No, it isn’t. It’s true that Biden isn’t putting himself at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but that’s (mostly) not his fault. And if your concern is that this period of quiescence will hurt Biden’s chances for reelection, you probably shouldn’t worry.
The answer to the question “Where’s Biden?” is that, like most of us, he’s stuck in his house. Given that reality, his options for campaigning are very limited. So what is he doing?
If your response to that is, “A candidate with more social media savvy could be doing a lot more!” then you’re right. Joe Biden is never going to be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Would it be better if he were making a cool Instagram video every day? Maybe.
But the real problem — and the reason your retired mother is one of the ones asking “Where’s Biden” — is that the pandemic has deprived him of the ability to make news.
That’s because news, as we in the news biz define it, revolves largely around events. Things that happen, at a particular time and a particular place. That is what Biden cannot create right now.
Let’s take, for example, two substantively identical speeches, one given at a rally in Scranton, Pa., and one given in Biden’s living room. The text could be exactly the same, but only the former will be treated as news. News organizations can stick their own cameras in front of it. They can show Biden on the stage and the reactions of the crowd. They can get comments from the supporters who attended. They can speculate about whether Biden’s Scranton roots will help him win Pennsylvania, a critical battleground state in the fall.
If Biden gives that same speech from his living room, none of that is possible. News organizations might do a brief piece about whatever Biden proposed, but it will be given only cursory coverage, if any. It won’t lead all the nightly network newscasts or appear on front pages.
That’s the thing about a traditional, out-on-the-hustings campaign: Even if today’s campaigning is essentially the same as yesterday’s — one more stump speech, one more round of shaking hands in a local diner — it’s still new, even if only in trivial ways. And if it’s new, then it’s news.
Yes, it’s odd to see Democratic governors such as New York’s Andrew M. Cuomo getting more attention than the person who’s supposedly the leader of the party. But because Cuomo is the governor of the state most affected by the pandemic, journalists rightly see him as a key actor in this story. That’s why his press conferences are news in the way a Biden video isn’t.
To be clear, I’m not saying Biden couldn’t be doing more while confined to his house. I’ve suggested some things he could do, including the formation of a shadow cabinet. And as Michael Tomasky argues, congressional Democrats should be aggressively counter-programming Trump with nightly presentations of their own.
But if you say “If only Biden would do this, then everything would be different,” then you have to explain why your recommendation — More press conferences? More videos? — would have a significant effect on the race. And there’s little reason to think that any of the options available to him actually would.
One thing we can say for sure is that Biden’s relative quiet isn’t changing anything fundamental about the contest between him and President Trump. He leads Trump by about six points in poll matchups right now. On March 1, he was ahead by about five. On Feb. 1, he was ahead by about six. On Jan. 1, he was ahead by about six. And in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Biden led Trump by seven points overall and six points in battleground states.
So he’s doing pretty well, and the two candidates’ relative standing is not changing.
A few weeks ago liberals were saying, "Oh, no, Trump’s approval is rising!” Some of us pointed out that the bump he was getting was extremely small; by now, it has disappeared altogether.
In other words, it’s not like Biden’s seclusion is losing him any votes. You might argue that if there were no pandemic, Biden would be winning more converts every day, but there isn’t much reason to believe that’s true. Meanwhile, Trump is getting poor marks for his performance, even if his support within his base remains in place.
So could Biden be doing more from his fortress of semi-solitude? Sure. But if he did, most voters wouldn’t notice anyway. And it wouldn’t make much difference.