Campaigning in a virtual mode forces a team to translate the modern elements of a campaign into new forms. The Biden team is going to have to learn as it goes, substituting virtual news conferences, virtual fundraisers, virtual roundtables and virtual volunteer events for physical, in-person affairs.
The good news for the Biden team is that millions upon millions of people are at home — and for once may be eager to pick up the phone even for a number on caller-ID that they do not recognize. They have time to watch Biden’s events on the computer and time to watch his appearances on Sunday shows.
Biden’s latest digital ad gives us a peek at what he will try to convey during an unprecedented time in a unique campaign environment:
Biden seems ready to focus on four aspects of the covid-19 crisis.
First, Biden will not spare President Trump from the charge that he failed as commander in chief, sending troops (health-care workers) into the fray without sufficient protection and equipment. The more Trump protests that governors do not need ventilators or that there are plenty of tests, the more fodder he provides to Biden that Trump is a derelict, incompetent commander in chief.
Second, Biden now can put meat on the bones of his message that the election is a fight for the “soul of the nation.” Originally, this meant a battle to recapture America as a decent, fair and welcoming country. Now, in the covid-19 pandemic, the battle is between two ways of addressing adversity. In Biden’s telling, Republicans focus on bailing out corporate interests (e.g., the giant slush fund) and savaging regulations (even clear-air requirements in the middle of a respiratory illness) while Democrats want to focus on more help for nurses and responders, more unemployment pay and more help for small business. (The Senate majority leader is already dragging his feet on a fourth stimulus package). How the two sides react to the pandemic becomes emblematic of their values and priorities.
Third, the Democrats’ best argument in 2018 was health care. Now that we are in a health-care epidemic not seen for 100 years, Democrats have an obvious upper hand. Unbelievably, Republicans will not drop their lawsuit seeking to invalidate all of Obamacare. In addition, on Tuesday, Politico reported, “The Trump administration has decided against reopening Obamacare enrollment to uninsured Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, defying calls from health insurers and Democrats to create a special sign-up window amid the health crisis.” This is horrifyingly cruel and politically shortsighted. Republicans however seem determined to be on the side of taking away or denying health-care coverage to millions of Americans. This is a gift to the Biden team.
Finally, Biden plainly wants this to be about a contrast in leadership styles. In place of Trump’s bombast, irrationality and vindictiveness, Biden presents a calm and empathetic figure. Who do Americans want to listen to for the next four years, and who do they trust to guide them through the recovery from America’s worst domestic disaster in a century? On that, Biden is betting the contest won’t be close.