It was not Biden’s week: Errors show dilemma of the media strategy for the 2024 elections

In a single brutal week, the fundamental communications paradox of President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign was laid bare: whether it is better to confront or ignore the media, as concerns about his age and acuity dominate the headlines.

Biden’s team managed to find the worst of both worlds, stoking concerns about how his campaign will manage the 81-year-old president over the next nine months.

First, they hid Biden from the press, announcing that he would skip a traditional Super Bowl interview and opt not to attend a press conference alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. But then a series of missteps in which Biden confused long-dead European leaders with his living counterparts amplified questions about whether his aides were keeping the president bubble-wrapped.

Then, after the release of a scathing Justice Department report that cited Biden’s “diminished faculties and defective memory” (even as it concluded that no criminal charges were warranted), the president hastily organized a House press conference. White.

But another mistake, By identifying Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as Mexico’s leader, he only fueled the same concerns that motivated the press conference in the first place.

The developments underscore the unenviable challenge facing Biden’s advisers, who know that every verbal slip can exacerbate the biggest liability facing the president: voters who fear he is not up to the task.

There is a natural tension between what one person familiar with the team’s thinking described as a “running the clock strategy” (trying to get to November without making big mistakes while delaying controversial decisions) and trying to show that concerns are exaggerated by making Biden more accessible.

About 76 percent of voters, including half of Democrats, said they were concerned about Biden’s physical and mental health in an NBC News poll released this week.

Biden Media Outlook

The changing media landscape, with more voters consuming news through curated social media feeds, further complicates efforts to develop and execute a communications strategy.

Democratic strategist Anita Dunn, a major influence on Biden’s political and communications approach, has directed staff to pivot toward greater engagement with digital media. White House advisers say it’s part of an effort to emphasize the non-traditional approach to voters, while continuing to use interactions with the press to drive messages.

The proof, they say, is in the pudding: Biden defeated the eminently press-friendly Donald Trump in 2020, Democrats exceeded expectations in the 2022 midterm elections, and the president racked up major legislative victories.

But consumers’ shift toward short-form video also gives Biden’s opponents the perfect format to turn their mistakes and misstatements into images presented to younger viewers.

In the short term, the Biden team is adopting a multi-pronged defense.

The White House and its allies have stepped up attacks on Robert Hur, the special counsel who questioned Biden’s acumen, pointing out that he was appointed by Trump. His advisers argue that Hur is not qualified to evaluate the president’s mental faculties and in doing so violated Justice Department standards.

Biden himself said it was indecent of Hur to imply that he didn’t remember when his son Beau died, and he made that argument directly and profanely to House Democrats he met with after the report’s release.

Allies have also noted Trump’s propensity for gaffes, including confusing his Republican primary rival, Nikki Haley, with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And they have argued that the media is applying a double standard, chronicling Biden’s every misstep while marveling that Trump, the GOP front-runner, remains popular with his base despite outrageous or inaccurate comments.

On Friday, the White House highlighted reports suggesting that Republicans privately recognize Biden’s acumen and negotiating skills, even when they publicly ridicule their age. But officials admit that, to some extent, the problem (and Biden’s mistakes) are inescapable.

“Now is not the time to panic,” said Jim Messina, former President Barack Obama’s campaign manager. “Everyone needs to breathe and move on.”

Biden goes for younger voters

Officials say that in the long term they are looking to broaden their focus beyond the Washington media bubble, particularly reaching younger voters who are more likely to consume information on platforms like Snapchat and TikTok.

The White House and campaign staff have modified Biden’s events to make them more adaptable to digital audiences. Biden has foregone traditional rallies for more intimate settings where he interacts one-on-one with union workers or business owners.

“President Biden travels the country at an aggressive pace that often exceeds the schedules of his predecessors, speaking directly to the American people through an all-inclusive communications strategy about how he is fighting to grow the middle class.” and protect our freedoms. “said White House spokesman Andrew Bates.

The administration has invited local content creators, hoping they will take selfies with the president and post informal videos on social media. The White House digital strategy office has begun engaging influencers by previewing news, offering interviews to officials and inviting creators to parties.

Campaign aides say the emphasis will extend to financial decisions. Instead of focusing on traditional television advertising and home visits, Biden’s team plans to invest in a more diverse set of outreach opportunities.

“We have to open the door to how the president spends his time and how we spend our time,” said Rob Flaherty, Biden’s deputy campaign manager.

Aides note that some of the president’s recent podcast appearances, including a sit-down with comedian Conan O’Brien and a discussion about grief with CNN host Anderson Cooper, accomplish goals that may not be achieved through traditional interviews.

Such smooth talk could help Biden subtly counter the narrative that he lacks sharpness by showing him engaged in extensive, substantive conversations.

At the same time, Biden’s advisers say they want to be cautious about placing the president in apolitical settings.

The advisers said the decision to skip the interview Super Bowl wasn’t because of concern that Biden would stumble, but because they didn’t see an opportunity to win over voters more focused on the game.

However, a Democratic strategist said skipping the interview was a missed opportunity, noting that millions saw Trump in that environment.

Biden risks missing excellent opportunities to reassure voters before November.

“To win, the president must repeatedly prove that Hur is wrong and worthy of his office,” former Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer wrote in his newsletter, adding that “it means doing more interviews and more speaking engagements.” press”.