Joe Biden’s stop in Pittsburgh this week to publicly acclaim support for the fracking industry was no last-minute detour. The hydraulic-fracturing issue has been gnawing at the Biden campaign for some time now. In mid-August, lawyers for the Democratic presidential nominee even went so far as to send letters to Pennsylvania TV stations asking them to cease running a pro-Trump Super PAC ad that talks about Mr. Biden’s stance on fracking.
These ads running in the Keystone State depict Mr. Biden as no friend of the fossil fuel industry, but lawyers for the Biden camp say they are “inaccurate.” The constant drumbeat over the airwaves became a source of angst for the politicos at Biden HQ. It was an itch they just couldn’t quite reach to scratch.
So the minds at Biden 2020 hustled their candidate off to Pittsburgh and plunked him down in a room filled with almost nothing. The odd tableau included American flags covering up plastic fencing and a half-dozen people sitting inside painted circles. The silence was deafening as Mr. Biden’s voice rang out for a 23-minute speech replete with denials of his anti-fracking stance.
Violating Basic Political Rubriks
First rule of politics: Never repeat your opponent’s charge. Do not give oxygen to your challenger’s words. One is left to wonder why Democratic operatives forgot to mention this to Mr. Biden. And so his words from the teleprompter script echoed through the emptiness: “I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again — no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”
Despite the Democratic nominee’s vociferous denials, there are many clips of the former vice president saying just the opposite in the web/TV stratosphere; it strains credulity that his campaign would see this as a positive strategic move:
BIDEN WILL BAN FRACKING pic.twitter.com/gkOOCcFMZH
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) August 31, 2020
Thus, Campaign Biden teed up a softball for Pennsylvanians and beyond to hit one out of the park. Social media exploded with those from steel and coal country who were not amused by Biden’s campaign stop.
Ronald Wright from Harrisburg wrote on Facebook: “Can you believe anything he’s saying? He will tell you what you want to hear and then IF elected do what he wants. Trumps the only president in my life that has done or tried to do what he said he would on his campaign.” Dave Short from Parkersburg, WV, put it this way: “… guess yesterday Joe Biden was for fracking. 2016 he was against it. Last winter and spring he was against it … Yesterday he was in Pittsburgh, right in the middle of fracking Country. Maybe that was why. Notice Hillary los[t] West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, & Kentucky, all Coal mining and Fracking States. I bet if you asked him what fracking was he would not know.”
Over in the Twittersphere someone named Linda fumed: “Biden comes to Pittsburgh, doesn’t have the decency to speak with us and the[n] lies and says he will not end fracking.” Penn State alumna Almira Rzehak wrote on her page: “’I am not banning fracking, no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me,’ he said today in Pittsburgh, Well Joe it is not Donald, You PROMISED ON VIDEO !!!!” And finally, Tammy from Bowling Green, KY, tweeted the following: “My brother lives in Pittsburgh. It’s Trump Country. They call Biden, ‘Fracking lying’ Joe.”
Picking on presidential candidate Biden at this point feels like the melancholy that overcomes you when your grandfather needs to be picked up at the Target parking lot because he can’t find his car. One would think the Biden camp might take pity on its candidate and allow the chips to fall where they may regarding fracking since he’s spoken numerous times — and vehemently — against it so recently.
A day after this campaign debacle, the Biden campaign tried to parse words about exactly which kind of fracking its candidate is against. Only certain types on federal land, blah, blah, blah. But it seems that so very many people in steel and coal country aren’t ready to eat the political hash the Biden campaign is dishing out. As one lifelong resident of the Steel City said to me yesterday, “Do they think we are stupid, or what?”
All this brings us to Rule Two in politics: Never underestimate the intelligence of the voter. Democrats can only hope the Biden campaign learned a thing or two from this ridiculous spectacle that was doomed to fail.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.