For Biden’s 2024 Campaign, There’s No Place Like Home
The president is employing a “Rose Garden strategy” while Republicans duke it out on the campaign trail.
President Joe Biden may have launched his re-election bid one month ago, but don’t expect him to be on the campaign trail anytime soon.
White House officials have told strategists and outside groups that Biden will be employing a “Rose Garden strategy” in the coming months, meaning the president will spend much of his time operating from the White House and in his official position while his 2024 Republican rivals attack each other on the campaign trail. In recent meetings at the White House, officials have said Biden will “keep being the president” – as one attendee put it – for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a perfect contrast,” said former Rep. Steve Israel, who served as the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Donald Trump and Republican candidates are throwing punches at each other in a primary, and President Biden is governing. It also elevates him above the chaos and division that dominates the media.”
The strategy is not without risks, however, with some Democrats worried a less active campaign schedule could highlight Biden’s age and cede coverage to Republicans running for president.
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‘Our guy has a day job’
A White House-centric strategy gives Biden a chance to take advantage of his clearest advantage in his bid for reelection: Voters are selecting the person who will lead them, and doing the job of president allows Biden to demonstrate that he can do the job, is above the fray and to offer a direct contrast with Republicans.
“Our guy has a day job,” said a source close to the Biden campaign. “It’s just the reality we are living with.” But the source said, that doesn’t mean voters won’t be seeing him regularly, and they rejected the idea that there is a difference between campaigning and legislating.
“The people who elected Joe Biden elected him because they wanted someone who was going to right the ship. … They elected him to get things done,” the source said. “And the American people will continue to see him and see him in action. I don’t see a difference between technically campaigning and governing in the way he is viewed by the American people.”
Biden, who launched his campaign with a video, has yet to have a formal campaign event and doesn’t have any such events scheduled, which has caused concern among top Democrats. The president has kept up a fulsome schedule of official travel — he recently returned from Japan for the G7 Summit with world leaders — and aides indicate that will continue
By not hitting the campaign trail, some Democrats worry Biden, 80, could exacerbate concerns about his age. As Republicans are crisscrossing the country meeting with voters, Biden is spending his time at more staid, formal events organized by the White House.
“Logistically for him, I think it's smart,” said one prominent Democratic strategist who has worked on recent presidential elections. “Obviously he can't run the type of campaign that a guy 25 years younger could run. … This is an older guy. He's not JFK, He's not Barack Obama. He's an old guy and I think people are willing to accept it.”
Some Democrats also question whether the strategy will allow Republican presidential contenders to soak up attention from a media that is more focused on campaign trail attacks than presidential optics.
“I think there are justifiable concerns about running him ragged, particularly at the start of the campaign,” said one former Obama aide. “But I do worry about how this feeds into the criticism of his age and his mental acuity. I think on some level people want to see classic Joe Biden out there across the country working the rope line.”
But the strategy doesn’t have to portray weakness, Democrats close to the White House say.
“You can still be forceful and energetic in the way that you are delivering results,” said Celinda Lake, who was one of Biden’s top pollsters on the 2020 campaign. “They are not mutually exclusive and you can definitely have a Rose Garden strategy that looks energetic.”
How 2022 influences Biden’s strategy
Biden is also in a unique position. While Democrats dramatically overperformed expectations in the 2022 midterm elections, polls show voters continue to not associate the president with some of the sweeping legislation that was passed during his first two years in office.
That is dramatically different from President Barack Obama’s reelection bid in 2012, where Democrats were two years removed from what the president called a “shellacking” in the 2010 midterms, and voters who were once captivated by his 2008 campaign felt the White House was in a rut.
To counter that, Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, said the idea was to separate the campaign from the White House.
“Biden has gotten all of this historic stuff done and voters don’t yet know it and so a lot of what they have to do this year is through the White House,” said Messina. “Our theory was we were just going to be very separate from the White House. So we went to Chicago,” where the campaign was headquartered.
The strategy has not worked well for some presidents seeking a second term, including Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. But it could prove to be effective for Biden because it contrasts with Trump and congressional Republicans, said Julian Zelizer, a professor of public affairs and history at Princeton University.
“I think the Rose Garden strategy is his best bet,” Zelizer said. “It probably is a calmer schedule than traveling, at least physically, and it highlights his biggest promise — he can govern like a normal president.
“So his team needs to balance these virtues with the inevitable hits he will take that he is too old for the job,” he added. “But this criticism will come regardless of how much he travels.”
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