While the entire world is consumed – and rightly so – by the Coronavirus pandemic, there’s this little thing that you may have heard of called a presidential election that is going to happen in November, assuming the little emperor in the White House doesn’t try to postpone or cancel it. Don’t think he wouldn’t try.
But while it may still be April, it’s not too early to plan ahead, especially in this new normal where up is down and left is right. Think about it, in just the last six weeks we’ve gone from a traditional political campaign to something straight out of the Twilight Zone. If there was ever a time to throw out the playbook, it’s now. That being said, there are still some important things that Joe Biden – the presumptive Democratic nominee – must do to increase his odds of winning this Fall. Four, in fact.
One: Be Uncle Joe. Regardless of how tempting it may be, Biden must resist going tit-for-tat with Trump. One of the few things Trump excels at is dragging his opponents down to his level. Unfortunately for Hillary, she kept taking the bait in 2016, and as a result she allowed Trump to define the parameters of the entire campaign, thus turning what should’ve been a clear advantage into a toss-up. That doesn’t mean that Biden needs to be a doormat. He has to stand his ground when Trump goes on the offensive against him. The Hunter Biden and Tara Reade attack ads are locked and loaded; it’s just a matter of when, not if, they launch. And when they do, the Biden campaign must be ready to respond quickly. John Kerry waited too long to respond and look what happened to him.
Another thing Biden must do is not allow himself or his campaign to get bogged down fact checking every syllable that comes out of Trump’s mouth. Let the cable news outlets and the print media catalogue his bullshit. Lord knows he’s given them a treasure trove of material to work with. Just the other day at one of his press briefings, he actually said that injecting disinfectant into our bodies might be an effective way of dealing with the Coronavirus. Without even opening his mouth, Biden gained half a point in the polls.
What Biden needs to do is be the polar opposite of Trump. While Trump continues to look for scapegoats to blame for his own incompetence, Biden can play comforter-in-chief. He can offer the country a vision of what a true leader looks like. Compassion and empathy – two emotions Trump is incapable of feeling, let alone displaying – will win out over cynicism and divisiveness in the long haul. I believe the American people are exhausted and are looking for someone – anyone – who can give them some hope. Biden can be that person just by not being Trump.
Two: Assemble his cabinet and have a plan of action. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I don’t believe Biden has to wait till the convention in August to name his running mate. We still don’t know whether the Democrats will be able to hold one. And even if they do, it’ll likely be virtual, like everything else being done these days. Apart from the suspense, I see no intrinsic value of dragging it out that long. In fact, if I were Biden, I wouldn’t just announce my running mate, I’d announce my whole damn cabinet. While Trump’s cabinet resembles the Purser’s office on board the Titanic, Biden can give the country a glimpse of what a functional cabinet would look like.
Just think about the possibilities. Elizabeth Warren as VP, Kamala Harris as Attorney General, Mitt Romney as Secretary of State – don’t laugh, Trump’s head would explode, Colin Powell as Secretary of Defense, Cory Booker as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Stacey Abrams as Secretary of Education and Anthony Fauci as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Of course, there are a lot more cabinet positions that would need to be filled, but the point is this: the more Biden acts like a president, the more people will feel comfortable voting for him as their next one.
As for having a plan of action, it’s important that he not dwell on what might’ve been. No matter how inept Trump’s response was and continues to be, voters hate Monday-morning quarterbacks. What Biden needs to do is come up with a plan for his first 90 days in office. This is critical. If Biden wins the election, his first three months in office will be the most consequential of any president since FDR. And unlike Barack Obama, who enjoyed Reagan-like approval numbers at his inauguration, Biden will be on a very short leash. The country will likely be in a depression, or at the very least a deep recession, with tens of millions of people hurting economically. Since a vaccine will still be a few months away, he will have to thread the needle between protecting a fragile economy and ensuring the health and safety of the American public. It will be a no-win scenario and you can expect Republicans to give him no quarter. The Fox News echo chamber will be in overdrive. It won’t be fair, but then that’s the job he signed up for. Translation: Biden will probably be a one-term president.
Three: Hire Hawkfish to run the digital operation. Let’s be honest for a moment. Biden hasn’t exactly surrounded himself with technologically savvy people who know how to run a modern-day campaign. Going into the South Carolina primary, he was almost broke. Had it not been for the Jim Clyburn endorsement, he would’ve been finished. You can’t run a presidential campaign like it’s 1992 and expect to win, not with Trump sitting on a half billion dollar war chest. Hawkfish was Michael Bloomberg’s digital operation and it’s ready to roll with the personnel in place to wage a real war in the trenches.
Critics of Hawkfish point to Bloomberg’s dismal showing in the Democratic primaries. Why on Earth would Biden want to replicate a failed strategy like that? Actually, what did Bloomberg in wasn’t his ads, but his debate performances. Prior to him taking the stage, his polling was quite good. He was running a strong second in many of the Super Tuesday contests. It was looking more and more like he and not Biden was going to challenge Bernie Sanders for the nomination. Bloomberg’s digital operation has the expertise to propel the former VP to victory in November, and if Biden is smart, he’ll swallow his pride and bring them on board.
Four: Lawyer up. Trump is no idiot. He knows he’s in trouble. Even before the pandemic began, his prospects for winning reelection were no better than 50/50. From the moment Biden got into the race, he has led Trump in virtually every poll. The reason Trump got himself impeached was because he didn’t want to run against him. Barring a miraculous turnaround in the economy – unlikely – his goose is cooked. So look for Trump to do everything in his power to avoid being a one-term president.
There’s an excellent piece in Politico by David Super that I encourage everyone to read. It explores the various scenarios that could unfold were Trump to use the pandemic as an excuse for staying in office beyond his term. While Super believes that Trump would ultimately fail, there’s no sense taking a chance. As we found out all too well in 2000, depending on the Supreme Court to do the right thing can have tragic consequences. Biden can’t afford to be the next Al Gore. He needs to make sure that as the election grows near, he has the legal team in place that can thwart any stunt Trump might pull.
Unlike George Bush twenty years ago, Trump has the benefit of having an attorney general in William Barr who will summon the full resources of the Department of Justice to do his bidding. He’s already threatening states that are imposing shelter-in-place orders. Biden’s team should expect everything including the kitchen sink to be thrown at them. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
What about Obama, you ask? What about him? Of course, the former president will stump for his former veep, and no doubt that will help Biden. But consider this: Obama stumped for Hillary, too and Trump still beat her. As popular as Obama is, he can’t carry Biden over the finish line. The heavy lifting will have to come from him and him alone. And that means that he must be focused and disciplined, two words that Biden, to be perfectly honest, has struggled with.
But he does have one thing going for him that Hillary didn’t. He’s well liked by people on both sides of the political aisle. Despite her impressive resume, Hillary simply wasn’t very popular. That was the principle reason Bernie Sanders beat her in states like Wisconsin and Michigan. This time around, it was Biden who beat Bernie. That means that Biden is winning in those parts of the country that Trump won. It’s imperative that he do nothing to sabotage that advantage.
So, to sum up: Behave like a real president, not like Trump; assemble your team; get the infrastructure in place; and prepare for legal Armageddon.