Still struggling for attention, Biden leans on friendly media

The coronavirus pandemic was a tough break for Joe Biden. He seemed to have the world by the tail in early March and then everything shut down and he was forced to retreat to his rec room. His initial plan was to offer daily shadow briefings in which he would criticize the president and get himself on the news. After a rough first week of that he launched a new format for the Joe Show, turning it into a podcast that allowed him to have remote guests. But as the crisis wears on, and Trump’s daily briefings have been attracting big ratings, Biden has settled into a more comfortable approach. He’s relying on the media to carry his message, whatever that is.

Since March 24, Biden has done 13 media interviews across news networks, late-night shows and Hispanic radio, according to a list provided by his campaign. Over the course of two weeks, from March 14 to 28, the former vice president’s virtual events and digital content have generated views from more than 20 million people.

Biden’s allies acknowledge that he doesn’t have the same kind of megaphone as Trump. But they argue that his current strategy has allowed him to get out in front of the crisis without giving the appearance of openly politicking.

“He’s not going to do a daily press conference to try and achieve parity with Trump,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who has endorsed Biden. “That would look overtly political.”

“Doing these shows one by one, doing interviews selectively strikes just the right tone,” Israel added. “A major speech on coronavirus probably wouldn’t be as effective with voters as Joe Biden just being Joe Biden when he’s interviewed by talk-show hosts and late-night hosts. That breaks through.”

Biden suggested that President Trump ought to call former President Obama for advice on the crisis, but presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway responded by asking why Biden hadn’t called President Trump to offer his support.

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Naturally, there were a lot of snarky responses to that suggestion on the left:

But the suggestion that he should call apparently struck a nerve with Biden or maybe his campaign saw some advantage in it. Whatever the case, the next day Biden told reporters he was in fact trying to set up a call with the White House.

Generally speaking, Biden attempts to be helpful rather than go on the attack, isn’t playing well on the left. Yesterday Alex Pareene wrote a piece titled “Joe Biden is Wasting a Crisis.”

An electoral strategy of declining to attack your opponent for failing to contain a crisis that has already taken thousands of lives may seem counterintuitive, but it is very much intentional…

A generation of Democrats have ceded ground to the other side at every crisis point, somehow coming to believe it would be either gauche or counterproductive to try to take advantage of one…

instead of spending every day in an empty Target parking lot demanding to know where the tests Trump promised weeks ago are, Joe Biden is (I am not making this up) planning to try to call the president to give him some leadership tips.

I think it’s an open question if Biden is the person who can become the aggressive counter to President Trump in a crisis. But even if he was, there is a real risk to taking that route. In a crisis it’s pretty common for people to want to rally around the leader. That’s already happened a little bit with Trump. Having Biden attempt to shout criticisms from his basement could very quickly backfire for one obvious reason: Biden really has no skin in the game. It’s easy to play armchair quarterback when you have zero responsibility for anything but I don’t think that’s what people are looking for in a president.

Of course there will always be people on the left who just want everyone to attack Trump all the time. They’ll cheer for any effort in that direction. But that doesn’t mean it’s a winning message in the general election. Sincerity and trying to actually be helpful is probably going to make more of an impact on voters than any of the stuff Biden has been doing thus far. Frankly, this is the first time Biden has been even mildly relevant in weeks.

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