However, what works in June and July of 2019 may not work much beyond that. He needs to convey an image of a vigorous pugilist, not someone in semi-retirement. And he should not give the famously demanding voters of New Hampshire and Iowa the sense he takes their votes for granted.
His supporters should hope he is using his downtime for some debate prep. The first debate ironically may be more important for him than for lesser candidates for whom expectations are low. Biden has not debated fellow Democrats since his 2008 presidential run; he hasn’t had any debates since he bludgeoned Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in the 2012 vice presidential debate. He can afford some gaffes and some Bidenisms (“Honest to God”), but what he cannot afford is a Rick Perry moment (Oops!), when memory and/or words fail him, nor can he afford to be seen languishing in the Obama years. Instead of going back to the good old days of 2010 (or so), he would be wise to stress that he is picking up where he and President Barack Obama left off.
In short, anything that makes him sound or look a step slower or caught up in the past will feed into his opponent’s message that the party needs someone younger, fresher, more in touch with younger voters. In that regard, he’s in the same position President Ronald Reagan was during the 1984 presidential debates when age became an issue. Reagan disarmed his opponent, Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.), and the audience with a typical quip. “I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” he said. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” All Mondale could do was laugh along.
Biden surely should not copy that quip, but he should use humor when appropriate to undercut the attacks his opponents have launched (e.g., too old, too nice to Republicans, too moderate). If Sanders decides to go negative and attack (the candidate most likely to do so), Biden would be well to remind voters he’s an old pro at this, not easily rattled and certainly not provoked to lash out.
Every candidate has his or her challenges. Biden would do well to remain sunny and optimistic, good humored, forward-looking (he actually knows quite a lot about green energy) and above all, sharp and energetic. Then he might think about a stamina-testing bus trip (an ode to his friend John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express”). It’s not an uncommon view in Democratic circles that only Biden can beat Biden. In 10 days he’ll have his first real test — and his first opportunity to put age and related issues to rest.