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Biden needs to change his approach, and fast


I saw Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams together on one of the news stations yesterday, and as I watched with increasing horror, I thought, “We’re going to lose the election.”

Biden and Abrams have been appearing so frequently in joint appearances lately that it’s hard to escape the conclusion that she’s Biden’s choice for vice-president. I’ve been saying for weeks now that Biden needs to pick a Black woman; that would seem to eliminate people like Amy Klobuchar, who’s been running for Veep for a year. But, based on what I saw yesterday, I don’t know if a Biden-Abrams ticket can be successful.

It’s not all Abrams’s fault. She’s a nice enough person, and her values seem solid enough. But she was so scripted last night that it was painful to watch her try to remember her lines. She didn’t connect with viewers at all; in fact, she disconnected. All I could think was, “If Biden died in office and Abrams was launched into the Presidency, could she do it?” And what I saw was an ambitious, careful pol, not an inspirational leader.

As for Biden, he was doddering to the point of near senility. I really hate to write that, but it’s true. Joe Biden has got to stop answering questions in the lawyerly, pedantic way he has. Asked a question that should have permitted him to wax eloquent, Biden instead began with his tedious, “First, two things.” Uh oh, I thought, here comes another parliamentary speech that’s about as inspiring as reading the telephone book. Mr. Biden, “First, two things” is not the way to begin talking to the American people. It makes us cringe: if your very first point has two sub-points, then your second point probably has at least two sub-points, and so on. We’re going to need a pocket calculator and a chart to keep track of your points; you’re going to lose peoples’ attention almost immediately. In last night’s case, Biden’s “First, two things” devolved into a complicated (and memorized) recitation of past Senate legislation nobody ever heard of and no one cares about.

That’s when I had the horrifying thought. “We’re going to lose.”

No matter what you think of Trump—and no one in this country has been harsher on him than I—he’s good on T.V. He’s got the charisma to make you keep watching. Granted, watching Trump is like rubbernecking a multi-car collision on the freeway: you watch in horror. But you’re still watching. Biden and Abrams last night, by contrast, were really unwatchable, like the most rank amateurs on Dancing With the Stars. It’s too late for Democrats to choose another Presidential candidate. It’s Biden. But, based on Abrams’s performance, she is not qualified to be Veep, and it’s not too late yet for Biden to pivot and choose someone else for his running mate.

Unless Biden can up his game, Trump is going to destroy him in the debates. He’ll call him “Sleepy Joe” and the T.V. audience will notice Biden’s droopy eyes and stammering, will hear the misstatements and false starts and umms, will see him trying to recall some boring statistic his team planted in his mind. It will not be pretty. Granted that Biden’s policies are infinitely preferable to Trump’s. Granted that Trump is a clear and present danger to America and to the world, and that his amorality is simply disgusting. Granted all that: but swing voters will still see in Trump someone who seems strong and committed, while seeing Biden as a vague smear of a politician, and Abrams as the most unqualified vice-presidential candidate since Sarah Palin who, at least, had the credential of having been a Governor.

As I say, it pains me to make these observations. There are two things Biden can do to get back into his game. First, don’t pick Abrams! She’s just not ready. Kamala Harris, maybe, or Michelle Obama or, if it can’t be a Black woman, Klobuchar or Whitman of Michigan: someone with experience, who can speak off the cuff instead of spouting rehearsed talking points. As for Biden himself, throw away the talking points! Stop with the “First, two things.” Just talk to us straight. We know you’re a good man. We know you’ve personally suffered a lot in this life. Show us the inner Biden. Let Joe be Joe, not the automaton we’ve been seeing. It’s not too late to make the change. The most effective (from a communications point of view) modern Presidents—Reagan, Clinton, Obama and, yes, Trump—have the ability to look into the camera and connect emotionally and spiritually with viewers; they have, for better or for worse, the appearance of authenticity and spontaneity. Joe Biden, as far as I can tell, does not. I think he can do it, but it’s going to require a revolution in the management of his candidacy, as well as in his own head.

  1. Lee Hodo says:

    Who are his handlers? I would love them to read your post. I’m worried too.

  2. I don’t know who his handlers are, Lee. Whoever they are, they’re giving him bad advice.

  3. Bob Rossi says:

    This is very discouraging. I don’t watch TV, so I don’t see any of this. But this makes me very unhappy.

  4. Bob, I didn’t mean to discourage anyone. Quite the opposite! There’s plenty of time for Biden to recover his footing, as shelter-in-place ends and we can get back to traditional campaigning.

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