After decades of public service, Joe Biden is a figure Americans have gotten to know pretty well over the course of many years, but imagine an alternate dynamic. Imagine a group of possible voters that doesn't keep up on current events, isn't altogether familiar with high-profile political figures, and will soon take stock of the 2020 presidential hopefuls.
Donald Trump has gone to great lengths to paint a picture for those voters: Biden, the Republican president would have them believe, is addled and doddering. He'd struggle to pass a dementia test. He can't deliver a speech. He has no vision. He's a "sleepy" old man of questionable competence and coherence.
In the process, Trump created certain expectations for Americans: to see the former vice president would be to see a faltering senior citizen who's incapable of impressing hardly anyone.
I haven't the foggiest idea why the president thought this was a wise strategy, but whatever the misguided rationale, it backfired when Biden accepted his party's presidential nomination last night in impressive fashion. Politico's summary rang true:
In a campaign riddled with verbal gaffes and setbacks, where his cognitive abilities were questioned and his debate performances criticized, Joe Biden stepped up to the lectern and delivered the biggest speech of his life without a hitch.... [T]he Democratic nominee appeared at ease as he struck somber notes about the coronavirus pandemic, at once grieving with those who lost loved ones and promising he would take decisive action if elected in November.
Speeches like these are challenging because they require presidential hopefuls to reach competing constituencies. Nominees have to appeal to their party, while reaching out to a broad national electorate. They have to make clear they have a governing vision, without being boring. They have to deftly combine heart and brains. They have to acknowledge the failures of the status quo, while sounding an optimistic note about what the future may hold.
By any fair measure, Biden checked every box -- and then some. Even conservatives reluctantly conceded that the former vice president, as one Fox News anchor put it, "hit a home run."
Or put another way, Trump's strategy backfired. On Twitter, the president whined that Biden offered "just words." Perhaps. But they were words Trump spent months telling Americans Biden was incapable of delivering.
Indeed, even now, it's far from clear what the Republican incumbent actually wants the public to know and believe about his Democratic opponent. Yesterday, as part of an apparent trolling exercise, Trump campaigned in Scranton, Pennsylvania -- Biden's birthplace -- where the president told local supporters of his rival, "He left. He abandoned Pennsylvania. He abandoned Scranton."
In reality, when Biden was a child, his father struggled to find steady work, so they relocated. Evidently, Trump believes Biden should've remained alone in Scranton -- as a 10-year-old kid -- so as to not "abandon" the community?
The president added yesterday, "If you want a vision of your life under Biden's presidency, think of the smoldering ruins of Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland, the bloodstained sidewalks of Chicago, and imagine the mayhem coming to your town and every single town in America."
Or put another way, Trump is warning the electorate that if Biden wins, we'll see the kinds of problems we already have in Trump's America.
As the dust settles on a surprisingly effective Democratic convention, there's little doubt as to what Biden has to say about himself, his vision, and opponent. Can anyone say the same about the Republican president?