Joe Biden should be doomed. The Laws of Politics say that a Democrat can’t win a front porch campaign and make the biggest media buy in history, while the incumbent knocks on a million doors and outraises you in cash.
History chimes in that the only successful front porch campaigns in the U.S. have been run by Republicans. (And two of them didn’t finish their term in office, having been assassinated.)
Notably, James Garfield literally sat on his front porch and gave speeches to those who came to see him. His home in Lawnfield, Ohio is now a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service. If Biden wins, his Wilmington, Delaware basement could end up with a similar fate.
But Biden is no James Garfield.
Joe Biden is the Potted Plant the Democrats have thrown up as a doorstop while President Trump runs against himself. In fact, Trump’s self-defeat is the one and only strategy for the Biden campaign. And that’s incredibly risky. Or not, if you believe that Trump is incapable of quitting his compulsive self-harm habit.
From the beginning of the 2016 campaign, Republicans and Democrats alike believed that Trump could not win. When he won, it was attributed to a Black Swan event: a confluence of factors that cannot recur in a predictable pattern. The current pandemic, Trump’s total failure of the character test, America’s race convulsions, disorder in the streets, and economic disaster seem to seal the president’s fate as a one-term whirlwind of chaos.
Except that the race will inevitably tighten as we get closer to November, and Joe Biden has gone with a media-only campaign, that will expose everyone from the age of six to one hundred to blanketed, packaged Biden bites.
“A significant portion of our reservation will be :60 ads, allowing for longer-form creative and higher-quality impressions with voters as we head into the election,” she writes. “Additionally, our reservation will include major viewing events, including the return of sports, national broadcast news and presidential and vice-presidential debate coverage.”
The Biden campaign is also pouring ad dollars into more niche networks, including OWN, BET and Bounce to reach African American voters.
On the digital front, the campaign has made significant reservations on Google’s YouTube (including “Masthead” site takeover spots), Hulu, and ESPN’s digital platforms. The campaign is also making a push into podcasts, with O’Malley Dillon writing that “we plan to invest heavily in the area and broker investments with top properties in the space,” and online gaming, where the campaign is brokering deals with platforms like Sony PlayStation and TapJoy to reserve ad space. The campaign is also planning a significant ad buy on Snapchat.
I can tell you that, in the tiny survey of my kids, they are not interested in seeing Biden ads in their video games, or on Hulu, or on Youtube. If you want to quickly tune out young Americans, just flood their space with political ads featuring a septuagenarian. I’m pretty sure my kids would agree with the millions of others who will have to suffer through the next few months.
And the only people who care about the Veepstakes are political junkies, campaign remora, and news professionals. A poor VP pick can sink a marginal candidate (see John McCain), but a candidate has to have something to offer to benefit from a good VP pick. Being VP to the Potted Plant is only useful if you’re Chester Arthur or Teddy Roosevelt. (If you must ask, both of these ascended to the presidency of candidates who won with front porch campaigns.)
Does America want President Karen Bass? Or President Kamala Harris, or President Susan Rice? Because every time an American sees Biden’s smiling mug on television, this thought is going to run along with the ad. Every ad will be a reminder that Basement Joe Biden, the Potted Plant President, will have his VP pick one heartbeat away from the presidency.
If you think it’s punching below the belt for Trump to keep that thought in everyone’s mind, then you don’t understand politics, which by comparison makes kidney punches look like boxing by the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules.
Biden’s campaign “data” shows that people don’t want personal visits or door knockers during a pandemic.
“At first I was nervous, but our response rates on phone calls and texts are much higher and people are not necessarily wanting someone to go up to their door right now,” said Jenn Ridder, Biden’s national states director. “You get to throw a lot of the rule book out the window and try out new things.”
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign (aka the GOP) has knocked on a million doors.
“From now to Election Day, voters may only see one campaign at their doors,” Elliott Echols, the RNC’s national field director. “If this were Barack Obama running, Democrats would want to be out there knocking doors. They don’t have enthusiasm or a strong field operation, so it is a convenient excuse. We can do this safely for President Trump and Republicans up and down the ballot.”
Door-knocking works. Candidates who sit back and run ads lose to candidates who put in the shoe-leather. Democrats seem to forget that approximately half the nation voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and now we’re talking about a three to five percent swing in many places, and larger swings in very specific places.
Losing Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Florida may cost Trump the election. But it’s far from decided that Joe Biden can win those places, despite current polling. Elections have rhythms and cycles, and this one will tighten to within two to three points before it’s over.
Biden’s VP pick can only hurt him, as everything else he’s doing is putting the election squarely in Trump’s hands. The election is Donald Trump versus James Garfield, and Joe Biden is no James Garfield. If I were running the Biden campaign, I’d decide not to pick a VP candidate until the last possible minute, and I’d pick someone so milquetoast as to be a cipher. Someone more humble than Mike Pence. And it would be a white man.
Let the very online people scream “racist! sexist!” in rage. But if the Potted Plant Front Porch campaign wants to win, they won’t win by picking a radical woman who Americans will see as taking the presidency without being elected to that office, should Biden not finish his term. Does America want to back into its first woman president? Probably not.
It’s unfortunate that Democrats feel they are the only hope for a minority, or a woman, to win the presidency, and that they are forcing Biden to do their dirty work. I’d very much like to see someone like Nikki Haley be the first woman president. But I don’t see Americans making the choice to have President Bass, or President Harris, or President Rice.
That, plus Basement Joe’s Potted Plant strategy might keep Trump in office for another four years. It’s all up to Trump.