بازدید 46181
The Biden campaign has been studying the '18 midterms.
کد خبر: ۹۶۸۸۱۶
تاریخ انتشار: ۱۰ فروردين ۱۳۹۹ - ۱۲:۱۳ 29 March 2020

The Biden campaign has been studying the '18 midterms.

No, not the ones two years ago when Democrats took over the House by aggressively recruiting moderates and sweeping swing districts across the country, a precursor to Biden’s own centrist strategy in the Democratic presidential primaries this year.

They’ve been studying the midterms of 1918, the year of the Spanish flu pandemic when large gatherings were banned in many places and candidates were forced to invent new ways to communicate with voters and run their campaigns.Turnout plummeted that year to 40 percent, from 50 percent in the 1914 midterms.

“We went back and looked at voting in 1918,” said Anita Dunn, one of Biden’s top advisers, “where of course turnout was down, but the election was still held, and Congress was still seated.”

Dunn was already a bit of a Spanish Flu dilettante. When she worked in the Obama White House, she had studied the 1918 pandemic to help prepare the response to the outbreak of H1N1 in 2009. “In 1918, you had the initial wave in the spring that was very severe and receded,” she said. “And then, it came back powerfully when the weather got cold again in September, October, November with actually a bigger wave. There was a false sense of, ‘OK, it’s over.’” One big lesson she took away from that history: “Nobody knows how this one is going to behave.”

“Everything that's happening right now is like nothing I've experienced in previous presidential campaigns.” — Anita Dunn, Joe Biden’s top adviser

The search for historical precedents by Biden’s top strategists to help understand the bizarre new reality of running a presidential campaign in a country gripped by a pandemic underscores how totally the politics of 2020 changed in March.

From the nuts and bolts of campaigning (fundraising, door-knocking, holding rallies) to the most basic assumptions about the economy and how the public sees Trump, nearly everything needs to be reassessed. Biden’s Philadelphia headquarters has been cleared out. “Everybody's working remotely across the whole campaign,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s communications director. “We're all discovering the joys of a Zoom conference call.” (Dunn spoke to me from home in Maryland.)

The presumed date by which Biden’s delegate nerds predicted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would be unofficially knocked out of the race has been upended by a series of canceled primaries. Biden had planned to use a predicted victory in Georgia on Tuesday to essentially end the race by declaring that he had achieved “an insurmountable delegate lead.”

Instead, the Georgia primary was moved to May and Biden retreated to a makeshift studio in his basement at home in Delaware to broadcast Zoom videos that have had to compete — poorly, so far — with briefings from elected officials like Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who are actually responsible for dealing with the crisis.

“Everything that's happening right now is like nothing I've experienced in previous presidential campaigns,” said Dunn.

The first big political issue is whether the Sanders campaign has any chance of returning from the dead. With many remaining primaries getting kicked to May and June, Biden might not be able to deliver his “insurmountable delegate lead” line until the summer. And while the pandemic has essentially erased Sanders from the news, there is an undercurrent of frustration — and a little nervousness — among some Biden aides that he has been robbed of a clean victory as the presumptive nominee at the end of March, as they had assumed he would. “There’s no closure,” said a top Biden adviser.

The pandemic exploded and inserted itself as the only issue that matters just as Biden made his remarkable transition from lost cause to incredible comeback. The rebound was so swift and his dominance over the race so sudden, that a lot of Biden advisers and outside allies are still processing what happened. Did Biden build an excellent team that just took some time to get things right? Or was Biden’s team hapless and he was simply the beneficiary of underlying dynamics in the primary that allowed him to beat Sanders?

The latter view was expressed by an informal adviser to the campaign.

“After Super Tuesday, Biden got catapulted to the front of the line in spite of himself and his campaign,” he said. “The classic example of that obviously is Massachusetts, where he never went there, didn’t spend any money, didn’t have any people on the ground, and he beat Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. It’s extraordinary. And there’s a reason for it: Democratic voters were saying that the most important thing to them is to beat Trump and he was happy to be the beneficiary of that. But perhaps many of us were overly critical of how they ran the campaign and, frankly, how he performed. He has some fundamental strengths that those of us watching this undervalued.”

Biden clearly agreed that some version of this analysis was accurate: He replaced his campaign manager on March 12, after a string of victories made it clear he would be the nominee. Jen O’Malley Dillon, the new manager, started at the time the pandemic exploded and the campaign became virtual.

“You've got a new campaign manager who’s got to socialize with the existing team and she has to do that remotely,” said John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. “That’s challenging.”

The Biden campaign has not quite figured out what will replace the traditional set piece events of a presidential campaign. For now, in the teeth of the crisis, when attention is necessarily focused on the people in charge, Biden has two big problems.

The first is how can he actually do any events outside of his basement that will get attention and coverage? The second is what can he say about Trump now? This is a new problem for Democrats. Ever since he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his campaign, there has been absolutely no hesitation by any Democrat to attack Trump. Sometimes in the primaries this year candidates would make a point of emphasizing that they were more interested in explaining their policies rather than ripping into the president. But that’s only because there was a shared understanding between voters and Democratic candidates that Trump was irredeemable in every way.

Now, for the first time, some Democrats are wondering whether there could be a cost to pillorying the president.

“Biden has a thin line,” the outside adviser to Biden said. “As much as I dislike Trump and think what a bad job he’s doing, there’s a danger now that attacking him can backfire on you if you get too far out there. I don’t think the public wants to hear criticism of Trump right now.”

Then there’s the issue of Biden being denied one of his political strengths. Biden thrives on personal connection; the pandemic has robbed him of the ability to meet with actual people. In a recent interview with CNN, he recalled the pain of missing human contact. He can’t even be close to his deceased son Beau’s kids.

“Every day, they walk over through the woods and through a neighborhood, and they sit out in the backyard, and we sit in the porch. And I bribe them with ice cream. But we talk about the day, and we hang out,” Biden told Jake Tapper on Tuesday. “But I'm not able to go down and hug them and kiss them, which I usually do. I'm just following the instructions that — and anybody who walks into the house from the Secret Service on, they're wearing masks and gloves.”

"There are other Democrats who think all of the hand-wringing over Biden’s bizarre situation and the complexities and political downside of creating a virtual campaign are overblown."

His campaign is thinking a lot about how to foster the human connection he thrives on under the new rules of social distancing.

“We’re thinking through what does a virtual campaign look like, and how do we ensure that Biden is able to have that one-on-one connection that he is able to form with voters when he's out in the real world,” said Bedingfield. “How do we create that online? We're experimenting with a lot of different formats on that front.”

Next up, launching on Monday, is a regular podcast that Biden will host with a one-on-one conversation format.

Biden stumbled to victory with a nearly broke campaign. The string of Tuesday night primary wins — with all the accompanying news coverage — created a surge of new donations. But then the pandemic pushed the campaign aside and the economy came crashing down. Those twin developments have many Democrats concerned that Biden’s fundraising has dramatically stalled.

The Biden campaign acknowledged it was a serious concern.

“We are preparing for and thinking through how we execute the campaign knowing that it's very possible that fundraising across the board, and not just for our campaign, it's just gonna be leaner than it might have been a few months ago,” said a Biden adviser. “And I think that's the reality that all campaigns are facing.” (On the flip side, major expenses like candidate travel and events have disappeared.)

But there are other Democrats who think all of the hand-wringing over Biden’s bizarre situation and the complexities and political downside of creating a virtual campaign are overblown. In their view, he can defeat Trump in a general election the same way he has almost won the Democratic nomination: just by being there.

“In the long run, it will work out for them,” said one prominent Democrat. “I don’t relish talking about this in political terms, but global leaders are moving up 25 points in the midst of this crisis. The prime minister of Italy has a 75 percent approval rating. In France, [President Emmanuel] Macron has moved above 50 percent. As you remember George Bush was at 90 percent after 9/11.”

The point, of course, was that Trump has not seen the traditional ratings surge that presidents nearly always receive in the midst of a national crisis.

“He actually did things that made this much worse or didn’t do things that made it worse,” the Democrat said, “and it’s all on video.”

But Dunn was frank about how uncertain the politics of the pandemic now are. “Anyone who tells you, ‘Oh, yes, I've been through this before!’” she said, “I want to know when and where.”

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