Campaigning from the Basement Studio


Joe Biden is campaigning against Donald Trump under difficult conditions. At the moment, he can only participate from his home in Delaware. This includes a podcast designed to show his presence.

These days, Joe Biden has to fight for the attention of the American people. The days are over when a campaign squad is constantly accompanied by television crews, or when Biden, after the successful primary in South Carolina at the end of February, could just move on to the next victory party. The temporary campaign offices, the volunteers going from door to door, the mass events, the shaking of hundreds of hands, all that is yesterday’s news. Now Biden spends his time in the basement of his home in Wilmington, Delaware, and must try to reach his voters from there. A podcast is supposed to do the trick – the medium that is particularly popular among young people. Biden has named the show “Here‘s the Deal.“

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the presumptive nominee has to figure out a way to get as many people interested in him with as little effort as possible. It is not an easy task, especially when you are facing off against an omnipresent, loudmouthed Donald Trump. For weeks, the media and social networks asked where Biden was. Not only the supporters of defeated rival Bernie Sanders, but many journalists have criticized Biden’s absence. Apparently, he had to get used to the new reality first. While Trump has simply kept utilizing the appearances in the White House and his Twitter account as a campaign platform, his presumptive opponent has looked for different ways to campaign.

At times, Biden uses the same tactics as Trump. Last Thursday, for instance, Biden speculated about a potential rescheduling of the presidential election in November. During a virtual fundraiser, Biden said that Trump wanted to push back the election date, seeing that as his only chance of winning. Trump fired back. “I never even thought of changing the date of the election,” Trump said on Monday evening during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden.

Now, Biden is launching his new podcast – and simultaneously presenting a kind of kitchen cabinet to discuss ideas for a Biden administration. From his basement in Wilmington, he jokes with his guests via telephone and often takes a step back and lets them do the talking. From time to time, listeners are allowed to ask questions. The show has already become an unofficial casting call for a future cabinet. The candidate enjoys inviting his former Democratic presidential rivals. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, has attended, as well as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Biden talked to both about the coronavirus pandemic – Klobuchar’s husband has recovered from the virus – but also addressed topics like climate change and social inequality.

Programmatic Flexibility

The well-known pastor, William Barber of the “Poor People’s Campaign,” wanted to engage in dialogue with Biden to persuade him of the need for universal health care and other social reforms. Sick leave for everybody and better social protection should be no-brainers, especially now that poor people in particular are suffering from the coronavirus outbreak, the reverend said. As is frequently the case, Biden kept things general. It is a tough moment in the history of the country and many options should be brought to the table, he said.

Barack Obama’s former vice president has already been criticized a number of times in the primaries for his lack of pragmatism. Indeed, during the live debates, he frequently retreated to statesmanlike language and answered substantive questions by pointing to his past political experience, leaving his candidacy’s policy objectives oftentimes rather vague. That made it easier for him, however, to approach his rivals about specific issues after they withdrew from the race. For instance, he announced plans to cancel student debt for certain income classes, and signaled that he was open to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plans to oversee compliance with personal bankruptcy regulations.

A Growing Problem

So far, tens of thousands of people tune in to Biden’s broadcast, with the first episode reaching about 40,000 downloads, while the president attracts millions with his TV appearances. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as Trump keeps making negative headlines. A commentator for The Washington Post, for example, characterized the podcast as a pleasant contrast to Trump’s lies and attacks. Furthermore, Biden is looking strong in recent polls. According to a survey by Suffolk University and USA Today, Biden is leading Trump by six percentage points, with 44% of the vote.

But it is going to be difficult for Biden to recreate the enthusiasm that characterized his rival Bernie Sanders’ campaign without having direct contact with an audience. The American people still are not noticing him enough. According to a poll by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, 42% of the respondents said they had no opinion on Biden’s performance regarding the coronavirus crisis or had not yet heard him mention the topic.

Aside from the demanding conditions under which he is campaigning, Biden has another, possibly growing problem. An increasing number of reports are surfacing about Tara Reade, who has accused the former senator of sexual misconduct in the 1990s. In the past couple of days, additional female witnesses have come forward, acknowledging that Reade had told them about an assault by her boss back then. The Biden campaign denies the allegations of his former employee and has since refrained from participating in the discussions.

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