The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Biden is advertising in Texas. That’s ominous for Trump.

(Go Nakamura/Bloomberg)

Joe Biden just rolled out a new television ad that will air in a state that a Democratic presidential candidate has not won in 44 years — Texas. The ad makes no mention of President Trump. It doesn’t show footage of Trump for even one second.

Yet the minute-long spot makes a very powerful case against Trump precisely because it does not do either of those things.

This paradox reflects a particular reading of this political moment by the Biden team — and a fundamental truth about this campaign.

Amid truly extraordinary times — a rampaging pandemic, deepening economic misery, some of the most wrenching civil tensions in a half century — the president of the United States has proved utterly incapable of speaking to the nation about any of it in a manner that demonstrates even a shred of basic humanity.

Given these circumstances, Biden has an opening to step up and merely show the country, through his own conduct, that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Follow Greg Sargent's opinionsFollow

So the new spot features Biden speaking directly to the camera in an effort to connect on a human level with the emotional toll the pandemic is taking:

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the former vice president, has released a new ad targeting voters in Texas. (Video: Joe Biden for President)

The ad is part of a six-figure broadcast and digital campaign that is airing in Texas, CNN reports. Versions will also run in Arizona, North Carolina and Florida, states where Biden leads by 2.3 points, 3.2 points and 6.6 points, respectively.

Biden almost certainly won’t win Texas, where it’s roughly tied. But Democrats are pressuring Biden to push into places such as Texas and Georgia, to expand down-ballot possibilities, to experiment with paradigm-shifting electoral college routes through the Sun Belt, and to deliver as massive a repudiation of Trump as possible.

So this new foray into Texas is probably just a test, an effort to probe how broad the map can get, and to satisfy Democrats who want to see Biden being as ambitious as possible.

But the mere fact that Biden running ads in such parts of the country doesn’t seem unreasonable or quixotic itself should be seen as ominous for Trump — especially given that this ad’s particular message will likely find receptive audiences there.

Speaking to people’s humanity

The new ad repeatedly speaks to people’s emotions about the novel coronavirus — fear, apprehension, uncertainty about how to stay safe, and worry about loved ones, such as grandparents and children, who are shown three times, in a mask and in their mothers’ arms.

That’s no accident. It comes even as Trump is urging schools to reopen, but more to the point, it comes as Trump is showing himself utterly incapable of appreciating that parents who are contemplating reopened schools are afraid.

Trump laid this bare in a remarkable exchange on Monday. A reporter noted that various localities are delaying school reopenings, and others are giving parents the choice. Then he asked what Trump has to say to “parents who are worried about the safety of their children.”

“Yeah, the schools should be open,” Trump said impatiently, before segueing to a demented claim that he “saved millions of lives” by acting on the coronavirus. Trump repeated the claim, visibly annoyed that the media won’t amplify this absurdity for him. Trump made an oblique hint about children’s “vulnerabilities,” but promptly minimized the threat and blamed Democrats for nefariously wanting to keep schools closed.

Sign up for The Odds newsletter for election updates from data columnist David Byler

Notably, Trump is largely incapable of understanding such a line of questioning as anything other than an effort to deny him credit for his glorious handling of the pandemic and an effort to harm him politically.

Trump’s inhumanity to voters

This is a complicated debate, and there are naturally parents on all sides of it. But let’s be clear on what Trump is arguing. He isn’t premising his insistence on reopened schools on meaningfully substantive claims about why this will be safe or how it can be made so.

Instead, he’s reacting to localities who want to do this carefully and in keeping with public health concerns by trying to steamroll them, by in essence telling them to get with his program.

Trump is even undermining his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on reopening schools safely, which four former CDC chiefs declare will “introduce chaos and uncertainty while unnecessarily putting lives at risk.”

Indeed, the Associated Press reports that some of Trump’s own advisers are internally pushing him to get behind a much bigger public expenditure to align him with a safe reopening, even as Trump has publicly threatened to cut funding to schools that don’t leap to follow his timetable.

With this nonstop stream of malevolence and depravity as the backdrop — a show that just won’t relent — Biden can simply show the country that it can have a president who grasps that doing what it takes to get through this crisis is both necessary for the common good and emotionally hard.

This is very much a deliberate contrast: Biden has spoken this way on other occasions as well. But now it’s in an ad in Texas, a historically red state where coronavirus cases are surging.

This by itself is far from enough of a reason to vote for Biden, of course. But it sets down a baseline of basic respect for people’s humanity. And that by itself will contrast well with Trump’s unceasing ninth-circle-of-hell murmur — the constant lies, the nonstop minimization of the crisis, the perpetual insistence that it’s always all about him — all of which constitute a form of very deep contempt for that basic humanity.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Joe Biden makes it clear that the country is ready for big change

Jennifer Rubin: Republicans are endangering their own supporters and destroying Trump’s electoral map

Greg Sargent: Joe Biden flips the script on Trump

The Post’s View: The pandemic is not under control in the U.S. Just look at Texas.