Biden’s general election strategy: Less is more

As President Joe Biden ramps up his re-election effort, his campaign is also scaling back how much he says on the trail, part of a larger new strategy to hone a sharper message he’ll take into the general election, according to Biden aides.

The less-is-more approach aims for quality over quantity when it comes to the president’s public appearances, aides said.

“There’s a strategic advantage at this point in the race to boiling down your message to the three or four most salient, compelling arguments for why President Biden should be re-elected,” said TJ Ducklo, the Biden campaign’s senior adviser for communications. “That will often translate to the stump [speech] being whittled down to its sharpest, most dynamic form. That’s what you’re seeing.”

The approach also has the appearance of a strategy aimed at minimizing the potential for Biden to make mistakes in a razor-close election. Some of Biden’s verbal missteps have occurred when he’s talking at length, veers off the prepared text or answers a reporter’s question when that wasn’t part of the plan.

Shorter, crisper remarks from Biden are part of his campaign’s broader strategy of having him appear more in smaller settings that the president’s aides believe serve him better than large, traditional rallies with voters.

Some of Biden’s advisers have been pushing for him to go even further in attempts to sharpen his public appearances. They’ve argued for the president to replace prepared campaign remarks entirely, in favor of less scripted retail stops and punchier, digital content where he speaks directly to the camera.

That dramatic shift hasn’t happened, but aides say the idea has been discussed as the campaign tries to find ways to reach an unsettled electorate that consumes information differently than in previous cycles. Discussing the idea is also a reflection, aides say, of how much harder it is to get — and keep — voters’ attention.

The president has in recent weeks made notable efforts at brevity, in both official and campaign events. Biden’s remarks this past week on the campus protests over the war in the Gaza Strip were just four minutes long. His high-profile speech on abortion rights in Florida last week was just 14 minutes long. And his speech at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner lasted just 10 minutes — half as long as the year before.

Still, the effort appears to be a work in progress. At an infrastructure event in North Carolina on Thursday, Biden often deviated from the script in the teleprompter to add some political flourishes and spoke for more than 20 minutes.

Current and former Biden officials have long noted that the president sees value in delivering longer speeches, citing his interest in communicating comprehensively with Americans on policy matters. And aides said in the weeks ahead Biden will, at strategic moments, deliver some longer, issue-specific speeches aimed at drawing a contrast with his Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump. Most recently he gave an economic policy speech in Scranton, Pennsylvania, that lasted about a half-hour.

The Biden campaign has not yet built a speechwriting team, and most of the president’s public appearances continue to be in official settings. Mike Donilon, one of the Biden’s closest advisers who earlier this year shifted from his West Wing role to the campaign, has been regularly traveling with Biden as his events increasingly take a political turn.

Biden aides say they hope to refine a more compact stump speech for the president to use as the pace and intensity of the campaign builds later this summer.

“We’re evolving in the way that a campaign should,” one campaign official said.

The timing for scaling down the president’s remarks tracks with how his campaign operated four years ago, though Biden campaign events in 2020 were sparse due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden’s remarks shrank to an average of about 15 minutes as he gained momentum toward a matchup with Trump in 2020. At one of his larger events before Covid lockdowns, with thousands of people gathered under St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, Biden spoke for just seven minutes.

One former campaign official said the campaign — and Biden himself — felt the abridged stump speech resonated with voters and didn’t need more. The brevity of it “also had the benefit of him getting comfortable with the delivery, and then coming off better,” the former official said.

Even so, the official added, a briefer stump speech is no guarantee that Biden avoids mistakes, given sometimes shorter prepared remarks only invite the president to go beyond the written text.

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