It’s true that Biden’s social media follower counts are modest — he has 5.5 million Twitter followers, compared to Trump’s 80 million. And as The Post’s David Weigel illustrated, Trump’s email-list efforts seem designed to keep followers far more energized and angry than Biden’s do.
But, while Biden will have to close these gaps, there are hidden ways in which all this does not necessarily play to Trump’s advantage, and may actually play to his disadvantage.
As many have pointed out, we’re not seeing the impact of these disparities in polls. Biden leads Trump by about 5 points in the polling averages, a gap that hasn’t changed much in the last five months, no matter how many videos the Trump campaign has put out.
The reason this massive cash and digital advantage may not be translating into much — at least for now — has to do with the pit he’s sinking all of those resources into. Trump’s campaign, like his presidency, is aimed largely at his supporters, people he needs to drive into a frenzy to torque up turnout.
Trump is not really telling a new story about himself to win over people who aren’t already in his corner. At this point that may be impossible. Instead, he’s playing to people who will vote for him no matter what.
To the degree he’s trying to reach swing voters, his campaign is trying to disqualify Biden, mostly with a lot of convoluted messaging about China and his son Hunter.
But all that messaging, which is full of xenophobia, outrage, resentment and white noise only the GOP base understands, also reinforces things that other voters he needs (such as suburban and college-educated whites, mostly women) don’t like about him. That is, some of the very things Biden wants to highlight.
Biden’s case is that, unlike the president, he’s steady and experienced and familiar, even a little boring. He believes that, at the moment, that’s what voters are looking for. Videos and interviews from his basement may be all that’s necessary to communicate that, at least for now.
This contrast may not be playing to Trump’s favor in another way as well.
Trump’s events send the wrong message
Trump held another such event at a Ford plant in Michigan on Thursday, and he did not wear a mask:
It’s important to understand why Trump can do this. It’s because he has access to a level of regular testing that the rest of us do not, as David Nakamura reports:
Trump and Pence have been able to resume their travel schedules with the aid of rapid coronavirus tests that are administered to all who come in close contact with them. Biden and his surrogates, including former president Barack Obama, do not have access to enough of those tests to ensure they and others are protected.
Trump believes not wearing a mask projects normalcy, creating a sense the economy will soon roar back to greatness. But to sustain this illusion, Trump is urging millions of Americans to get back to work without enjoying the protections he does.
Biden may be stuck in his basement, but the contrast here may be very compelling: Biden is personally acting out what countless of Americans are going through and sticking to what the scientists are recommending — for the good of others, for the good of the country — even if it inconveniences him.
Meanwhile, Trump is jetting around without a mask, demonstrating his privileged enjoyment of safety and protections that ordinary Americans lack, and failing to set the example that large majorities want to see.
A Biden adviser tells us they like this contrast. It helps feed the sense that Biden is serving as “the model for how a real leader behaves during a crisis, providing a voice of support and empathy while giving clear guidance on how to be safe and how we can overcome this crisis together,” this adviser says.
As Peter Hamby reports, the Biden team believes it’s a fool’s errand to pretend Biden is capable of presiding over a massively souped-up digital operation, because for better or worse, that’s just not who Biden will ever be. Instead it’s better to build one that genuinely reflects who he is.
If so, Biden broadcasting from his basement in a show of solidarity with millions of other locked-down Americans who are struggling to make this crazy, challenging, despair-inducing situation work fits that bill pretty well.
This isn’t the end of the story by any means. Trump claims he’s willing to make the proper testing available to Biden to make it possible for him to campaign. We’ll believe that when we see it, but still, at some point Biden will have to figure out how to get out on the trail.
For now, however, there’s just no need to panic about Biden’s basement campaign.
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