Where Are the Pros in Biden’s Campaign?

The Wall Street Journal


At Monday’s White House briefing, Ed O’Keefe of CBS asked press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre if, “given the president’s sagging poll numbers,” which show him trailing “any Republican opponent,” there has “been any talk in this White House about a change in strategy or staffing.” Ms. Jean-Pierre dismissed this with a curt “no.”

She had to say that. Any other answer would have been chum for a room full of journalistic sharks. But a change in strategy and staffing should be discussed in the West Wing.

President Biden’s numbers stink. In a Nov. 13 Fox News poll, he trails Donald Trump by 4 points, Ron DeSantis by 5 and Nikki Haley by 11. That’s after spending tens of millions on digital, cable and network ads and holding endless presidential and cabinet events extolling his achievements.

Despite this, Mr. Biden’s overall approval rating is an anemic 40.6% in the RealClearPolitics average. His approval numbers on handling the economy, crime, foreign policy, immigration and inflation are even worse (at or below 38.4%).

Mr. Biden has tried campaigning via a jumble of self-congratulatory policy pronouncements, generally so tone-deaf and superficial as to invite ridicule. Take Monday’s announcement of the new Council on Supply Chain Resilience, at which Mr. Biden unveiled 30 steps to “strengthen America’s supply chains.” How many American voters can name a single one?

Having appointed a task force on the same subject in June 2021, Mr. Biden’s announcement Monday was a stunt to draw attention. But it didn’t get any. Small-ball proposals aren’t any more impressive if they’re issued by a “council” rather than a “task force.”

Though it’s clear Team Biden’s strategy isn’t working, they seem intent on doing more of the same. Their last resort will be that of any failing campaign: Go thermonuclear on their adversary. That might work if his opponent ends up being Donald Trump, but it won’t if Republicans nominate a different candidate.

Even a new strategy might not overcome Mr. Biden’s manifest weaknesses if he doesn’t have the right campaign team.

There are strong, seasoned campaign operatives in the West Wing. Deputy chief of staff for operations Jen O’Malley Dillon was Mr. Biden’s 2020 manager and has almost a quarter-century of election experience. Senior adviser Mike Donilon, Mr. Biden’s strategist in 2020, has spent more than 40 years in campaigns. Senior adviser Anita Dunn began working in campaigns in the 1980s. White House counselor Steve Ricchetti was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee director in the 1990s and chairman of Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign. But all now have important White House governing responsibilities. Where are their equals in the campaign?

There are none.

The president’s campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodriguez, has never run a campaign. The sum of her election experience? She volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2008 run, worked in Kamala Harris’s dreadful 2019 bid, then became the Biden campaign’s senior adviser for Latino affairs, principally responsible for calming agitated Hispanic party insiders. She’s now in charge of something that’s hard for the most seasoned campaign hands to handle. Her deputy does have experience: Quentin Fulks ran Sen. Raphael Warnock’s 2022 Georgia re-elect and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s 2018 race. Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Fulks have so far been given a tiny staff.

The plan is to outsource the duties a larger campaign staff would handle—the ground game, digital, polling and message testing—to the Democratic National Committee. That’s a doozy of an idea. The DNC’s chairman is Jaime Harrison, who headed the South Carolina Democrats when the party didn’t win a single statewide contest. Mr. Harrison then ran for the Senate in 2020, raising a record $130 million before losing to Sen. Lindsey Graham by 10.3 points.

Maybe this will work as seamlessly as Tinker to Evers to Chance. I doubt it. Having so many relative greenhorns in key slots and such a diffuse structure will likely make operations difficult, decision-making choppy, execution slow and responsibility elusive.

By contrast, consider the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. Mr. Obama’s 2008 manager, David Plouffe, remained as White House senior adviser, serving as the pipeline to the campaign. The president’s closest political hand, veteran operative David Axelrod, went to be chief campaign strategist. The manager was Jim Messina, who had been campaign chief of staff in 2008 after years as a political journeyman. Coordination between the White House and campaign was seamless, focused and effective.

Team Biden is delusional to think they’re on the right path. Their strategy is broken and their campaign structure rickety. No matter how many committees or task forces Mr. Biden announces, he’ll find you can’t run a campaign like this.

Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is author of “The Triumph of William McKinley” (Simon & Schuster, 2015).