In a time as unprecedented as the one we are currently living through – from the Covid-19 pandemic to nationwide Black Lives Matter protests – it is sometimes easy to forget a presidential election is fast approaching.
What’s more, given the complete public absence of one of the candidates, it has become even easier to forget the Democratic nominee chosen to go up against President Trump, is Joe Biden.
Following Biden’s anti-climactic clinching of the Democratic nomination a few weeks ago, his campaign has seemingly decided to go ahead and fully embrace a strategy they had been quietly working on throughout the whole of the primary season: do nothing.
In short, this approach has entailed keeping Biden out of the national spotlight, and trying to hide him as much as they possibly can. Yet, it might just be the best option they have.
Just last week, this strategy was brought to the attention of national media, after a segment from a Virginia Democrats Zoom call was leaked. Former Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia was caught saying that there was no problem with Biden’s lack of public appearances, instead stating that he was “fine in the basement.” He also added that as long as they “let Trump keep what Trumps doing,” Biden’s absence from the national spotlight would only continue to help him.
However, deliberately keeping Biden out of the public view is actually something that has been an idea of the Biden campaign since its launch. For example, a Washington Post article dating back as early as May 2019 reported on the same tactic which the Biden camp at the time called a ‘campaign of limited exposure.’
How is it, then, that supposedly the best campaign strategy for a candidate running for President, is to hardly campaign at all?
In the case of Biden, this strategy already seemed to have worked as best it could during a Democratic primary field that was overcrowded with candidates trying to compete for the nomination.
As arguably one of only two candidates with national name recognition to enter the race (Bernie Sanders being the other), Biden used prominence acquired from serving as vice president under Barack Obama to pick up what has been referred to as the voting block of ‘default support’ amongst the Democratic voters. It was this that projected him into the number one position early in the polls.
However, as Biden and the other candidates started to become more exposed to the national media in the form of debates and town halls, as would be expected, Biden’s support dropped as other candidates rose. In fact, Bidens campaign looked all but dead in the water following poor 4th, 5th , and 2nd place finishes in the first three states respectively.
Despite this, ultimately the coalescing of the establishment around him in the form of endorsements was enough to pull the nomination from the clutches of Sanders, and clinch it for himself.
With respect to the November election, Biden is looking to campaign in the same way that led to his nomination, by looking to pick up what is seen to be the equivalent of the ‘default support’ he won in the primary, in the general election: the anti-Trump vote.
In many ways, the election in November should be seen as nothing more than a referendum on Trump. What this means is, given Trump’s abysmal handling of America’s current crises, Biden does not need to aggressively argue his case as the challenger to an incumbent president normally would. All he needs to do is stay back in the shadows, leaving Trump with enough rope to metaphorically hang himself, as evidently he will.
In fact, this process has already started to take place throughout the past months. As Trump has been his usual self, including excessively tweeting, sparring with journalists, and doubling down on his divisive rhetoric – whilst at the same time prioritising bailouts to corporations and crumbs for the average American – people have grown wary.
In times of normality, Trump’s outsider appearance is an asset for support, as he is perceived to be fighting against the corrupt political system that voters want to see change. However, in times of crisis, people want an authoritative, calming figure, who looks like they have things under control. Trump is anything but this.
Therefore, as Biden has continued to stay quiet, Trump has continued to lose ground, the most recent example of this being demonstrated in a CNN poll released last week, where Biden was a staggering 14 points up on Trump nationally.
However, this strategy of Biden’s is not without its caveats. Yes, it is true that currently he has a lead over Trump double of what Hillary Clinton had on him in 2016. But at the same time, the election is still over four months away and, in times of crisis as volatile as we are experiencing right now, this could change on a week by week basis.
One major upside for Trump is that he still has to face Biden in multiple debates meaning, as much as he might try to hide, there will come a point where Biden will have no choice but to face Trump head on. And although many Biden voters may refuse to admit it, there have been clear signs that Biden may be suffering from some form of mental deterioration.
Most alarmingly, this has come in the form of a viral gaff almost every public appearance he has made, a most recent example including his awkwardly worded half-joke on Charlamagne Tha God’s podcast where he stated, “if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Overall, Biden’s strategy of staying quiet has put him in the driving seat for now. But this should not be a cause for celebration amongst his supporters just yet, because if there’s one lesson that should have been learnt from 2016, it’s this: never underestimate Trump.