Opinion: Biden’s Strategy for This Election Has Failed Miserably

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

How did Joe Biden manage it? It’s a remarkable feat. For the last three-and-a-half years the president has been telling us that this November’s election will be a referendum on Donald Trump’s fitness for office.

Not any more.

Over the course of the last two weeks Biden’s own fitness for office has become the only show in town. On the political website The Hill on Wednesday, nine of the leading dozen stories were about Biden—and not in a good way. You can glean that from headlines that had words like “landslide” and “ditch”. The only Trump story among them? “Marla Maples open to serving as Trump VP.”

In the space of 90 minutes, two weeks ago, Biden managed to single-handedly flip America’s political narrative. This was to be the defining election in U.S. history (since the last one). Democracy was at stake (and it likely is), women’s reproductive rights were threatened (and they are), international alliances would be imperiled (they might be). Trump, and opposition to him, would define the election. Pollsters, pundits and politicians agreed that the anti-Trump coalition was the one issue that would excite and energize the campaign. Joe? Not so much.

But no one’s talking about the convicted felon, coup leader and liar. All eyes are on Joe. How did he pull that off?

Most likely with a mix of arrogance and stubbornness. Perhaps the most revealing and alarming part of the “staunch-the-bleeding” interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last Friday was his answer to the question, “Did you ever watch the debate afterwards?” To which Biden replied, “I don’t think I did, no.”

The only thing worse than not watching the debate afterwards is for Biden to say that he wasn’t sure if he watched the debate afterwards. It was only the most staggering act of self-immolation in U.S. political history.

No further questions, Your Honor.

Rather than reach out, Biden dug in—and lashed out. He targeted “democratic elites” and cleaved closely to support groups who had stayed loyal. Divide and conquer. The spineless Congressional Democrats spoke candidly in private, but remained largely silent in public (until now).

Meanwhile, Trump was quietly going about his business. The new-look Trump 2.0—launched in earnest in that debate performance which avoided nasty histrionics and overt ugliness (apart from the lies, obviously)—continued to take shape.

Over the last week he and his aides have distanced themselves from Project 2025 which has been variously described as a roadmap to a Christian nationalist autocracy or a “blueprint for a conservative takeover”. A set of proposals for Trump’s second term drafted by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, Project 2025 sets out extreme positions on immigration, the rule of law, Christianity, regulatory agencies and more.

Last week, Trump said, “I know nothing about Project 2025. I have no idea who is behind it.” Which is odd, given that a whole team of his former advisors and aides helped craft the 900+ page document. Oh, and his campaign’s press secretary starred in one of their recruitment videos.

Then, yesterday, the Republican National Committee—at the behest of Trump—adopted a less extreme position on abortion, one that opposes a federal abortion ban. It is the first time in 40 years that the RNC platform did not include a national ban on abortion.

It had the desired effect. The New York Times headline read: “Following Trump’s Lead, Republicans Adopt Platform That Softens Stance on Abortion.” The Washington Post went with: “GOP adopts platform that softens language on abortion, same-sex marriage.” It was left to Rolling Stone to point out the obvious,To Elect Trump, Republicans Are Hiding Their Extreme Anti-Abortion Plans.”

And at the weekend the possible Trump VP, Marco Rubio, told CNN’s State of the Union that the former president will not pursue his political enemies. Which, again, is odd given that Trump, in an interview last month, told Phil McGraw, the host of the TV show Dr. Phil, that revenge “can be justified.”

“Well revenge does take time, I will say that. And sometimes revenge can be justified, Phil, I have to be honest. Sometimes it can,” Trump said.

But it’s working. Guided by his senior campaign managers Trump is being re-engineered to seem less chaotic, histrionic, and malevolent. He—and they—are succeeding in making it seem like this is a softer, more moderate Trump.

And, in a move that is again very unlike Trump, he has largely stayed away from goading Biden since the debate—ceding the spotlight to his rival. For once, Trump is happy to play the supporting role, looking on as the lead actor, quite literally, fluffs his lines.

John Mulholland is the former Editor in Chief of The Guardian US

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