This could actually be a fruitful time for Biden and his campaign, if he takes the right steps.
Biden has already converted a room in his house into a TV studio, and Monday he released the first video made there, criticizing the position the administration and congressional Republicans have taken on the economic rescue package:
That’s . . . fine, I suppose, though less than perfectly smooth. But it made me think of another, much more effective video the campaign released on Saturday. In that one, Ron Klain — who ran the Obama administration’s efforts to keep Ebola from spreading into the United States — explained the public health and economic challenges the coronavirus presents and where the Trump administration is falling short.
It not only offered a clear critique of the administration’s failures, it showed that the people around Biden (Klain was chief of staff to Biden as vice president and would probably take the same role if Biden becomes president) are competent, informed, and experienced.
That’s something Biden should expand and build on now. If you can’t shake hands and hold rallies — which means it’s impossible to create the kinds of events that draw cameras and create news — why not lay out over the course of the next couple of months a picture of what a Biden administration would look like?
He can try to do it with the release of more policy plans — two weeks ago he released a sensible coronavirus plan, — but the reality is that not too many people are going to read them. So he has to find ways to penetrate the public’s consciousness.
In Britain, the opposition party maintains a “shadow” cabinet, a group of spokespeople assigned the same policy areas as the ministries of the government, to offer the opposition’s view on whatever issue is being discussed at a given moment. While Biden probably wouldn’t want to assign specific Cabinet positions now, he could utilize both his own aides and people in the broader Democratic world to give the public a picture of what government under President Biden would be up to — and provide a contrast with the chaos, corruption, and incompetence that characterizes the Trump administration.
Because of the coronavirus, for the moment it will have to be done mostly through video. So why not put together a series of presentations in which Biden and well chosen experts and communicators explore policy challenges and consider solutions he would pursue? You could do them on health care, economic growth, labor rights, civil rights, voting rights, climate change, immigration and any number of other issues.
They wouldn’t all have to be future Biden administration officials, and he could get people with a range of views (within the spectrum of Democrats) to participate. He could have a mix of policy experts and elected officials. The point wouldn’t be so much to list all the members of the future Biden administration as to fill out a picture of what he and his party think is important and what they want to do if they assume power.
Such videos — edited to manageable lengths, of course — would be much easier for people to assimilate than lengthy written policy papers, and much more informative than the kind of bickering we’ve seen in debates. And it would show Biden as the leader of a party with a clear agenda that voters would probably find appealing.
You could even throw in some kind of bite-size virtual town halls, in which Biden answers questions posed by voters who, like him, are cooped up at home, an “Eisenhower Answers America” for the modern age.
This pause in the campaign should allow Biden and his aides to find ways to answer a fundamental question: What do Americans want right now, and can Joe Biden give it to them?
It’s possible they want what Biden has been trying to offer all along: the promise of a restoration to a calmer time, when the president was a competent and reassuring presence rather than a petulant baby-man rampaging his way across the political landscape.
We know that Trump is uniquely ill-suited to confronting a crisis such as this one. He has hollowed out the government of competent professionals, he’s always more concerned with his image than with solving problems, and he is utterly incapable of bringing the country together for any reason, preferring to shift blame and attack his perceived enemies.
Biden can tell voters that he’d be the opposite on all counts; what’s trickier is to show them. That’s what he ought to start doing now. There’s no better time.