DANIEL VAUGHAN: Trump needs to turn Biden’s strength into a weakness

The most telling sign yet that Joseph R. Biden, Jr. will never leave his basement is a new report alleging that the former vice president no longer plans to attend the Democratic National Convention in person.

It’s no longer about staying safe. The Biden campaign is intent on keeping their candidate mothballed until Election Night. At the rate Biden is lingering in his basement, we might get a picture of him watching the convention in pajamas while in bed, just like Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

The Biden strategy — the front porch campaign, as some have called it — is straightforward: make as few appearances as possible, and exist only as a figment of people’s imaginations, so they vote for that and not the real person.

The strategy for Trump should be to turn this strength into a weakness — otherwise, Biden will glide to the White House solely on his ability to survive the Democratic primary process.

Predicting a Biden win, many election analysts have mistakenly focused on polls suggesting that Trump’s job approval rating is tanking and that he is slipping with voters nationally. But Trump’s approval ratings have nearly bounced back to where they were at the end of June; the RealClearPolitics average shows Trump returning to his norm in job approval.

For Trump, this marks a reversal of the slide he experienced starting in the second half of May, when protests were underway nationwide and the coronavirus began to spike in more Republican-leaning states.

The spread of the virus in these Trump-friendly states, combined with the widespread unrest, reflected a real sentiment shift, but not a permanent change against Trump. Now, as that begins to repair itself, Trump needs two things: First, he needs Biden’s vice-presidential pick to be a drag on the ticket, and there are some signs that is happening.

Second, he needs to turn Biden’s strength — staying in his basement — into a weakness.

Both the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) are framing the cancellation of the in-person DNC convention as a direct result of COVID-19. Politico described the announcement as “the latest coronavirus disruption to campaigning as usual, ending any last hope of a traditional, made-for-TV bonanza that drives party enthusiasm before the November election.”

That’s a partial truth. But the primary point of this is preventing Biden from ever having to do a live event. If the convention is all virtual, they can keep Biden on a script, and never have an off-script moment.

But it’s not just the convention that Biden is avoiding. Fox News’ Chris Wallace, widely praised for his recent hardball interview of Trump, has challenged Biden to sit down for a similar grilling. According to Wallace, the campaign keeps saying Biden is “unavailable.”

“We asked last week for an interview [for] this past Sunday with Joe Biden,” Wallace told fellow Fox host Bill Hemmer on Sunday, according to Fox, “and they [his campaign] said that he is not available for that Sunday. That’s not saying that he will not do an interview from now until Election Day, and we will ask every week, but, you know, we’ll see.”

Trump, meanwhile, has given multiple interviews across a variety of platforms — everything from Fox News and the upstart Axios all the way to Barstool Sports. As Wallace noted Sunday:

The fact is…the president is out there. … [H]e took all the questions. You can like his answers or dislike them but he had answers and Joe Biden hasn’t faced that kind of scrutiny, hasn’t faced that kind of exposure.

Indeed, Biden is ducking everyone and everything. Trump needs to define this alleged “front porch” strategy as the cowardice that it really is.

It’s not an attack on Biden’s cognitive abilities; it’s a straightforward attack on his qualifications to be president.

Indeed, Biden claims that his experience makes him ready on “Day One” to take office and start a new administration. If that’s true, Biden should be able to prove he can sit down and answer questions from a tough interviewer.

If Biden can’t do that, it undercuts his claim to being ready on Day One. If you can’t show preparedness for a Chris Wallace interview and answer those questions, how can you prove you’re prepared to handle the vast array of issues that plague every commander in chief?

Biden’s choice to duck interview requests, dodge the Dems’ convention, and keep a low profile overall is something he can’t continue in the White House. The leader of the free world can’t hide in his or her home basement in Delaware, never showing up for the job.

The “front porch” campaign strategy has been attempted by one other president: Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States, who won the White House the 1920 election. Harding died in office a couple of years later, and his vice president, Calvin Coolidge, took over.

I’m not saying that is Biden’s future, but it’s the only real historical parallel we have to his campaign.

Trump, for his part, needs to flush Biden out and attack the shield Biden is hiding behind.

When Biden does make appearances, he has meltdowns, as he did with Charlamagne Tha God in May and more recently with CBS News journalist Errol Barnett, whose line of questioning Biden likened to himself asking the young reporter, who is Black, if he does cocaine.

Trump’s path to victory forces Biden to show himself as he is, instead of remaining a fantasy of the mind.