- - Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (which has yet to be described as “untimely”) gives President Trump the opportunity he needs to change the subject and focus of the presidential campaign. Whether he can take advantage of it is an open question.

At the same time, Justice Ginsburg’s death poses the most daunting challenge to the Biden campaign’s careful and brilliant strategy. The Biden crew created and has remained committed to a campaign in which the candidate says nothing, surrogates say nothing and the campaign itself consists of very limited interaction of any kind — no door knocks, no field offices — with voters.

Similarly, the campaign has been quiet about its preferred policies, other than its opposition to the current occupant of the White House. It is, in short, the “Seinfeld” of campaigns.

This approach is brilliant. It is predicated on Mr. Trump’s penchant to make everything good, bad or indifferent — about himself. Even in an election in which it is essential to draw distinctions between the candidates and make the campaign a referendum about the challenger, Mr. Trump has been unable to resist the spotlight.

The strategy also accounts for the intellectual and mental fragility of the Democratic Party’s own candidate. Mr. Biden is almost certainly incapable of enduring the physical and psychological demands of a traditional campaign. More importantly, the campaign’s silence throughout the duration of the election season has also enabled Mr. Biden to avoid taking sides in the sub rosa ideological strife incinerating the Democratic Party.



The opinion research about the race confirms the wisdom of the strategy. No matter what else has happened in the world, the race has been static for the last nine months. Mr. Biden retains a reliable 6- to 10-point advantage in nationwide surveys and holds narrow leads in most of the states that will determine the election.

Unfortunately for Mr. Biden, the death of Justice Ginsburg, and the nomination and confirmation of her replacement, guarantees that the internal disagreements among the Democrats will now break into public view. Leaders, most especially Mr. Biden, will be compelled to take positions with respect to institutional changes including ending the filibuster, packing the U.S. Supreme Court and providing statehood to places that may not want it (Puerto Rico) or to places to which the American people may not want to tie their fates.

Mr. Biden’s carefully-curated silence will be pierced. He will have to say something about each of these ill-advised ideas.

That will provide Mr. Trump with a way to expose his rival as what he is — an empty vessel for pink collectivism — rather than what he was — a marginally competent career clubhouse Democrat.

A contest that has been mired in stasis for the last eight months, has finally found its MacGuffin. The only question that remains is whether Mr. Trump can maintain the spotlight on Mr. Biden as he flails in the newly energized and volatile environment of an angry, splintered Democratic Party. That party rightly wants to be sure that all of its leaders are prepared to disrupt governmental institutions to the extent necessary to achieve its goals.

The struggle will clarify the Senate races as well. Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina now have a chance to energize voters on their behalf. Gov. Steve Bullock in Montana will suffer in his Senate campaign, too, as he also is forced to pick sides.

Mr. Trump’s best chance to win reelection is to keep the attention on Mr. Biden for the next six weeks. That’s a tall order for a man like Mr. Trump. At this point, however, it is what remains.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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