President Joe Biden took a massive hit this week from Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report that declined to prosecute him for possessing some classified documents, in part due to its description of him as a well-meaning man with memory problems presumably associated with his advanced age.
As everyone knows, this has been the public’s number one concern regarding voting for Biden since he announced that he was running for re-election.
Politico gathered a group of elite political consultants to provide their insights on what they would do if they were advising Biden. It is a wonderful mix of the practical, the near obvious, and some quixotic, somewhat surprising advice.
I will add thoughts throughout, but this piece is primarily about Politico’s excellent reporting and the opinions therein. We start:
Matt Bennett: Executive VP for Public Affairs for “Third Way”
Do a 60 Minutes Interview to discuss his age.
Bennett argues that Biden’s strategy this far, the one in which he somewhat ducks, weaves, and makes light of his age, is simply not working. Voters do have legitimate questions as to whether a man who would be in his mid-80s can do the job.
Interestingly, Bennett suggests that Biden and First Lady Jill Biden do the interview together and confront the issue head-on. He needs to talk about whether he has suffered some mental decline (Not a deal breaker if handled correctly). Though the article doesn’t state why Jill would sit in, it seems like her role would be to speak as someone to vouch for the truthfulness of the stories.
Biden can then flip the switch and point out that Trump suffers from advanced age and commits many gaffes but has nowhere near the experience nor the empathy or commitment to democracy.
Senior advisor on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign
You cannot spin age. This sounds a lot like the advice above, though there are differences.
Myer’s advice is short and amenable to a pulled paragraph, which I am loathe to do, but it works best in this context:
“The president could submit to a cognitive assessment or appear more regularly in unscripted public events, like the pregame Super Bowl interview, which he declined for the second year in a row. But ultimately, advanced age is not an issue that can be spun. The president’s friends and advisers must address their own hard truth.”
Yes, great idea. But he would want to do five to ten private screenings first, very, very private, to determine how he might do on a neutrally overseen test. He could also demand one from Trump – and not the easy one. “Person, man… ”
Adviser on numerous Republican presidential campaigns.
Stewart wants close attention to technical detail, which makes a lot of sense in this context. Finding the President’s sharpest “zone” to address the public has nothing to do with his policies or judgment at other times of the day. But when in public, they want him to be at his best.
Stewart’s advice makes even more sense, given that she wants a media “blitz” that takes the issue head-on. If that is the strategy, they better have the President at his absolute best on those many times he will be out in front of people.
Last, the administration needs a second blitz. They need every political friend they have to change the narrative from Hur’s conclusion to Hur’s political motivation. To the maximum extent possible, make that document simply another piece of political propaganda. It will not be easy.
Jarvis Stewart is a managing partner at Cover Communications and a Democratic media strategist.
Stewart wants better management of Biden’s interactions with the press, too. But his focus is more specific in that he worries that Biden’s legendary temper gets the best of him at times, and at this age, it also brings out the worst symptoms that the public applies to advanced age.
The public may be right. But then again, there is that wisdom and experience thing.
Stewart’s advice is particularly important because he wants Biden’s team to get the man out of the White House and on the road. This is a recurring theme, though couched in different angles and priorities. The more time Biden spends in the White House, the more he invites criticism that he is hiding something.
The more time on the road, the more vibrant he appears… So long as it’s handled properly.
Do not worry about the political class
Ah, something fresh!
This is a trap that catches many politicians. Washington DC is the ultimate prestigious high school, with gossip, popular kids, quiet kids, kids that know the staff, and kids that truly don’t care.
“High School” is used as a metaphor because it can be a closed system where few of the students care what goes on outside the building – they care about what they and their friends read and believe it indicates how they’re doing.
It happens to presidents too – perhaps more so because they are the most cloistered, the most obsessed with polls and articles. How many presidents have “real friends”?
The advice is again to get Biden out of Washington and do what comes naturally to Biden – meet voters and worry less about the media that covers the horse race.
Republican strategist, a founder of Purple Strategies, and a veteran of four presidential campaigns.
Castellanos has absolutely nothing positive to offer. He sees it as a giant negative that is bound to nail Biden. As aggravating as it might be, it may also be right.
Bill Scher is a contributing writer to Politico Magazine, the politics editor for the Washington Monthly
Run a television ad addressing the issue straight on.
Now, this is interesting, and the ideal time would have been to run the ad during the Super Bowl (He has the money). Almost everyone would see it.
Too often, Independents and the “RINOs” (those Republicans who won’t support Trump) only see gaffes and do not see the cogent, wise, and caring man who occupies the office. Additionally, Biden has a story to tell.
Biden had the most consequential first two years of a presidential term, at least since Reagan, perhaps going back further. It was President Biden who dragged the country kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, or at least as far as it could go.
That story needs to be told, and why not do it in an ad talking about how was he able to get so much done if his age is such a big deal?
MICHAEL STARR HOPKINS
Michael Starr Hopkins is a Democratic strategist who has served on the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton
Riffing on a theme here, not only does Biden need to tell the story of his presidency, he needs to remind people that he’s lived a life with more success, pain, accomplishments, failures, and experience than virtually anyone in politics today. That story must be told!
Hopkins wants Biden to focus on a key theme. Through everything above, all the ups and downs, Biden’s commitment to the common man and woman could never be questioned.
“Amtrak Joe” became Amtrak Joe not because he simply rode the train for four hours twice a day to see his sons but because he knew the conductors, spoke with people, and enjoyed every minute of it.
Joe never came across as a U.S. Senator on those long train rides. He was “Joe” — and he’s got to remind people that he’s still “Joe.”
John Conway is director of strategy at the Republican Accountability Project
Back to age. But Conway wants Biden to “lean into” his age and turn it from a liability into a strength — this obviously sounds like a lot of the advice above. To be honest, other than telling a few more jokes about his age, there is little new in Conway’s advice regarding age, and we’ll skip it.
Democratic strategist for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Summer Lee.
Now, this piece of advice comes out of nowhere and sounds odd to the ear when first heard, and as one concentrates on it, it makes perfect sense.
Before anything else, unite that Democratic party.
I don’t know if I agree with Shahid’s primary issues put forth as dividing the party ( Israel’s war in Gaza, immigration policies reminiscent of Trump’s era, and the skyrocketing cost of living.) But with a weakened president, everyone had better be pulling in the same direction or, well, get out.
This is where Hakeem Jeffries — with his Speaker whisperer Nancy Pelosi behind him, can make a real difference. So far, he’s proven that he can keep his caucus in line during the biggest votes.
Shahid then drifts a bit into different views between age groups on key issues, but that is true of every House caucus to enter Congress. There is nothing new about having everyone on the same page.
It just means more in this election cycle.
Greenfield has almost nothing to offer that hasn’t been covered. He wants Biden “engaged” — which is another way of saying, “Get out of the White House and be Joe Biden.”
Victor Shi co-hosts the iGen Politics podcast and serves as strategy director for Voters of Tomorrow
Shi is a Gen-Z savant who has worked in Democratic politics for three years since he was 17. Shi has similar advice as the others but he wants the race characterized as an elderly man who has delivered both for the country and, more importantly, his generation. and Shi wants that emphasized.
I simply can’t say it as well as the young Shi, in his words. He wants this framed as a binary global choice:
President Biden is old. He makes mistakes. He stumbles. But, at every turn, remind voters this election is a binary choice between an old man who occasionally makes gaffes (Biden) and an old man who not only trips over his own words, but also faces 91 criminal counts, is a proven sexual abuser and has promised to be a dictator on Day One (Trump).
Well, that’s pretty straightforward, though it’s put together fairly powerfully, and hearing that it matters to the youngest voters is a good thing.
The fact is that Joe Biden does care about the younger generation at least as much as he does about the older folks getting ready to retire and need more prescription medicines.
We have doubts due to voter apathy, the resentment of two older candidates, and the fact that most young people don’t know that they are a priority to one of the two.
Shi also has some good advice — though it’s advice that will occur to the Biden campaign, hopefully sooner rather than later — and that is to unleash surrogates from every direction to campaign in every direction. Of course, seven deciding states will be the focus.
President Biden has many surrogates to choose from. Shi says, “Use them!”
Maria Cardona is a veteran Democratic strategist, principal at the Dewey Square Group
Okay, Maria starts with one of the most overused political cliches in existence. “Let Biden be Biden.” It is a cliche but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t good advice in this context.
Let Biden be himself, gaffes and all.
She has some very good underlying reasons: Biden’s charm and effectiveness lies in his authenticity, his warmth, his wisdom, his quirky humor, and his humanity are his “superpowers.”
Maria says that people love seeing Biden fight. This is especially true when he is right, like when he fought for his dignity against Special Counsel Ben Hur. She wants him to fight more.
Along with fighting, or during a fight, she suggests that Biden emphasize contrast in the choice in the election. There really is no way to compare the two candidates. One is ready to actually serve the American people. One is ready to serve himself. Biden wants to finish the job for the American people.
Trump wants to finish the job for himself.
Biden wants to expand democracy. Trump wants to either destroy it or tear it to meaningless shreds.
And so there it is. Politico deserves tremendous credit for gathering the experts and getting their thoughts.
Big hat tip to the Editors at Politico Magazine who put the piece together
Editor’s note: This is an opinion column that solely reflects the opinions of the author.
Jason Miciak is an associate editor and opinion writer for Occupy Democrats. He's a Canadian-American who grew up in the Pacific Northwest. He is a trained attorney, but for the last five years, he's devoted his time to writing political news and analysis. He enjoys life on the Gulf Coast as a single dad to a 15-year-old daughter. Hobbies include flower pots, cooking, and doing what his daughter tells him they're doing. Sign up to get all of my posts by email right here: