How Biden can win like Obama

reading time 8 min

I have a theory that 3 things lead to Obama’s win. He surprised the GOP three ways.

Part 1: Why did Obama win

My theory is that Obama won because he surprised the GOP. This caught them off-guard. He surprised them three ways: He wasn’t Hillary, he had money, and he was super chill.

Surprise 1: It’s me, not Hillary!

GOPers had planned for a run against Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC). She didn’t win the primary and this caught them off-guard.

GOPers had just spent 12+ years building up dirt on HRC. They had virtual warehouses full of documents, videos, crazy conspiracy theories, and other plans. They were ready to go to war against her.

Oops. Barak surprised everyone by winning the primary. Now the GOP had to improvise. It took a while for the GOPers to get over their dismay and disbelief, then create a new plan. This delay gave Obama time to get “first mover advantage” and the rest is history.

The surprise was key to victory.

Surprise 2: I have more money!

McCain’s campaign had a funding disadvantage because they were working with one hand tied behind their back.

Publicly funded campaigns are great and should make our elections more democratic. You opt in and your presidential campaign gets $293 million dollars for free! In return you promise to abide by many pro-democracy restrictions. Sadly these restrictions are like fighting with one hand tied behind your back. For example, you can’t accept money from bad places.

Sadly if you opt-in and your opponent doesn’t, they can raise an infinite amount of money. You have one hand tied behind your back and they don’t.

Don’t get me wrong… if both candidates opts in this works great. Sad, that had never happened. Instead, the Dem candidate opts in and the GOP laughs “sorry, I can’t hear you over this infinite amount of evil-sourced money I’m collecting!” One would almost think that the law was just some scam set up by the GOP to weaken Dem do-gooders campaigns.

However in 2008 things switched. McCain, always being a proponent of more fair elections (the McCain-Feingold Act, for example) opted in. He had to. It would have been hypocritical not to. He must have gotten quite a shock when Obama didn’t opt-in.

This lead Obama to have a funding advantage over McCain.

The GOP didn’t expect this. They were caught off-guard and had to scramble to set up third-party groups to campaign on his behalf, which he hated and worked against.

Surprise 3: Obama’s calmness

Before Obama decided to run, he did some polling and found that American would vote for a black person, but not an “angry black man”.

Everything he did was about being seen as calm, cool, and collected. Nothing the GOP did shook him. Meanwhile GOPers started more and more aggressive (crazy) attacks to try to shake him.

It didn’t work. Obama was the no-drama Obama llama. (I’m told that the first thing you were told when you signed up to work for the campaign was “no drama”.)

This also fought the “crazy liberal” stereotype that the GOP proffers any time a Dem shows any emotion/passion/creativity (its amazing how often Dems fall into that trap.) When Obama wasn’t “the scary black man” they’d hope he would be, they spent all their time equating him with a preacher that would scare people (or at least had plenty of out-of-context quotes that would scare people). That didn’t work because Obama was so calm.

The GOP didn’t expect this. They couldn’t imagine a black man that didn’t talk like Al Sharpton and act like Willy Horton.

Part 2: Proof

I can summarize all that one way:

Since 1980, Dems only win the presidential campaign when the GOP is caught off-guard.

Or, more briefly…

  • Dems only win when the GOP is caught off-guard.
  • Dems only win when the GOP is caught off-guard.
  • Dems only win when the GOP is caught off-guard.

I this pattern doesn’t work for sitting presidents being reelected. That’s because of 3 three reasons:

  1. Incumbents have an insurmountable advantage and almost always win.
  2. Incumbents have an insurmountable advantage and almost always win.
  3. Incumbents have an insurmountable advantage and almost always win.

Here’s my proof:

Let’s look at history:

  • 2016: Dems lose. (HRC ran a very predictable campaign.)
  • 2012: re-election
  • 2008: Dems win (follows the rule above)
  • 2004: re-election
  • 2000: Dems lose (follows the rule above, Gore ran a predictable campaign)
  • 1996: re-election
  • 1992: Dems win (follows the rule above, nobody expected Clinton to win the primary)
  • 1988: Dems lose (follows the rule above, Dukakis ran a predictable campaign)
  • 1984: re-election
  • 1980: Dems lose (follows the rule above, Carter ran a predictable campaign)
  • 1976: The last Dem to be elected that wasn’t some kind of surprise (experts say if the election was a week later he would have lost, so maybe we’re not too far off)

See? Dems only win when the GOP is caught off-guard.

Part 3: What should Biden do?

If Biden wants to win, he needs to surprise the GOP.

So, what would be a surprise in 2020?

Here are a bunch of ways Biden can catch Trump off guard:

  1. Pick a VP that isn’t on GOP’s radar. Don’t be afraid if she out-shines Biden.

  2. GOP expects Biden to have a “by the textbook” campaign. Don’t do that. In fact, Biden needs to fire any campaign staff that thinks Biden can win easily. His strategists need to plan a campaign that fights like hell as if they’ve already lost.

  3. Do things to make Trump unsettled and nervous. Here are three ideas I’ve had:

    • Biden should refer to Trump as a nickname that Trump hates, but can’t shake. For example, call him “King Trump”. Trump will repeat it over and over again, take it as a compliment. Yet, it will scare the hell out of independent voters.

    • Biden should take a dementia test then demand Trump do it too. The fact that Biden does it first sets the requirements for which test to use; and rail Trump for not using the same test, or for refusing the test. If he takes the test, focus on how Trump delayed in taking the test, or that the results weren’t done in a “real” lab.

    • Biden should use the phrase “when Trump loses” instead of the more politicly polite “If I win” or “If I have the honor of winning” as Democrats tend to say.

  4. Borrow from the GOP playbook of claiming a candidate is bad for doing X, then if they flipflop saying they’re bad for NOT doing X.

    • For example, every day make a point about Trump’s TV ratings being down (even when they are up, find something negative about them: they’re down in one state, or down among women, etc.) When Trump boasts that his TV ratings are up, say how terrible it is that a President would be concerned about TV ratings instead of [pick anything else]… the end with a button like, “of course, his rating are DOWN among suburban woman.” to really drive him nuts.

    • This is called “boxing in” the opponent. Nothing they can do is right. For example, when gas prices were high FoxNews ran stories about how this is Obama’s fault… and when gas prices hit an all-time low FoxNews ran stories about how this is a sign of a weak economy and is all Obama’s fault. He was boxed in.

  5. Don’t defend, deconstruct. When a bully beats you up at the school bus stop, don’t respond by learning to punch better… stand up straight and remind the crowd that the bully’s Dad bailed and the bully is taking it out on “all of us.” You’ll never punch your way out of this, but you can shame the person by advertising their strategy.

    • When Trump makes a crazy accusation, don’t waste a single word defending the claim. Instead, talk about the strategy Trump is employing.
    • For example, if Trump accuses Biden of being an alien from outer space, don’t try to prove he is human. That just feeds into Trump’s strategy. Instead talk about “ah yes, another distraction attempt to make people ignore that yesterday Trump did such-and-such”. and then berate the media for even covering the alien issue.
  6. Be as calm and collected as Obama, but be as folksy to voters as Trump is to rural voters. Like it or not, most voters believe 45’s “I’m just like you” schicht. But he can’t claim to be “the outsider” any more because now he’s something worse than than: the outsider that sold out and is now “more of a D.C. insider than Bill Clinton.”

  7. Use campaign Judo against Trump’s spotlight stealing. Trump steals the spotlight, depriving his opponent of the ability to campaign that day. If TV time is oxygen, Trump literally suffocates his opponent’s campaign. Turn that around on him so that it backfires.

    • For example, in 2016 Trump announced he’d be making “an important announcement” 12 hours from now, stealing HRC’s ability to talk about anything that day. TV coverage was all speculation about the announcement, covering Trump’s drive to the place he was going to make the announcement, etc.
    • Instead, HRC should have spent those 12 hours in a televised broadcast as she, too, waited for the announcement. Put her in a living room with a TV showing CNN’s coverage of the wait for the announcement. Under the guise of “waiting for his announcement”, she could have had hours of airtime to talk about her policies. Then, when the announcement does come, she can respond in real time.

Those are just some thoughts I’ve been having lately. Please post a comment with your thoughts.

Tom Limoncelli

Tom Limoncelli

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