Joe Biden’s allies are pushing for a return to the “rose garden” strategy less than two months after the former vice president abandoned the notion and began campaigning actively.
Biden, who has retreated from the public eye after a hellish week of gaffes consumed his campaign, is being pushed to retool his schedule to limit public appearances and thereby cut down on the opportunities for verbal missteps. In particular, many are advising the 76-year-old former vice president to curb the number of events he does in the afternoon and evening – the time of day Biden has been most likely to say something embarrassing.
At the moment, the push is being made under the guise of giving Biden “more down time” before the race heats up in the fall ahead of the early primary contests.
“He needs to be a strong force on the campaign trail, but he also has to pace himself,” one of Biden’s allies told The Hill this week.
The suggestion that Biden start limiting his appearances comes less than two months after the candidate’s team publicly avowed to run a more energetic and engaged campaign.
Between announcing his candidacy in April and the first Democrat debate in late June, Biden’s campaign was defined by few public appearances and a laser focus on the general election, even at the cost of ignoring attacks by rival Democrats. The approach, in essence a new take on the “rose garden” strategy often preferred by incumbent presidents seeking reelection, quickly fell apart after Biden’s competitors, most notably Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), began eviscerating his political record.
After a particularly disastrous first debate, in which the former vice president struggled to respond to rebukes about his recent praise of segregationists and long-held stance on busing, Biden’s team announced he would spend more time on the campaign trail.
“I think it is true that what you’re seeing it is a more assertive time in the campaign,” one of Biden’s senior advisers told Politico at the time. “He’s not going to sit back and let people distort his record, nor is he going to let people define the terms of engagement.”
The new strategy, buoyed by an enhanced policy platform and an improved performance at the second debate, seemed to be working for the candidate. Polling taken earlier this month showed Biden leading nationally with support for his most high-profile critics plunging.
Then within the span of 48-hours in Iowa, everything fell apart. Biden’s troubles began last Thursday when he told voters at the Iowa State Fair that “we choose truth over facts” and grew with intensity throughout the same day. It eventually culminated in the former vice president making a racially insensitive remark while discussing his plans to reform education.
“We should challenge these students, we should challenge students in these schools to have advanced placement programs in these schools,” the former vice president said. “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
Although the gaffe was widely panned, with President Donald Trump even mocking Biden for not “playing with a full deck,” it was a statement the former vice president made later in the weekend that raised the most concern.
“Those kids in Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president,” Biden told a group of reporters Saturday afternoon, before claiming that when the survivors visited Congress, lawmakers were “basically cowering, not wanting to see them. They did not want to face it on camera.”
The statement left many stunned and perplexed as the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which resulted in 17 fatalities and over a dozen injuries, occurred on February 14, 2018 – more than one year after Biden left the White House.
In the wake of such gaffes, renewed doubts over Biden’s capabilities and fitness to run a modern presidential campaign began to emerge on the left. Instead of allaying such doubts by being open and increasing the candidate’s public schedule, as some on the left proposed, Biden’s team sent him on vacation and pivoted to attacking the media for pushing their own “narrative” when it came to gaffes.
The messy response and simmering doubts drove some of Biden’s allies, outside of his campaign apparatus, to push for a return to the “rose garden” strategy.
Many argued that, with the danger having passed from fellow 2020 Democrats, it was time to limit the amount of damage Biden could cause on his own. Some, though, admitted the advise was likely to be ignored, especially as Biden has already been criticized for doing less public appearances than other candidates.
“I think you’ll see the same schedule and maybe even more Joe Biden,” an ally told The Hill. “Everyone wants to see Joe Biden be Joe Biden. If he’s held back in any way, that’s almost the antithesis of who he is.”
“I think it’s the wrong approach,” they added.