Donald Dossier: The Bubble Campaign
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the 2020 campaign has moved into the hermetically sealed phase, with the coronavirus pandemic consuming all.
When a president is running for reelection, or there’s a strong front-runner in a primary, they’re often described as running a “Rose Garden Strategy.” Instead of campaigning out among the rabble, they look more in control for the TV cameras sticking to the scenic back porch of the White House. That approach is no longer a strategic choice but a medical necessity. Welcome to the Hermetically Sealed Bubble campaign.
The three septuagenarians — aka the most at-risk population for the new coronavirus — contending for the White House have shut down the trappings of a normal campaign in the presence of a pandemic. All three tried their best to play TV president in response to the crisis this week, with mixed results.
Trump went to the Rose Garden himself on Friday, for a lengthy news conference intended to overcome his disastrous Wednesday night Oval Office address, in which he flubbed his own administration’s policy response to the crisis and caused the markets to tank. Wall Street liked better the parade of CEOs Trump trotted out to discuss how the private sector is working with the government to combat the crisis, now upgraded to a national emergency, which will allow Trump to route funds more quickly and knock down regulations to ramp up medical capacity that will be sorely needed as this outbreak only gets worse.
Of course, this was a political event. So everyone had to praise Trump’s “decisive action” — Vice President Mike Pence being the most obsequious, perhaps reading the clips about how his job might be on the line. And Trump had to be Trump, saying of his administration’s testing delay, “I take no responsibility,” calling a completely valid question about eliminating the White House pandemic office “nasty” and attacking the Obama administration’s response to the H1N1 flu.
Sanders was the most dire, talking about how this virus could cause more casualties than America’s military suffered in World War II (some 400,000). And he took the opportunity to pitch Medicare-for-all as a better remedy than our patchwork health care system to combat such a public health threat.
Then there was Biden, giving the calm, sober plan to fight the virus — while trying to straddle the line of elbowing Trump but not enough to seem crass. “Presidential” doesn’t mean what it used to, but Biden certainly looked more presidential than he did when yelling “you’re full of shit” at a Michigan autoworker who dared to suggest that Biden wanted to take his guns away.
While it’s impossible to say for certain how this crisis will impact November — how many Trump political obituaries have been prematurely written in the past five years? — a sealed-off campaign seems to most benefit Biden. He does thrive on the hugs and one-on-one interactions with voters, but he’s the safe choice, the default. The more he can seem that way and the less he can display his verbal stumbles and temper, all the better for the Establishment’s Great Hope. A world hurtling out of control helps his case.
Sanders, barely hanging on, needs his huge rallies — and the kind of hand-to-hand organizing impossible in an age of social distancing — in order to survive. He appears to have given up winning, more focused on dragging Biden to the left as much as possible, with tonight’s debate as the likely denouement of that effort.
Trump, meanwhile, has canceled the mass rallies that are the lifeblood of his campaign and data-gathering operation. And even tiptoeing out of the Oval bubble and into the Rose Garden on Friday presented its questionable moments: handshakes with CEOs, everyone touching the same microphone. When he goes off script, he’s a far more effective politician. But when he goes off script, he also says things like “When you have 15 people [with confirmed coronavirus cases], and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero,” as Trump did on Feb. 26, a breathtakingly wrong “Mission Accomplished” for 2020.
And Trump himself had a scare, visiting at Mar-a-Lago with at least three people known to have the virus. After resisting because he was asymptomatic, Trump finally took the test, and his doctor on Saturday night said the president had tested negative.
Still, it might not be the worst idea to let the universally lauded Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health run the show for a while. And you can be sure Pence would tell us about all the decisive actions Trump is taking from quarantine.