Joe Biden held two public events last week introducing California Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice presidential pick. He took zero questions from the press.
In fact, the last time he took more than an occasional shouted question from a member of the media was July 28, according to CNN’s Biden embed Sarah Mucha. And the time before that? Try June 30.
Do the math: The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has taken questions from the press twice in the past 48 days. That’s not nearly enough.
But wait, you say: Sure, President Donald Trump takes questions from the media all the time, but he doesn’t tell the truth when he answers questions!
Absolutely true! But Biden isn’t running to be the same as Trump. He has expressly cast his campaign as an attempt to restore normalcy, dignity and what he considers the right way of doing things to the White House. Following his victories in the March 10 primaries – wins that effectively sealed the nomination for him – he pledged this:
“We need presidential leadership that’s honest, trusted, truthful and steady. If I’m given the honor of becoming your president, I promise you I’ll strive to give the nation that leadership every day.”
Biden’s entire candidacy is premised on the idea that Trump is an anomaly in everything. And that includes the bullying and prevarications he brings to his regular interactions with the media. But the solution – or the antidote – to how Trump deals with the media isn’t to effectively shield yourself away from questions, but rather to regularly (at least once a week) take questions from the reporters who are covering you.
There’s also this to consider: If polling is to be believed, Biden is a clear front-runner to beat Trump and become the 46th president of the United States in 78 days. And with that lead comes responsibility.
Yes, Biden has been in public life for a very long time (almost five decades). But he’s never been in this position before – about to become the Democratic presidential nominee and the odds-on favorite to be elected to the big job in the fall. Policy papers, planned speeches and even sit-down interviews are one thing. Answering tough questions from the media are another.
Look, I get why Biden and his team are limiting his exposure to the media. (And no, it’s not because, as Trump suggests, Biden “doesn’t know he’s alive.”) They know Biden is winning. They know the way to keep winning is to keep the spotlight on Trump as much as possible, a strategy that Trump plays right into with his constant tweeting and need to interact with the press constantly.
They also know that Biden is an unpredictable messenger. He says things he shouldn’t. He makes news – and not in a good way for the whole make-the-race-a-straight-referendum-on-Trump strategy.
Back in May, in an interview with Charlamagne tha God, Biden stepped in it when he told the rapper-turned-radio-host that any African American person undecided about who to vote for in the 2020 election “ain’t Black.” Asked by CBS’ Errol Barnett earlier this month whether he had taken a cognitive test, Biden responded: “That’s like saying to you, before you got on this program, if you’d taken a test. Were you taking cocaine? … What do you think, huh? Are you a junkie?” In that same interview, he suggested that the Black community was less diverse than the Latino community.
Plus, Biden has a long record of veering off into dangerous political waters when questioned by reporters. He has acknowledged as much as recently as December 2018. “I am a gaffe machine, but my God what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth,” Biden said during a stop in Montana to promote his book.
That quote brings me back to where I started. There’s a tendency, given Trump’s aggressive attempts to discredit the media and to smudge the line between fact and fiction, to give Biden a pass on all of this stuff because, well, he’s not anywhere near as bad as Trump when it comes to dealing with the media and transparency more generally.
And it’s true that what Trump has done in terms of the media in his first term in office is far more damaging than Biden shuttering himself away from the media during the heat of the presidential campaign. But Trump’s transgressions being far more severe don’t give Biden a blank check to avoid the media and their questions. Especially because Biden has run a campaign centered on the idea of bringing back “normal” to American politics.
It’s not enough to be “less bad” than Trump. Biden needs to meet the standards of presidents who have come before him. And at the moment, he’s not.