Brummett Online

OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Needed: A new strategy for Biden


It is the franchise and legacy of The Washington Post to give us those fly-on-the-wall recreations of private meetings of important political people discussing important matters.

You know the kind. They're descended from Bob Woodward's books, one of which reported the specific math problem that Hillary was trying to help then-schoolgirl Chelsea solve one evening in the 1990s in the White House while Bill was elsewhere mired in some mess or another.

So, we can probably trust that there's truth in the story last week reporting that Barack Obama met with Joe Biden and, in a way that became animated, told him that the Donald Trump candidacy was to be taken seriously.

Obama told Biden that he needed a more empowered and instantly agile campaign headquarters in Wilmington. Obama shared that he found flawed the practice of all big things that were confronted in Wilmington getting deferred to the real guys in the White House, and to delay.

Obama is said to have recommended that trusted top White House aides go to the campaign now, much as David Plouffe and David Axelrod did for him in 2008 and 2012.

The article reported that the Biden camp wasn't thrilled with the advice, both that it was offered and what it was. It noted that Plouffe hasn't been a Biden favorite since he was the messenger in 2016 that Obama was siding with Hillary Clinton rather than Biden as the nominee that year. It may be that Biden, or at least his people, aren't content to be regarded as an Obama extension.

It would be easy enough to deny such a meeting or conversation if indeed it never happened. Instead, Biden's principal deputy campaign manager replied to media queries about the Post story by saying the important thing is that Biden and Obama agree on the main thing, which is that Trump needs to be defeated.

Really? I had not imagined such a thing--that Biden didn't want Trump as president again any more than Obama did. Who knew?

I kid. The point is that the Biden official's reply was silly, empty and evasive.

It seems to me the problem is less with when and where decisions are made than with the decisions themselves.

In this same article, the Biden people boasted that voters were already beginning to see the president homing in sharply and incisively on his message that Trump posed a threat to our democracy.

Does he now? I hadn't heard any such thing from Democrats until now. Had you?

I kid again. That's been the Democrats' entire and obsessed message, expressed both politically and, through indictments and lawsuits, legally. And all that's changed is Trump's poll numbers, which have risen.

It may be that the Democrats will have to beat Trump rather than count on the American voters to see the danger in him.

The better insight came over the weekend from Jim Clyburn, the House Democratic veteran from South Carolina whose eloquent endorsement of Biden in 2020 in the South Carolina primary provided Joe's foundering candidacy a firewall and disposed of more impressive candidates such as Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg.

Biden wouldn't have risen to the presidential level without Obama's lifting him. He might not have achieved actual White House residency without Clyburn's saying to fellow Black people, "We know Joe and Joe knows us."

Clyburn was asked if he was extremely worried about Biden's chances against Trump. He replied that he wasn't extremely worried. He instead described his mood as very concerned. I don't detect any more confidence in the latter than the former.

The problem, as Clyburn assessed it more finely than Obama had, is that the story of Biden's accomplishment isn't getting through.

Clyburn's main example is that Biden accomplished several measures of relief from student loan debt, but that all he hears anyone saying--particularly young voters whom Biden needs--is that Biden proposed to forgive mounds of student loan debt and didn't deliver.

It is true that Biden is defined more by what he proposed or went along with from Democratic progressives rather than by the decent advancement he often settled for.

It seems that the old governing model of going for too much and then negotiating back to what you really wanted no longer works. The modern media cycle and the hyperpartisan and distrustful instincts of voters cause that strategy to reek of politics as usual and over-promising.

The Mike Beebe model in Arkansas might have been better for Biden: Under-promise and over-deliver.

At this point, Biden's best bet is to brag incessantly on incremental successes, just as Trump brags on ... whatever runs through his brain.

That Trump poses a threat to democracy is both established widely as truth and depleted just as widely as a vote-getter for the other side.

Rather than pointing at the blowhard bragging on himself and calling him a threat to our democracy, Biden might ought to try bragging incessantly on himself. Because no one else is much doing it.

He needs to over-celebrate his under-delivery.

Saying something over and over until people start to believe it certainly has worked for Trump.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.


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