- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2020

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden is taking baby steps to expand his campaign during the coronavirus crisis, moving his online broadcasts from his basement to his front porch.

Meanwhile, President Trump, already enjoying the more grandiose stage of the White House Rose Garden for his coronavirus updates, has even grander aspirations of a quick return to arena rallies, complete with throngs of his adoring fans.

As the nation ponders the new normal as states reopen their economies, political campaigns are trying to figure out what’s possible in the coronavirus era.

Mr. Trump doesn’t have any of his signature campaign rallies on his schedule, but he has been getting out of the White House, with trips to Arizona, Pennsylvania and, on Thursday, Michigan — states that are expected to play a big role in deciding the victor in November.

Mr. Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee, has yet to leave his Delaware home and instead is conducting interviews and campaign events via an internet connection.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment on his plans, but the Trump campaign is reveling in the dichotomy.

“The president has been clear that he wants to return to holding rallies and connecting with the American people,” said Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for the Trump campaign. “We suspect that Joe Biden will stay in close proximity to his teleprompter as long as possible.”

Darrell West, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Trump should be excited about his opportunities to break free of Washington, where his clashes with reporters, and at times his own science advisers, at coronavirus updates proved to be must-see TV, and not to the president’s benefit.

“It would be better for Trump to speak at rallies than have arguments with news reporters at his daily briefings,” Mr. West said. “The latter exchanges have provided a lot of material for Democratic ad-makers.”

Mr. Biden, meanwhile, could benefit from any interactions, so he can “reassure voters he is up to the job.”

“He is relatively invisible right now and letting Trump dominate the news cycles,” Mr. West said.

At least for now, it has worked. Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump in virtually every national poll and in most surveys of the head-to-head match-up in key states.

Steve Mitchell, a Michigan-based GOP strategist, said the Biden campaign is benefiting from keeping its candidate under wraps by using a controlled virtual environment. But at some point, that’s going to end.

“Once Biden is out there, Trump will no longer be running against a straw man,” Mr. Mitchell said. “He will be running against a man who has a history of making gaffes on stage.”

Still, the Trump campaign is projecting confidence in its ability to beat Mr. Biden in all facets of campaigning. Brad Pascarle says they have built a juggernaut of a campaign, comparing it to the “Death Star” from Star Wars.

Of course, the Death Star fell victim to a band of rebel warriors — twice.

In Mr. Biden’s case, that band of warriors now includes former President Barack Obama, who is increasingly active in politicking, with sharp jabs at Mr. Trump.

Mr. Biden is also deploying the likes of Sen. Kamala Harris, a fierce one-time rival for the Democratic nomination, and even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a backer of Sen. Bernard Sanders, who is now co-chair of Mr. Biden’s policy task force on climate change.

The goal is to show a unified party front, with Mr. Biden hoping to heal some of the divisions that were exposed during the primary.

Rick Gorka, of the Trump Victory PAC, said Mr. Biden needs the help of those surrogates because his campaign is so “anemic.”

“The president energizes voters unlike any other candidate,” Mr. Gorka said. “When Air Force One lands, the seal goes on the podium and that is when the show begins.”

As soon as Mr. Trump returns to the campaign trail, Mr. Biden will be pressured to follow.

“He has to, but I think regardless of what he does I think he is going to look small, just because of the lack of energy and the lack of crowds,” Mr. Gorka said.

The irony is that swing-state Democratic governors will hold a lot of sway over when and where Mr. Trump can hold rallies.

That includes Govs. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, who have been among the more cautious executives in their responses to the coronavirus, drawing mounting criticism from Mr. Trump and his backers.

“The president has been clear that he believes that some Democrats have dragged their feet in reopening their states because they believe they can gain some political advantage,” Mr. Murtaugh said. “The economy has to get going again because a prolonged lockdown comes with its own health problems, on top of what the coronavirus has caused.”

Mr. Trump has taken direct aim at Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, suggesting he could be trying to use the coronavirus as an excuse to put the brakes on the Republican National Convention.

The GOP believes the event will happen as scheduled in late August in Charlotte, drawing upwards of 50,000 to the city.

“They’re playing politics, as you know, by delaying the openings.,” Mr. Trump told The Washington Examiner in a recent interview. “To me that’s politics. They think it’s a bad thing for me if they delay the opening. I think it’s bad for them. And you have people protesting outside, and those people like Trump.”

Sadie Weiner, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cooper, said that’s not the case.

“As the governor said, pandemics cannot be political,” Ms. Weiner said. “North Carolina is using the data and the science based on White House guidance to inform our three-phased approach to lifting restrictions. The health and safety of North Carolinians is the top priority as we battle COVID-19.”

Mr. Cooper began easing restrictions in his state on May 8, and he is allowing restaurants and salons to open at 50% capacity on Friday as part of his “modest” phase 2 reopening plan. He also is removing the state’s stay-at-home order Friday at 5 p.m.

Michael Bitzer, chairman of the Department of Politics at Catawba College, said Mr. Trump‘s comments have put Mr. Cooper in “an awkward position.” The governor is likely eager for the potential economic lift that the convention could produce, but the risks of a mass gathering probably contradict what he’s hearing from his health advisers.

“With all that said, I think we are truly flying blind into the summer and what the fall may hold,” Mr. Bitzer said. “The virus will likely have the last word, whether partisans like it or not.”

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