Joe Biden vs. the most interesting man in the world

Is being boring enough to win the presidency?

Joe Biden.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Joe Biden is in fact running for president.

You might have heard of the guy. Was a senator for pretty much his entire life, opposed busing, routinely bragged about things like how “thanks to the leadership of Sen. [Strom] Thurmond” you could go to prison for having “a piece of crack cocaine no bigger than this quarter” without any judicial recourse, then got to be vice president. After that he complained his way through a series of primary debates with roughly 600 other would-be Democratic candidates until they all decided to drop out. Then the DNC gave him the nomination and he disappeared into the sunken place, where the independent candidate who might give him a run for his money in Oklahoma was previously exiled.

This is barely an exaggeration. Biden is running probably the most unusual campaign in modern American history, making videos in his basement that serve, if nothing else, to remind us that he is still in fact seeking the office of commander-in-chief. I'm not sure how much of it has to do with lockdown measures, which at most seem to be giving Biden's handlers an excuse to do all the things they wanted anyway.

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By "do" I mean "not do." In addition to pledging not to hold a single rally, Biden recently went three months without taking a single question from a member of the press. Dorks at the Lincoln Project have pointed out that Trump is the first president since Andrew Jackson not to own a dog. This is true. But Biden himself is also a throwback; like presidential candidates in the Age of Jackson, he refuses to give public speeches or hold events or do anything else that would give the general public the impression that he is actually seeking the office of commander-in-chief. It is possible that, despite his recent protests to the contrary, he will even find an excuse not to debate Trump, as Tom Friedman and others have advised.

There are two remarkable things about this strategy. The first is that it essentially triples down on the supposed errors of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. Like Hillary four years ago, Biden is making his opponent the focus of the election, with more or less total support from the media. Last time around it seems not to have occurred to anyone that at some point you have to make the case for why you are good alongside the stuff about the all-consuming badness of your opponent.

The second extraordinary thing about what Biden is doing is that it could in fact work. The guy who has decided to run for president by not running might just win. I've said before that Trump Is playing the presidency on All-Madden difficulty. Back in early February it looked as if he had emerged from three years of show-boating hearings and Democratic scandal mongering more or less unscathed, with record-low unemployment figures.

This is not the country we live in today. Trump himself might relish the prospect of four more years of total war against the Democrats and the press, but, as my former colleague Lili Loofbourow has observed, the vast majority of the American people would likely prefer something that seems like a return to normal. The fact that "normal" here refers to a country in which more Americans died of drug overdoses each year than were killed during the war in Vietnam, a nation of stagnant wages, rising health-care costs, obesity, depression, pornography addiction, and appalling racial disparities does not matter. This is true for the same reason that it does not matter that the atmosphere of chaos we have spent the last three and a half years reading about was largely a matter of media selectivity. (Ask yourself how CNN would have covered something like Fast and Furious if it had taken place during this administration, much less a tragedy like the one in Benghazi.)

Under a Biden administration all of this would disappear. The pipe dreams of a handful of progressive Democrats would give way to Obama-era centrism, and Wall Street would get used to it. We would stop reading stories about the corruption of Cabinet officials (except in the conservative press). It would no longer be assumed that it is unconstitutional for presidents to use leverage to secure desired foreign policy outcomes or that meeting with Russian leaders (as every American president has done for more than half a century) was treasonous. Deportations would continue and income inequality would rise. The news, though, would make for more wholesome reading again. And Twitter would suddenly revert to being simply what journalists do with most of their time and not the focus of their reporting as well.

This is a reality Trump and his campaign cannot afford to ignore. Which is why the best argument he can make right now is for the reopening of schools and the end of most lockdown measures. Biden's greatest weakness as a messenger for normal is that his campaign is anything but.

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Matthew Walther

Matthew Walther is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has also appeared in First Things, The Spectator of London, The Catholic Herald, National Review, and other publications. He is currently writing a biography of the Rev. Montague Summers. He is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow.