In the span of a week, the death of George Floyd and subsequent overflow of anger over police brutality in the United States has reshaped the political battlefield. COVID-19 has become an afterthought and the November elections are less important still.
But regardless of whether the presidential elections are held in-person or by mail, it’s an inevitability that will be shaped by how the past week has made history, and how the month of June plays out. Make no mistake: There will be a chapter reserved for these protests in the history books.
But how does this affect Joe Biden?
Biden had largely lingered in the shadows after Bernie Sanders dropped out, staying out of the public eye out of a COVID-19-borne necessity or just to avoid another damaging gaffe. While many criticized the former vice president, it seemed to be working — many polls showed Biden with a clear and definitive lead over Donald Trump.
Now, with the largest period of civil unrest in the United States since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Biden has taken on a new role. His campaign has taken broad strokes in repainting him as the leader needed for this moment, and Biden has emerged from the shadows.
He appeared in a viral video, taking pictures with protestors. A tweet put out by the Biden team showed him sitting in a church, mask on, listening to community leaders. On Tuesday, his account tweeted, “A country is crying out for leadership. Leadership that can unite us.”
In the most primitive analysis, these protests have forced Biden out of the shadows. While a global pandemic and soaring unemployment may not have been enough to force the candidate out into the public, this national crisis is. Biden can’t afford to be out of the picture in this conversation.
These protests benefit the Biden campaign. Perhaps not with voters, as Trump is essentially bulletproof on everything except the economy, but with the media, Biden is winning. It’s not even that media entities are skewing these events — it’s that the reality of the situation is so horrible for Trump that any coverage will paint him in a negative light.
This begets another question: Will any of this actually change the voting calculus in November? I find it hard to believe that anyone watching these events unfold hasn’t already decided whether they’re for or against Trump.
The only way that Trump will lose the roughly 42 percent approval rating he has enjoyed for most of his term is if the Republican party starts to abandon him — and that will never happen four months from an election. We don’t have any clear indication of what his popularity will be after the dust settles, but I doubt these events will move the needle.
Then again, the scale of these protests are without precedent, and its reach is only amplified by social media. If change is going to come at any moment, it's now, just when it's needed most.
Bottom line, there is one thing I’m confident in: This was not a planned strategy by the Biden campaign. If it wasn’t for a national emergency of this scale and the hunger of Democrats for a party leader, Biden would still be in the shadows, biding his time and cradling his fragile lead over Trump.
The emergency we find ourselves in demands that Biden rises to the occasion, and whether planned or not — whether it will actually change any votes in November — Biden is making the most of it.
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