By Autin Denean | June 1, 2022 | Original Article
WASHINGTON (TND) — The White House is conducting another all-out blitz to reach the American people to tout the Biden administration’s accomplishments and rally support heading into the November midterms.
Administration officials and Cabinet members have conducted interviews, appeared on Sunday news shows and traveled across the country but the effort has lacked one piece: lengthy exchanges between President Joe Biden and reporters.
The president has traveled and made prepared remarks throughout his presidency but long interactions with the press have been few and far between. Biden’s last on-the-record interview with the media was on Feb. 10 ahead of Super Bowl LVI with NBC’s Lester Holt.
Biden has held off-the-record meetings and frequently answers questions after prepared remarks or while going to and from Air Force One but has walked away after a few brief responses with limited ability for follow-up questions or detailed exchanges.
“Biden’s recent op-ed’s in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times suggests that the White House is readying a new chapter in their messaging war – something needed and long overdue,” said Bradley Honan, a Democratic pollster and strategist.
Biden’s White House has kept a similar strategy since he took office when it comes to limiting his time around the press. While Biden has done fewer interviews and news conferences than his recent predecessors, the White House has reinstituted daily briefings and frequently made staff or Cabinet members available for interviews.
Aides have also made a habit of immediately following up something Biden said off-script, like that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power during a trip to Poland, to say the president meant something else.
That habit is frustrating the president. NBC reported this week that he was furious his words are being seen as unreliable.
Biden is right to be frustrated that [h]is team is at best playing minor league ball, and at worse undermining what the Commander in Chief is saying,” Honan said.
Finding a balance between having the president to speak directly to the people and protecting him from his trademark ad-libs has been difficult for the White House.
“In concept, it makes a lot of sense. You want the president to talk directly to the American people. You want the president to talk with the press, to answer questions, to go in-depth and to try to frame things how they want. That’s ideally what they should do,” said Tobe Berkovitz, associate professor of advertising emeritus at Boston University.
Issues arise when Biden’s message doesn’t come across the way he had hoped.
Multiple reports have outlined the White House’s and congressional Democrats’ frustrations with unsuccessfully touting accomplishments like the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the coronavirus relief package passed shortly after Biden took office.
The White House is also trying to convince Americans the economy is in strong shape even as some economists warn of a recession. Historic wage gains and near record-low unemployment have not convinced people who are dealing with more expensive groceries and gas, or parents searching for formula to feed their baby.
“While the political environment is bad for Democrats, the White House messaging mess is compounding the problem and creating a much deeper hole for Democrats to dig out of,” Honan said. “The White House lacks any sense of so called ‘message discipline’ or even a basic messaging framework and virtually every public opinion poll confirm this.
“The sooner that Biden relaces his messaging team, the better it will be for Democrats running tough races this fall across the country. Waiting to do this until after Election Day will guarantee a GOP takeover of Congress.”
Some strategists see it as a missed opportunity for Biden to lean on one of his political strengths, being seen as a genuine person.
“Voters from both parties see President Biden as a kind, empathetic, compassionate, and caring man, especially in the wake of the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings,” Honan said. “But the White House continues to miss opportunities to ‘let Biden be Biden’. Keeping him packaged up and away from the press and repeatedly retracting his public statements is a terrible strategy.”
Putting together a strong messaging strategy likely will not be enough to sway voters who see high gas prices or struggle to find formula, but it could start to restore faith in Biden as a leader and Democrats as the party to get the country back on track after the pandemic.
“There’s a host of problems that are all sort of compounding one another and by sort of hiding the president, it makes it look like the president is trying to avoid dealing with them,” Berkovitz said. “No, you don’t deal with them by doing press conferences, but the perception that is that he is not a hands-on president is very troubling to a lot of people and so at least putting him out there to speak, will perhaps start shifting people’s ideas that he is the commander-in-chief, he is in control.”