While the contours of President Biden’s re-election campaign have yet to come into focus, early signs imply leaning greatly on surrogates to shoulder the heavy burden of promoting the president’s record and engaging in aggressive negativity against his opponent.
The strategy suggests shielding the president from the media and maintaining tight control over his public appearances. Expect Biden to face friendly audiences while strictly adhering to rigidly scripted campaign talking points to avoid stream of consciousness ramblings later corrected by his staff.
Freewheeling interaction with reporters that has been customary in national campaigns will not be tolerated. Television cameras, hand held boom mikes and hordes of notebook bearing reporters trailing behind the president on airport tarmacs, in diners or hotel ballrooms will be a rare sight.
The campaign will attempt to reprise its 2020 success, a campaign conducted largely from the basement of the president’s Delaware home in response to the COVID-19 virus. The pandemic threat has vanished, but expect Biden to take full advantage of his incumbency to justify a Rose Garden strategy that will often keep him in Washington and off the campaign trail.
Concerns about his age and physical stamina to withstand a traditional campaign are ever present, discussed openly in the media and in political circles. A severely truncated schedule will add fuel to speculation about his remaining in the race or – if re-elected – serving out a full second term, which he’d complete at age 86.
His record as president is dotted with a few physical incidents and mental slip-ups – stumbling on airplane stairs, forgetting names, recounting fanciful incidents from his career past – which have raised concerns about his cognitive abilities. Keeping similar incidents to a minimum will be a top campaign concern. The least possible exposure to media intensity is crucial to that effort.
Enlisting members of Congress and state and local political, party, business and civic leaders to take on a more active role in promoting his record and agenda for the future is a vital component in strategic success and easing the burden on the president.
It will require arming the surrogates with scripted talking points and establishing an aggressive round of interviews and public appearances to relentlessly drive the message.
If his performance thus far is any indicator, the campaign will also demand any utterances or public statements include the phrase “extreme MAGA Republicans,” as often as possible, designed to portray the Republican candidate and supporters as captives of the Donald Trump wing.
It appears the Biden campaign believes the path to victory lies in emphasizing the threat to individual freedoms posed by extreme beliefs and ideologies. Democrats view the controversies over restricting access to abortion, banning books and certain teaching materials in public education and draconian cuts to spending on social programs to aid the most vulnerable as an assault on a free society.
The strategy takes into account the re-election prospects of a president with a 40 percent public approval rating and a nation which two-thirds of the unsettled citizenry believe is headed in the wrong direction.
Inflation remains stubborn, costs of basic commodities have reached unaffordable levels, violent crime has driven businesses and residents out of big cities, the immigration crisis at the southern border shows no signs of easing and the war in Ukraine has devolved into a bloody stalemate, despite $40 billion in U. S. aid.
The Biden campaign strategy is a high wire balancing act, limiting the candidate’s public exposure while touting progress.
Working without a net will be challenging, indeed.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail