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Why Biden’s slow-and-steady reelection push is full of risk

Voters must decide between ‘relentless’ president and ‘chaos and nothingness,’ aide says

A Biden-Harris 2024 campaign and Democratic National Committee billboard is pictured in Milwaukee in August.
A Biden-Harris 2024 campaign and Democratic National Committee billboard is pictured in Milwaukee in August. (Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden’s reelection effort is off to a slow start — by design, but with much risk.

His team acknowledges it is playing the long game. “Infrastructure Joe” is spotted more often these days than Biden’s alter ego, “Dark Brandon.” That’s a big gamble in the saturated media and disinformation market that is the United States of America.

White House and campaign aides — even Biden himself, at times — in one breath describe Donald Trump as an existential threat to American democracy. Then, in the next one, they often dismiss questions about Biden trailing the former president and his 91 felony charges in a number of polls.

With Trump this week conjuring the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, threatening to “root out” the “vermin” that are his political foes, and a spokesman reportedly declaring that “their sad, miserable existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House,” how long can team Biden hold back? With Trump’s violent tone appearing to manifest itself in the actions and words of some GOP lawmakers, when will team Biden hit the gas pedal?

Although Election Day is just under a year away, there is a palpable lack of urgency. Take Biden campaign spokesman Michael Tyler’s response to CNN last weekend when asked about the number of Americans working two jobs: “That’s precisely why we need another four years to continue to finish the job, right?”

Tyler added: “This is the work that we have to do over the next four years. The president understands the challenges. He understands people’s concerns, and he is doing the work to solve them.”

Voters, however, are not giving Biden much credit for that “work.” Team Biden is not exactly scrambling, or altering its long-play strategy, to change that.

For instance, the White House isn’t planning to speed infrastructure projects or send Biden on a coast-to-coast trek to sell them as part of his reelection push. Rather, his top aides are banking that voters will simply figure things out for themselves. That, however, is risky in the social media era, and as certain “news” networks push disinformation and conspiracy theories.

White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu got a chuckle out of a group of reporters’ questions last Thursday about why Biden has not gotten more credit for what the White House contends are 40,000 announced infrastructure projects in 4,500 communities.

“I’m surprised you’re surprised,” the former New Orleans mayor said. He made clear that White House officials are aware of the reams of data showing voters are at least telling pollsters they’re not all that familiar with the administration’s implementation of a 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

But Landrieu is not concerned, predicting Biden will eventually get a 2024 boost.

“Nobody’s paying attention … until they have to make a decision,” he said of voters and Election Day 2024, calling himself and the president “pretty good politicians.”

“We’re starting to literally see these projects come out of the ground,” Landrieu said, adding he agrees with his boss that once those are completed, “we’ll see the transformation of the American economy.”

But don’t expect that to happen quickly enough to swing the 2024 election toward Biden — at least not on their own. That’s because Landrieu said it will take “three, five, seven years” to wrap them all up. That pace of work is a direct mandate from the Oval Office, with Biden instructing Landrieu to “do it right” and “build [projects] in a way to stand the test of time.”

That sounds like vintage Biden. It also sounds like it could play right into Trump’s hands.

When the veteran Democratic politician was asked about polling data and the infrastructure law implementation, Landrieu argued polls also didn’t predict election results last week in key states that went heavily Democrats’ way.

‘Failure to sell’

Landrieu, notably, took a swipe at Trump, Biden’s most likely 2024 general election foe.

“The public’s going to have to make a decision,” he said of next November’s presidential election. To him, that’s one between a sitting president he described as “relentless” and “a beast” and a former one he said “is going to show you chaos and nothingness.”

After Trump’s “vermin” remarks, the White House did fire back. Its response came in the form of a written statement. “Using terms like that about dissent would be unrecognizable to our founders, but horrifyingly recognizable to our veterans who put on their country’s uniform in the 1940s,” said spokesman Andrew Bates, referring to World War II.

Some Democratic officials and strategists are concerned about Biden’s dismal poll ratings and inability to pull ahead of the legally challenged Trump, who seems to only get more and more incendiary.

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon suggested in an email that team Biden needs to step on the accelerator and focus on Americans’ bank accounts, saying that “for voters, the economy is still priority one.”

“If Joe Biden … loses to Trump next fall, the cause will be his failure to sell his impressive economic accomplishments to the voters,” Bannon said. “Trump beat Hillary Clinton [in 2016] because he had the business background and the ability to sell his economic message.”

Landrieu declined last week to confirm reports he will leave his White House post later this year. If he does, it would potentially give the reelection campaign a feisty and folksy talker who is an effective communicator and also isn’t afraid to take some shots and shoot straight.

To be sure, the president’s team will need a few more media jousters to drown out the daily barrage of false statements — and now, threats — from Trump world. The laws of politics and physics suggest a vintage Corvette Stingray can’t slow down a fully loaded freight train, heading downhill with no brakes.

Unless, of course, the ’Vette has a lot of help.

Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett, a former White House correspondent, writes a weekly column for Roll Call, parts of which often first appear in the subscription-based CQ Afternoon Briefing newsletter.

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