The announcement Wednesday that former Vice President Joe Biden will not travel to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee to accept his party’s presidential nomination because of the coronavirus pandemic could be a plus for his presidential campaign.

Biden will instead deliver his acceptance speech from his home state of Delaware to a convention that will largely be conducted virtually and to a TV audience in homes around the country.

Convention delegates will vote from their home states to nominate Biden and the woman he chooses to be his vice presidential running mate during the week of Aug. 17. Like the Republicans, the Democrats have scaled back their party convention from what was planned to be a mass gathering of thousands of delegates, elected officials, party officials and journalists.

BIDEN SCRAPS PLANS TO TRAVEL TO MILWAUKEE FOR NOMINATION ACCEPTANCE, CITING CORONAVIRUS CONCERNS

This could be a plus for Biden because he has shown himself to be prone to making multiple gaffes when being interviewed by reporters and responding to questions from the public during town halls and in-person campaigning.

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This year’s presidential campaign is like none in the last 100 years, lacking the cross-country campaigning at rallies and events that was the hallmark of past campaigns. Biden has been holed up his Delaware home, speaking to supporters via social media, giving scripted speeches in front of a teleprompter from his home or nearby to small numbers of socially distanced people, and rarely taking questions from the media.

All this minimizes the chances Biden will stick his foot in his mouth and say something that brings him criticism, such as when he told the host of a Black-oriented radio show in May that “if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”

When that comment sparked a torrent of criticism, the former vice president said that “perhaps I was much too cavalier. I know that he comments have come off like I was taking the African American vote for granted but nothing could be further from the truth.”

Now with no need to travel to the Democratic Convention, Biden can continue his shelter-in-place campaign from home. Since Biden is leading Trump by significant margins in opinion polls among voters nationally and in key states, he has little incentive to change his strategy and start traveling around the country campaigning.

The very real danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic gives Biden a good excuse to stay home and portray himself as a responsible candidate concerned with public health.

When a president is running for reelection, the campaign invariably turns into a referendum on the incumbent. That’s truer than ever this year.

President Trump has a unique ability to dominate the media. But despite all the attention he generates with White House news conferences, events and occasional travel, Trump has the same foot-in-mouth problem as Biden.

Trump’s misstatements about the coronavirus pandemic in particular — playing down the seriousness of the disease COVID-19 and suggesting unproven and in some cases dangerous treatments — have eroded his credibility and support with the public.

Biden — the challenger, with the longest resume of a candidate since at least George H. W. Bush — has benefitted from the drop in Trump’s public approval ratings. Many voters who have had enough of Trump aren’t particularly enthusiastic about Biden, but he doesn’t generate fear and uncertainty among voters. As a result, many voters say they plan to cast ballots for Biden primarily to get Trump out of the White House.

After almost four years of President Trump’s unprecedented and controversial actions, Biden is wisely portraying himself as a president who would return some sense of normalcy to the country. His homebound campaign makes it easier for him to do this by avoiding the spotlight of the campaign trail.

Trump has the same foot-in-mouth problem as Biden.

Because the pandemic is sidelining Biden and even Trump to a lesser extent (he won’t travel to the Republican National Convention) the three presidential and one vice presidential debates this fall will be more important than ever.

The unscripted and unpredictable debates are likely to be the only chance for Trump to try to throw Biden off-balance, and try to force a gaffe that might slow the momentum of the Biden campaign.

ut President Trump and his campaign have done Biden a favor by lowering public expectations for Biden’s debate performance. They have attacked every slip of the tongue by Biden and blown them up out of all proportion, intimating (but never quite saying) that Biden is suffering from dementia.

In an interview last month with Chris Wallace of Fox News, Trump called Biden “not competent to be president” and unable to do interviews. Trump said that “Biden can’t put two sentences together” and that “Joe doesn’t know he’s alive.”

While Biden’s conduct and record are certainly open to harsh criticism, it’s obvious to anyone watching him on TV that he can put two sentences together and is aware that he is alive. He will prove this on the debate stage, and simply by doing so convince many Americans that he has had a successful performance, because Trump has set the bar for expectations so low for the former vice president.

When I watched Biden debate his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination I graded his appearances between a C- and a B+. But even a C- performance counts as a success if the audience expects a failure.

Biden’s stay-at-home campaign brings to mind the last major “front porch” presidential campaign – that of Republican candidate Warren G. Harding in 1920.

Harding had the misfortune of running against two very capable Democrats: Presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. James Cox, a successful businessman who built a large newspaper chain and then the large media conglomerate Cox Enterprises (which continues to this day) and vice presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt (yes, that one) before he contracted polio.

But Harding was running in the aftermath of the second term of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson – coinciding with a divisive end to World War I, a deep recession, controversial raids on immigrant communities, and, yes, a pandemic —  in this case, the Spanish flu.

While the gregarious Cox traveled thousands of miles holding campaign rallies, Harding stayed close to his Marion, Ohio home, greeting the press and visitors who came to see him speak.

Harding’s theme was a return to normalcy of the pre-Wilson, and pre-Teddy Roosevelt era, both times of significant change in the country. As Harding put it: “Normal men and back to normalcy will steady a civilization which has been fevered by the supreme upheaval of all the world.”

Sound familiar? As they say, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

While Harding’s presidency is best remembered as a scandalous failure, his campaign was anything but. He won the largest popular vote margin in a contested presidential election up to that time, as well as 37 of the then-48 states. He was the first Republican to carry a state of the old Confederacy.

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Harding died in office in 1923, but his term in office led to three consecutive Republican White House terms.

The challenge for Trump is how to fight against the rhymes of history. As it has been throughout this pandemic, he should have every advantage. His opponent refuses to make news — so it’s up to Trump to figure out how to use his bully pulpit to put points in his column, rather than in Biden’s.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus continues to infect and kill Americans — the U.S. death toll now tops 157,000, with more than 4.8 million infections. And our economy continues to suffer, with high unemployment and many businesses remaining closed. This makes it vital for Trump to show the American people that he and his administration are doing everything possible to fight the pandemic.

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Yet Trump’s attacks on his own public health agencies and officials — including Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx — and the president’s overly optimistic assessments of the pandemic are sowing public doubts about his ability to handle this crisis. It’s gotten so bad that at times it seems the Biden campaign is running the Trump campaign, orchestrating a path to make Trump a one-term president.

Biden may be past his prime and may not have been every Democrat’s first choice for the nomination, but Trump’s repeated unforced errors could vault Biden into the Oval Office.

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