Continuing Thoughts on the Turmoil

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Two thoughts on our current predicament. The first is that while people are seizing on this or that bad poll — and there are some — we now have seven polls in which we have before and after data from individual pollsters, before the debate and after. This is the only real way to judge the public opinion of last week’s debate. Putting all those together you have Biden going down one point and Trump remaining unchanged. This data point is certainly not determinative in itself about what should happen next or anything about the campaign. But from what I can tell it is the best systematic and data-driven look at the impact of this event which has consumed the political world and especially the Democratic Party for a week. The slight shift could in fact quite easily be explained simply by non-response bias. By any measure it is very limited.

At a minimum we need to look clearly at those numbers as a counter to what from the world of commentary and chatter has the look of a collapse of support for Biden and even Democrats generally. Vibes, the overlapping cacophony of voices on cable news and on editorial pages are all together like being in a room of screaming, shouting people, leaving one disoriented and overwhelmed. Packs of reporters at several critical publications — most notably The New York Times — are deeply invested in what they clearly see as vindication. This is jackals and hyenas type stuff. These numbers, while not gospel and also a moving target, are at least the result of some systematic analysis, like instruments’ signals while flying in a storm.

But there’s another part of the current moment I want to note. Beginning Monday I became concerned at what seems like passive or semi-secluded response from the campaign and the President. Immediately after the debate Biden appeared at a debate night rally and then the next day at a rally in North Carolina, at both of which he seemed vigorous, forceful, engaged. As I’ve noted, this is a show, don’t tell situation. You’re not going to win a public argument about the President’s cognitive health or command of the situation by talking about it. You have to simply put him out there at rallies or calling into shows, demonstrating his vitality and command. To some the answer is simple: they’re not because they can’t. Debate night was the norm, or at least a common occurrence. It also occurs to me that this simply is a sign of not knowing what is required in what is at least a major, major crisis of confidence on the part of the stakeholders who make up Biden’s political coalition. Whatever the reality there, nature abhors a vacuum. And what we’ve had for almost a week is something like a vacuum, at least in what is visible to the public.

Yesterday for the first time we saw some visible weakening of the public unity around the President. Nancy Pelosi publicly validated the questions surrounding the President’s state of health. One congressman, albeit one with an idiosyncratic support base in the red state of Texas, publicly called for Biden to step aside. I’ve said that I lean heavily against a switch of candidates for a number of reasons, but that I am also waiting to see what new evidence comes in. The support of critical party stakeholders is evidence, a thing in itself.

Only the President can resolve or settle this. It is in a way an archetypal demonstration of his ability to lead. He’s the leader of the Democratic Party in addition to the country. And the parties stakeholders are in a state of turmoil and disarray. Only he can settle that. Again, as I’ve said a few times, this is a matter of showing, not telling. I don’t buy these pundit claims that Biden has to do X number of press conferences and Y prestige journalist sit downs. If it’s going to be rallies, then do the rallies. I figure there may be some feeling within the campaign that you don’t want to be desperately responding to every demand. But again, showing, not telling. Nature abhors a vacuum.

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