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For much of the pandemic presidential cycle, President Donald Trump has invariably cackled at what he deems to be Joe Biden’s “sleepy” and “slow” nature, constructing an image for voters of an older guy “who never leaves his basement,” public health precautions be damned.
After the Democratic nominee announced that he would soon phase in physical appearances to several battleground states, it still didn’t seem to matter to Trump that the homebound message no longer really applied. He just carried on with the chants.
“Here’s what I don’t get,” the president contemplated aloud during his hour-plus speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday evening. “Sleepy Joe’s coming out, he said, in 10 days. Ten days! That’s a long time. Ten days. Ten days. That’s like, an eternity in Trumpville,” he went on. “Ten days. He’s much better off where he is.”
To Trump—and presumably to those who booed the mention of the former vice president emerging after isolation—the news was hardly Hercules returning to Mt. Olympus. But to Biden, it was an opening.
With just over two months until Nov. 3, Biden has promised to put himself in front of more Americans after Labor Day. That basic decision is one of the more tangible developments in a general election that has, for many months, been fought from inside homes and behind devices.
“One of the things we’re thinking about is I’m going to be going up into Wisconsin, and Minnesota, spending time in Pennsylvania, out in Arizona,” Biden said on Thursday evening, according to a pool report of a virtual fundraiser. “But we’re going to do it in a way that is totally consistent with being responsible, unlike what this guy’s doing.” He elaborated that he will adjust his itinerary to fit the state-specific stipulations required for a safe return. “I’m going to be traveling throughout the country where I can do it consistent with the state rules about how many people can be assembled,” he said.
Biden’s campaign consistently consults outside health experts and sticks to best practices dictated from the Centers for Disease Control. In the few events that he has convened in person, reporters have undergone temperature and symptom checks, worn masks, and remained six feet apart at all times. As he returns to the trail this week, officials have further stepped up their preventative measures.
The hyper-vigilance comes as both he and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), his vice presidential nominee, have now agreed to take coronavirus tests “regularly,” Bloomberg News reported earlier this month.
“The reasons for a candidate for the presidency to get tested is as much about the public narrative and the politics, maybe more so, than it is about the personal risk of the candidate,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pandemic expert at Columbia University (and occasional Daily Beast contributor) who formerly worked on Biden’s health advisory committee.
“I was glad to hear that Vice President Biden will in fact get tested,” he said. “It’s appropriate on many levels.”
Both Trump and Biden, for months, have displayed opposite styles to public gatherings. Like other Trump re-election events, social distancing and masks were not required at the Republican National Convention—in fact, the last night of the confab featured more than 1,000 closely seated guests, few of whom wore masks, on the White House lawn. The Democratic National Convention, held the prior week, had strict COVID-19 testing protocols that mirrored Biden’s own campaign preferences.
But as the country’s consciousness shifts back to an extended period of societal unrest, primarily over police brutality, Trump and Biden have also taken different approaches to traveling.
Trump is scheduled to fly on Tuesday to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where agitation has mounted after a Black man named Jacob Blake survived a shooting by a white police officer, a forceful tactic that left him paralyzed. The president will “meet with local law enforcement and survey damage from the recent riots,” Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary, announced on Saturday.
By Sunday, though, there was already strong blowback coming from the highest-ranking statewide official and trickling down locally. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers penned a letter to Trump with a plea: “I write today to respectfully ask you to reconsider,” it read. In one of the more poignant lines, Evers said Trump could make things worse on the ground by showing up.
“I, along with other community leaders who have reached out, are concerned about what your presence will mean for Kenosha and our state. I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing. I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together,” he wrote. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes expressed similar feelings in an interview on CNN. As did Kenosha’s mayor, John Antaramian, who told NPR that, “realistically, from our perspective, our preference would have been for him not to be coming at this point in time.”
In the latter half of the weekend, Biden’s campaign was instead focused on a separate instance of tumult. The former vice president issued a statement condemning violence in Portland, Oregon, where a man was killed the previous day by a gunshot around the time that tensions broke out between two groups of people, Black Lives Matter activists and supporters of Trump, according to the Associated Press.
“The deadly violence we saw overnight in Portland is unacceptable,” Biden said, through a release. “Shooting in the streets of a great American city is unacceptable. I condemn this violence unequivocally. I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same.”
While Biden has, for now, opted against touching down in Wisconsin or Oregon, he will head to the southwestern region of his native Pennsylvania on Monday. The stop will be a chance “to lay out a core question voters face in this election: are you safe in Donald Trump's America?” according to a press release distributed by his campaign.
Biden’s tentative upcoming travel schedule to strategic election areas like Pennsylvania also comes as Trump has outwardly professed confidence about a handful of post-convention polls that show a shrinking gap between the two candidates.
According to a Morning Consult survey, which was conducted over just one day, Biden is currently ahead of Trump among “likely voters” by 6 percentage points, coming in at 50 percent to 44 percent. Biden’s pre-convention lead, per the research group, was 10 percentage points. A YouGov/Yahoo News poll done over two days also showed Biden with a 6-point advantage after the Republican Party’s gathering, down from 9 percentage points ahead of his opponent.
Addressing the downturn in those particular surveys, one knowledgeable Democrat familiar with Biden’s campaign downplayed the findings and pointed to signs of internal stability for the party’s nominee.
“Trump all of a sudden believes polls. It is a miracle,” the source said.