If ever a presidential candidate was hoping — or praying — that a particular truism is, well, true, it would have to be Joe Biden, about a saying most frequently attributed to that modern-day philosopher, Woody Allen.
“Ninety percent of life is just showing up.”
Biden has been trying to shake off the cobwebs after months of confinement in his basement. But he is doing little more than flying into battleground states, touching down, and appearing in virtual desolation, far from the madding crowd.
We all knew he had to eventually emerge from the friendly confines of his Delaware home, so the question now becomes, did his strategists — or others calling the shots — pull him out of the basement too early, too late, or at just the right time?
The pandemic and the dreadful field of primary opponents represented two of the greatest strokes of political fortune for any candidate in American political history. Biden failed badly in early primaries and was days away from permanent obscurity until his party, fearful of the socialist label, ran off every other contender, elevating Biden to the nomination by default. And the onset of COVID-19 handed the Democratic presidential nominee a gift so replete with political opportunity that he could never even have thought to hope for it. As President Donald Trump was struggling to deal with a deadly virus day after day amid a mounting death toll, all Biden had to do was stand on the sidelines and lob verbal hand grenades at his opponent. He all but blamed Trump for the virus itself and essentially accused the president of having the blood of thousands of COVID victims on his hands. He just stood by and watched, perfectly content to be little more than the not-Trump candidate benefiting from the pandemic without doing a thing.
Biden offered exactly nothing in the way of alternatives to Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus. More precisely, less than nothing. The only three notable quotables about COVID from the former vice president have been: (1) opposing Trump’s China travel ban in January, terming it “xenophobic”; (2) calling for a national mask mandate months later during his acceptance speech at the DNC convention (though now, true to form, reversing field); and (3) saying outright that he would be amenable to another national shutdown.
God forbid that we had listened to Biden about China, or that we force every person in the country to wear a mask, or, worst of all, that a second and perhaps fatal shutdown of an economy that is finally recovering from its near-death experience in the spring. And yet, Biden has benefited spectacularly — up to now — from simply not being the man in charge as thousands fell victim to a virus that emanated from the other side of the world.
But that takes us back to the matter of just showing up. When Biden accelerated his campaign schedule following a successful Republican convention and subsequent plunge in his polling in battleground states, he flew to Pittsburgh and spoke via teleprompter in a warehouse with an audience of no one, unless you count five reporters sitting in socially distanced, painted circles resembling the kind that confine lions to assigned perches in a circus. And those five lucky souls were not allowed to ask questions; one wonders if they got any more out of the experience than people watching on their computers.
Biden subsequently visited riot-torn Kenosha, WI, speaking in faint, gauzy tones to a small number of community leaders and activists, leaving barely a footprint behind — other than a restatement of the leftist mantra that Trump is solely responsible for both the COVID death toll and, of course, all the civil unrest across the nation’s urban landscape. We might well expect more of the same low-risk strategy as he continues on to other swing states in the days and weeks ahead. And now we are increasingly immersed in talk of Biden’s upcoming debates with President Trump, in which the bar has been set so low that just appearing and making no obvious blunders will constitute success.
So will just showing up be enough for the ultimate career politician taking his third shot at the presidency? Well, if ever there was a year when the answer could possibly be yes, it is 2020, when all bets are off and we continue to make things up as we go.
But that strategy is exactly opposite to Trump’s: huge rallies, to the extent they are possible in a pandemic, brimming with enthusiasm. It was those gatherings that energized the Trump base and created such dynamism in the 2016 campaign. In stark contrast, there is virtually zero enthusiasm for the Democrat. Almost everyone understands — and those who don’t will soon, thanks to the ongoing attacks by the Trump campaign — that the Biden candidacy is a front, a cipher for larger forces within the progressive movement, embodied by Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris.
Are there enough voters who believe that a passive Biden is capable of lowering the temperature of a nation under fire, while the bombastic Trump will only raise it? Will simply registering a pulse be sufficient for the Democratic nominee if enough voters are sick and tired of Trump’s tweets and tirades and the endless parade of ginned-up scandals? Is just not being Trump sufficient to drag Biden across the finish line?
That is essentially what voters will be asking themselves as they contemplate their trip to the ballot box or mailbox in an election that brings both sides into a singular point of agreement: that this is a must-win, all-or-nothing election.
Read more from Tim Donner.