President Biden Shows How He Can Regain His Mojo

Astoundingly, Joe Biden appears to be regaining his mojo. Over the course of a couple of calls and countless emails the last two weeks with the President and his top advisors, as well as in our public writings and commentary, we’ve been vocal in how we believe Biden can still bounce back from his disastrous debate misfire despite the ample naysayers – and even more importantly, how he can counter the widespread perception that he is slipping, drawing on 5 key lessons from one of the author’s book, Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters (co-authored with Andrew Ward).

Things got off to an inauspicious start. For the first few days post-debate, we were concerned that some of Biden’s staffers were mishandling the response, digging the hole even deeper by swatting away concerns over the President’s age while being overly protective in shielding the President from unscripted interpersonal interactions.

But now Biden is finally hitting his stride and getting back to what he does best – turning adversity into resilience.

Here are five dimensions of firing back where Biden fell flat before but is now on the path to recovering with vigor:

Fight not flight – facing up to the issue

From last week to this week, there was a night-and-day difference between the two conference calls held by the Biden campaign with top donors. We joined both calls, and like many others, we were struck by the difference in tone and approach.

Last week’s donor call somehow managed to upset even Biden’s most fervent supporters, with top campaign staff bashing media and belittling critics for bringing up the President’s age, gaslighting participants with “you didn’t really see what you saw.”

In stark contrast, Monday’s donor call featured President Biden himself unexpectedly engaging in unscripted Q&A, greeting longtime friends warmly while tackling difficult questions head-on. Just as he did during his interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, instead of blaming the media or poor debate prep staffers, Biden owned up to having a bad night at the debate and demonstrated awareness that the onus is on him to show the American people that was an acute cognitive break and not a chronic, declining condition.

As we wrote before, if more Americans see this version of Biden – warm, engaging, and in command – fears over his fitness to run and serve would fade quickly, and fortunately that is the Biden who is now reappearing in full force.

Recruiting others into battle – using networks effectively

Aside from his post-debate brief Atlanta Waffle House visit and a rousing teleprompter guided crowded rally in North Carolina, the first five days after Biden’s disastrous debate, he remained cocooned and isolated from key allies, not speaking personally with influential party leaders ranging from House Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, state governors, and many others. The lack of outreach made allies fear the worst and fed rumors of Biden’s decline in whispered conversations across influential circles; it was surprising to see Biden in flagrant violation of Politics 101.

These allies immediately had the President’s back once Biden started reaching out and engaging them personally, with shows of support from core backers such as the Congressional Black Caucus and Jim Clyburn. An army of surrogates such as Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, Wes Moore, and Chris Coons fanned out across the cable shows, once they moved on from their misguided initial “nothing to see here” flailing defenses. Even occasional critics such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to Biden’s defense once he engaged personally with them. With virtually all key constituencies locked up in Biden’s camp, the few party voices calling for Biden’s ouster are out on a limb and racing to backtrack.

At this stage, it would not hurt for Biden to be magnanimous and reach out personally to those who have called into question his fitness to serve, such as highly respected moderate Senator Mark Warner, instead of publicly dismissing him.

Rebuilding heroic stature – explaining the damage through exoneration or contrition

While Biden has done well on dimensions of firing back, he has not done a very good job of explaining away his poor debate performance yet. His oft-repeated excuse that it was simply a “bad night” seems unbelievable without a deeper factual or medical grounding. What really happened? He admitted in his George Stephanopoulos interview that he was examined by doctors for an illness just before the debate. What was their diagnosis? How did they treat him?

Biden’s lack of believable explanation for how he botched the debate so badly has led to a proliferation of theories. Some are questioning whether Biden may have Parkinson’s disease, pointing to tangential and circumstantial evidence such as the visits of a renowned Parkinson’s doctor to the White House – ignoring the fact that the doctor may have been at the White House to visit any of the 500+ employees who work there as well as the White House’s repeated denials that Biden has Parkinson’s and that the records show a neurological visit is only a part of Biden’s annual physical examination.

Such speculation will continue until the President provides a believable explanation for his singularly terrible debate performance. Simply claiming that he was tired is not likely to quiet critics who point to the debate as evidence of more permanent decline rather than an acute break.

Proving your mettle – getting back in the fray

Biden has hit the campaign trail with a vengeance since the debate, maintaining a strong pace of events while showing in unscripted settings his agility and continued fitness to serve. Over the past week alone, Biden’s events have included: major rallies in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, and North Carolina; unscripted interviews with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, MSNBC’s Morning Joe; major speeches and remarks across the Supreme Court’s ruling on presidential immunity; Independence Day ceremony, emergency preparedness events, and Medal of Honor recognitions; calls with political allies and fundraisers; all while negotiating Mideast peace interspersed with complex dialogues with foreign heads of state leading up to this week’s highly anticipated summit of NATO leaders. There is no better way for Biden to prove his mettle than to keep doing exactly what he’s been doing over the last week.

Rediscovering heroic mission – getting purpose clear

For campaign purposes, Biden has reframed the many calls for his resignation as not an issue of age but rather as one of out-of-touch elites trying to subvert the democratic process. On Morning Joe, Biden said, unscripted: “I’m getting so frustrated by the elites, the elites in the party, who say, oh, they know so much more.”

But Biden is still playing defense on the age issue when he should be playing offensive on why he is running to begin with, starkly contrasting his vision for what he hopes to accomplish in a 2nd term against Trump’s on issues ranging from immigration, trade, fortifying global alliances, protecting national security, combating climate change, energy independence, and technological innovation and regulation. As Biden himself alluded to on a call with top donors Monday, not without some frustration, Trump has been “sitting around in a golf cart” while avoiding any scrutiny for his own xenophobic, isolationist, and protectionist policies which are unrepresentative of the soul of America.

As the chorus of commentators who have called for Biden to step back is drowned out by the possibility of Biden’s revival, we are reminded of Mark Twain’s memorable remark regarding the rumors of his end being exaggerated. Now, the onus remains on Biden to ensure that reports of his demise, trailing Trump in general election polls, do not come to fruition in November by pivoting away from defense and reclaiming the offensive.

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