We can reset the days-since-last-gaffe counter back to zero for Joe Biden.
His campaign believed they had set up an easy lay-up interview for the basement-dwelling candidate. But his conversation on The Breakfast Club with host Charlamagne tha God was a complete disaster. It was as if thousands — if not millions — of Democrats all face-palmed, sighed, and resigned themselves to six months of more Biden at once.
The infamous gaffe — where Biden, according to the Associated Press, told his host candidly, “If you’ve got a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black” — was yet another instance of Biden’s reflexive prickliness when anyone challenges him.
I agree with Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report: The fallout for Biden isn’t a seismic shift from Biden to Trump for black voters. The problem is that it could keep Biden in Clinton territory, “but Biden winning 91%–7% [with] 60% turnout vs. 88%–10% [with] 55% turnout could be the difference in these key states,” Wasserman wrote Friday. “It was the margin in 2016.”
These kinds of statements risk depressing voters to Hillary Clinton’s numbers in 2016. She a similar blunder, saying that she kept “hot sauce in her purse” like Beyonce (ironically, also on The Breakfast Club), as The Week reported.
The question wasn’t a hard one for Biden. Charlamagne had asked Biden to return to the show again as a Biden staffer attempted to end the interview.
Lack of Biden access is indeed a common trend right now, and it’s not because of coronavirus anxieties. The day before the unforced error, the Associated Press reported that the Biden campaign was limiting press access to a Q&A session for a Wall Street fundraiser. The campaign told the AP that “such press limits would be common going forward as Biden prepares to square off with President Donald Trump in November.”
There two noteworthy threads here. The first is that neither Biden nor his campaign wants him to make media appearances — especially those with tough questions. Biden never comes off well, and you either end up with a gaffe or word-salad.
So he’s running the “front porch” campaign where he makes the fewest appearances possible. Consequently, people end up voting for the concept of Joe Biden, instead of the man.
As far as campaign strategies go, it could work. But has anyone told the Biden campaign that debates are coming? He can’t hide from those.
Moreover, one of the lessons of the Trump era is that if you have a gaffe-prone candidate, it’s better to err on the side of quantity and volume than trying to limit interactions and mistakes. It’s like an airplane discharging copious amounts of chaff to avoid missile locks.
It’s a supply and demand issue; the more supply, the lower the price. Trump is always in the media, which lowers the value and cost of his media interactions, both positive and negative. But because he’s cut off the supply, Biden, on the other hand, is causing the political price of his communications to skyrocket. The fewer interactions you have, the more pressure there is to make them count, which ups the cost if you fail.
And Biden is stumbling. It may not cost him seismically, but it could shift margins, like Wasserman points out.
The second noteworthy thread is Biden’s prickly nature whenever an interviewer or voter challenges him or the Obama legacy. Regarding the challenging of Biden personally, his prickliness is nothing new. Biden has always had a combative nature when anyone questions his legacy — though it hasn’t always extended to Obama.
We’ve seen the Obama legacy be a sore point in the Democratic primaries. Last summer, Politico interviewed multiple people connected to the Obama administration who were “seething” over criticisms being lobbed at Obama from other Democratic challengers. The point was obvious: don’t question the legacy of Barack Obama.
Biden is running as a third-term of the Obama administration. One popular meme shows Biden and Obama with the former vice president quipping, “What he said,” as his campaign slogan. That’s not far from the truth.
So when Charlamagne or others say they have more questions of Biden, it’s a double cut: it questions both the Biden and Obama legacies.
Charlamagne tha God may not realize that he’s treading in an area that all other political media refuses to go. He has questions, valid questions at that — a rarity in media. But Biden doesn’t believe he has to answer anyone who he believes should already be on his side.
The issue here isn’t racism, as so many are trying to make it out as; it’s an issue of pride and vanity. Biden and the Obama staffers he’s bringing with him believe they’re beyond reproach and question. Biden wants to coast by on: “I was Barack’s VP, vote for me, enough said.”
But it’s not enough said. At the end of the Obama administration, people so wanted change that they elected Donald Trump. If you’re trying to convince people to go back and vote for a third term of Barack, they’re going to have questions — because other choices were made in the interim. Charlamagne is right to demand answers, and it’s a shame he’s one of the only ones willing to ask honest questions.
If Biden continues to hide out in his basement, the odds are, right now, that he wins. But if he loses, people are going to look back at situations like this one and wonder why Biden didn’t do more to win voters instead of condemning the questions.
Elections are all about margins. Biden already faced threats from the Bernie wing; now, it seems he has issues with his base.