- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2020

Joseph R. Biden ostensibly could be running his presidential campaign from the dwarf planet of Pluto, while President Trump bulldozes ahead from the center of the political universe in Washington.

The COVID-19 pandemic has basically thrown the presidential campaign into limbo and put traditional campaigning on ice. It has left Mr. Biden, 77, in the tricky position of trying to reinvent himself online, unite the Democratic Party and build an internet army from the recreation room of his home in Delaware.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has been the star of the show in the nation’s capital.

Flanked by doctors, administration officials and public health gurus, his almost daily White House briefings have been must-watch television, driving the storyline from Washington and driving his critics mad.

Mr. Trump’s focus on the economy and clashes with the press over his rosy outlook have infuriated far-left activists.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is circulating a petition calling on news media to boycott the Trump briefings. The committee says the briefings “have turned into a torrent of lies and misinformation” that mislead the public and put more lives at risk.

Mr. Trump, however, is getting positive marks from the general public.

The latest Gallup poll found that 60% of Americans, including 1 in 4 Democrats, approve of the president’s response to the crisis and that nearly half of voters give his overall performance a thumbs up, marking an uptick from earlier this month.

Democrats, however, insist that the bounce will be short-lived and that Mr. Trump’s response won’t age well.

“All of us have a reflex to trust the commander in chief when we are under attack. I mean, it is a self-preservation reflex. It is a traditional American reflex,” said former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. “In this case, though, as this crisis continues to roll forward, people will come to understand that trusting the president could be deadly right now for themselves and their families. He is still thinking like a guy with hotel investments instead of like the commander in chief.

“The after-action report on this won’t be pretty,” he said. “This was not something that was suddenly sprung upon us without warning.”

Mr. O’Malley said the former vice president has been a study in contrast, offering the nation a calm and steady voice in a time of crisis. He also said Mr. Biden distanced himself from Mr. Trump early on by sounding the alarm on the coronavirus outbreak when the president was downplaying the threat.

“The danger for him is speaking in any sort of way that looks overtly calculating, political or self-promotional, and I don’t think he has done that,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Still, Mr. Biden’s foray into the land of pixels has been a wayward adventure.

On the one hand, it has provided him with a bullhorn he can use to knock the Trump administration, stay connected with voters and reach out to others, such as millennials, who have been slow to warm to his bid.

On the other hand, the Biden livestreams and interviews with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg at times have been full of gaffes, cringeworthy moments and a teleprompter issue or two.

Mr. Biden has stumbled over words, jumped between thoughts, and made up claims on the fly, including the suggestion that he was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Trump retweeted a series of the stumbles that mocked Mr. Biden as the “Democrat’s best & finest!”

“It’s no surprise the Biden campaign is struggling to adapt technologically. After all, Biden is entirely dependent on the teleprompter, thinks record players are widespread, and says one clips coupons in the stock market,” said Steve Guest, rapid response director for the Republican National Committee.

“Meanwhile, the RNC and the Trump campaign are running circles around the Biden campaign when it comes to adapting our field effort to the constraints imposed by the coronavirus,” he said.

Mr. Biden also has been upstaged by other Democrats, most notably Andrew Cuomo. The New York governor has received high praise for the way he has handled the crisis in his state.

Despite all that, Democrats say the current situation could help the Biden campaign by giving it time to reset after a rapid rise in the Democratic primary race and to build out a more robust operation ahead of a likely general election showdown with Mr. Trump.

He is starting from a solid position.

A Monmouth University poll released this week found that Mr. Biden is leading Mr. Trump by a 48% to 45% margin and that he is the preferred candidate of voters in more than 300 swing counties across the nation.

Outside groups, meanwhile, have started to lend a hand.

The Win the West super PAC, led by former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and former Biden speechwriter Matt Littman, has launched a campaign targeting battleground states including Texas and Arizona.

The group also started airing a “Leadership Matters” digital ad using Mr. Trump’s own words against him. The ad highlights the president’s push to cut the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his claims that the administration had the coronavirus outbreak “totally under control” and that the virus is a “new hoax.”

The spot then pivots to a speech in which Mr. Biden says the most important job of the president is to protect the health and safety of Americans.

“Downplaying it, being overly dismissive or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us and further advantage the spread of the disease,” Mr. Biden says in the ad. “This administration has left us woefully unprepared for the exact crisis we now face.”

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