    Trump suggested just a while ago injecting disinfectants like alcohol to treat COVID-19.

    Do not interrupt the enemy when he’s making a mistake.

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  4. An Interested Party says:

    His “rally around the flag” moment got him to a strong and powerful 45.8% (briefly).

    Oh, Steven, you’re such a card… *SNICKER*

    …I am not sure that he isn’t just providing a remarkable amount of TV commercial materials for the DNC…

    Indeed…just as all that free media helped him before the 2016 election, it is now hurting him severely…not only does the emperor have no clothes, but he does have an awful spray tan for all to see…

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  5. JIm Brown 32 says:

    Were I to advise Joe–I would advise him to make this a close in–hand to hand fist fight. He needs to make a few statements, maybe do some charity stuff up until about 30 days before the convention. He should be moderately seen during that 30-day period and from his convention acceptance until the election–he needs to unload every bit of ammunition available into what should be the lifeless corpse of an Administration. Keep the power dry, then full frontal assault.

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  6. Lounsbury says:

    Trump’s approval scores also indicate that hand-wringing about his free TV time is misplaced. Indeed, at this point, I am not sure that he isn’t just providing a remarkable amount of TV commercial materials for the DNC, the Biden campaign, and anti-Trump organizations. He is frequently incoherent and has contradicted himself over and over.

    Indeed if the collective opposition can’t weave together brutal attack adverts on Trump from his string of contradictions – on fundamental public safety, not merely political or what “liberals” or Lefties care about, well there is no competent opposition. But I think there is.

    @inhumans99: Absolutely. Politico (as proxy for prof’l political journos generally) and Activists are the worst people to follow on advice. They want to report on horse-race (easy and habitual method for them) or for Activists, they are in a continual state of delusion that their narrow concerns somehow will change opinion.

    @Kathy: Indeed the sagesse attributed to Bonaparte (in any case the Napoleonic era French wisdom) is absolutely key to keep in mind.

    @JIm Brown 32: Whites of their eyes…. hold the fire until September so it doesn’t go stale.

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  7. Franco Ollivander says:

    Biden could gain a lot of FREE exposure simply by emulating Governor Coumo, but for the entire US instead of just NY: Run a businesslike presentation, take questions and answer them directly and honestly even when the truth is unpleasant, and leave politics completely out of it. Demonstrating a high level of competence (in bright contrast to Trump’s daily meanderings, evasions, and contradictions) will win more fence-sitters and uncertain Republicans than pushing the Democrat agenda or constantly bashing Trump and the GOP.

  8. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Vote for Joe: He’s the One Telling You NOT to Drink Bleach.

    It’s all the slogan anyone needs right now.

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  9. Lounsbury says:

    @Franco Ollivander: No he shouldn’t that’s superficial nonsense.

    Governor Cuomo has a real executive reason for his press conferences. He’s running the State of NewYork. As Taylor points out, a Candidate is not in the position to be running a shadow government and it becomes mere air. It opens one up needlessly to (not-unfounded) accusations of getting in the way, of empty posturing.

    Biden should be allying with Cuomo but he should not engage in superficial pointless mimickry, lacking as he does any basis for executive actions unlike the Governors. The reason Cuomo has credibility is he’s doing real things from a real executive perch. Biden trying to half-parrot that would only make himself ridiculous.

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  10. inhumans99 says:

    Okay, so the real reason why I am glad Biden is not the public facing official that folks turn to during this pandemic is that by remaining mostly in the background it makes it difficult for the GOP to bring up Hunter Biden w/o it being obvious that Senators are less interested in representing their constituents and more interested in generating a dog and pony show for President Trump to help him get re-elected.

    Even though we are a long way out from the election I have been pleasantly surprised that Biden has indeed kept himself mostly in the background of everything that is happening. Either he is very disciplined, or one of his handlers is giving him this advice and he is listening. Either way, it give me a boost in confidence that old or not he would make an okay prez for this country. We have certainly seen that we can do worse.

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  11. EddieInCA says:

    @Franco Ollivander:

    Biden could gain a lot of FREE exposure simply by emulating Governor Coumo, but for the entire US instead of just NY: Run a businesslike presentation, take questions and answer them directly and honestly even when the truth is unpleasant, and leave politics completely out of it.

    In other words, he should do what Gov. Cuomo, Gov. Inslee, Gov. DeWine, and Gov. Newsome are doing? No. He absolutely should not. There is only some much political oxygen. It’s already being sucked up by Trump and the Governors. Biden is still a private citizen nominee. He has no official portfolio. What can Biden say [that will be better for winning him votes] than the gibberish Trump is spouting that will cost Trump votes? No. No need.

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  12. EddieInCA says:

    @Franco Ollivander:

    Demonstrating a high level of competence (in bright contrast to Trump’s daily meanderings, evasions, and contradictions) will win more fence-sitters and uncertain Republicans than pushing the Democrat agenda or constantly bashing Trump and the GOP.

    What fence sitters? At this point you’re either on Team Trump or Team anyone else. Those mythical fence sitters aren’t. It makes more sense for Biden to turn out the Dem coalition of progressives, moderates, suburban moms, and conservative Democrats (as per each state), rather than go after disaffected Republicans. The part of the electorate that hasn’t decided on Trump has to be miniscule.

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  13. @EddieInCA:

    In other words, he should do what Gov. Cuomo, Gov. Inslee, Gov. DeWine, and Gov. Newsome are doing? No. He absolutely should not. There is only some much political oxygen. It’s already being sucked up by Trump and the Governors. Biden is still a private citizen nominee. He has no official portfolio.

    EXACTLY.

    Plus, how dumb would he look trying to be Cuomo or Inslee without any actual state to govern? It would look like he was playing pretend (because that is exactly what he would be doing).

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  14. inhumans99 says:

    Sorry for spamming this thread with my comments, but it is funny how after I wrote the above comment that I went to a Hollywood blog site and one of the recent stories was President Trump complaining that the press is giving Biden a “free pass,” i.e, not focusing on that shiny new object. He even called Biden “Sleepy,” which is beyond juvenile and at this point the only people who snicker at that term are his base.

    It is indeed driving him nuts that all the attention is on him which he normally enjoys but now people are pushing back against him telling people to inject themselves with disinfectants…which he does not enjoy so much.

    Here’s a hint Mr President, stop telling people to inject themselves with Lysol and things will go a lot more smoothly at your daily election rally.

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  15. mattbernius says:

    So far, I see no indication that Biden’s campaign is diverging from the strategy of (1) limit public exposure and keep focused on the basics (limiting chances for gaps), and (2) just be decent and empathetic. They’re probably adding a third: promise not to inject people with bleach.

    And for the reasons that @EddieInCA & @Steven L. Taylor raise, that’s the right strategy. It also, to @JIm Brown 32’s point is keeping the powder dry.

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  16. Blue Galangal says:

    @inhumans99:

    Either he is very disciplined, or one of his handlers is giving him this advice and he is listening.

    And he’s not stupid, so there’s that. Plus he’s never struck me as someone who doesn’t listen.

  17. mattbernius says:

    And Joe’s campaign got there:

    I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t drink bleach.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 24, 2020

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  18. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: If he simply HAD to do something and didn’t want to tactically pause over the Summer. He might be able to get some bang out of his buck by using his former VPOTUS clout to do some outreach overseas and domestic to solve some supply chain issues around testing, PPE. I would have Joe make the introductory calls to get “your people working with my people” and literally have him disappear until trucks or planes with the supplies were rolling up to the facility or landing at the airport.

    He should absolutely be prepared for a second wave and have his team working on a plan which would call for testing capability that could scale to a large metropolitan area (both diagnostic and antibody surveillance) and federal resources for the personnel that would be required to do contact tracing.