It’s a total no-brainer politically to give this speech the day after Trump’s, particularly given the exasperation felt even by some righties over the president flubbing key details like whether the ban on travel from Europe includes European goods. Coronavirus is a waking nightmare but politically it’s a crisis tailor-made to enhance the appeal of Biden’s campaign theme of a “return to normalcy.” Two weeks ago political junkies were wondering how voters this fall would choose between the upheaval of Bernie Sanders’s economic revolution and the upheaval of four more years of the Trump show. Two weeks later, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is running on a platform of “It’d be nice if politics were boring again, wouldn’t it?” Once we’re done with coronavirus, if we’re done with coronavirus, boredom will seem like the world’s sweetest luxury.
There’s another benefit to Biden from doing the shadow-president routine here. The contrast between the chaos engulfing the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 and Biden’s familiar empathetic “serious adult” mien makes it harder to sell people on the idea that he’s lost a step. “Biden’s senile!” the GOP will say. “Your guy couldn’t read his own policy accurately off a teleprompter,” Biden will say. “And he couldn’t get sick people tested.” What’s the comeback?
He’s offering voters a caretaker presidency, essentially, one in which he’ll hold office for only a single term (which is the reality, even if he hasn’t announced it) and likely defer heavily to a team of technocrats in day-to-day operations. Under normal circumstances that’d be unappealing; our last two presidents have surfed to victory on a current of dynamic messianism in which true believers trust them to remake the country according to their vision. Biden has no vision. He probably won’t be very engaged. But his advisors might at least manage to get farking people tested, a matter of basic competence normally taken for granted by members of the political class as we fight our intensely bitter ideological wars. If the coronavirus crisis ends up being a quarter as bad as epidemiologists fear, that’s the only message Biden will need this fall: “I’ll be napping most of the day but I assure you my team will be be on top of this.” He’ll be a favorite to win.
Team Trump will fight back by insisting that Team Joe won’t be competent at all. A statement from Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh:
“In the past, Joe Biden has shown terrible judgment and incompetence in the face of public health issues. The Obama White House had to publicly apologize for and clean up after Biden when his irresponsible remarks caused panic during the swine flu outbreak in 2009. Just weeks ago, he was openly critical of President Trump’s early move to restrict travel from China to the United States in response to the coronavirus – a decision which medical experts agree helped impede the spread of the virus to this country. Yesterday his campaign actually raised the vile conspiracy theory that the President purposely allowed the coronavirus to spread. In times like this, America needs leadership and Biden has shown none. President Trump acted early and decisively and has put the United States on stronger footing than other nations. His every move has been aimed at keeping Americans safe, while Joe Biden has sought to capitalize politically and stoke citizens’ fears.”
We’re going to spend an unexpectedly large amount of time this year relitigating whether the Obama administration’s response to swine flu in 2009 was effective or not. I hope we end up with a good enough outcome on coronavirus that that comparison isn’t ridiculous on its face. Some 59 million Americans were infected with swine flu from 2009-10 and 12,000 died, a number far greater than the toll from COVID-19 — right now. That’s a death rate of .02 percent, in line with traditional flu. The death rate from coronavirus is expected to be at least 50 times greater and some dire projections imagine more than 59 million infected. I think voters will go into the booth thinking, “Which disease seemed worse to me?” If many end up answering “swine flu,” we’ll have been very, very fortunate this year.
There’s some idiocy up front here too about how it’s xenophobic or whatever to call coronavirus a “foreign virus.” He’s the Democratic nominee. He has to do some tapdancing for the woke brigades.