MSNBC’s old slogan was “Lean Forward,” and to that end I’ll say they’re nothing if not a fertile ground for forward-leaning solutions. In fact, it’s almost like a forward trust fall with a disinterested America on the other end, playing with their iPhones.
Stephanie Ruhle is supposed to be on the straight news end of the network, helming the desk weekdays after “Morning Joe” finishes. The difference between straight news and commentary is merely an academic one on MSNBC, however, which is why she was seen on Wednesday morning promoting the idea that Joe Biden helm a “shadow government” to counteract President Donald Trump’s daily media briefings on coronavirus.
That not-at-all creepy comment, according to NewsBusters, came during a conversation with former Obama White House aide Jim Messina on Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement of Biden — an endorsement which was as surprising as predicting a mass of swallows would, indeed, return to San Juan Capistrano next year.
“How big is this?” Ruhle asked, referring to both Warren’s endorsement and former President Barack Obama’s announcement that he was backing his former VP.
“It’s a really big contrast, right?” Messina said.
“When you see President Trump with his erratic leadership and his daily, you know, clown show press conferences, to have real, upstanding leaders like Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren talk about Joe Biden in personal terms, the kind of leader he would be.”
“Then do they need to do it in a bigger way?” Ruhle said regarding the promotion of the kind of leadership Biden would provide.
“What did you just call it, the president’s daily clown show, that’s his press briefing. Should Joe Biden be counter-programming that? Should he be creating his own shadow government, shadow cabinet, shadow SWAT team and getting up there at a podium every night saying, ‘Here’s the crisis we’re in, here’s what we need to do to address this’?”
“Well, he’s done some of that, right, he’s released the most comprehensive plan about what to do in this COVID crisis,” Messina said. “If it was a plan Donald Trump was implementing right now, we’d all be OK.”
Biden was originally criticized for ripping off his pandemic response from Donald Trump’s, but this was MSNBC, so no one was going to interrupt Messina on that point.
“As to, you know, his role in all of this, it’s tough, right. He’s not the leader yet. It can look political,” Messina continued.
“You know, he’s doing what I think he should be doing, which is consolidating his base and getting ready for the general election. I think that’s what he can do right now. But I think he’s been very specific about his actions and what he would do as president of the United States.
“And, you know, it’s a time that none of us have ever gone through. How do you campaign in a time when you can’t go see voters?”
First, I’m going to assume that by “shadow government, shadow cabinet, shadow SWAT team,” Ruhle meant that Biden should assemble a team in a similar manner to how, in parliamentary systems, the opposition creates a “shadow cabinet” comprised of MPs who correspond to the actual cabinet ministers of the government in power so they can provide a counterpoint to the actual cabinet. (As for the terms “shadow government” and “shadow SWAT team,” I’m just going to assume Ruhle didn’t realize how deep state-y that sounded.)
However, those people are elected. Joe Biden isn’t.
A shadow cabinet has official roles. We don’t have those functions, having thrown off the yoke of a parliament in 1776 and never looked back.
Furthermore, even though there are plenty of Britishers who don’t view the actions taken by the conservative government with unmixed delight, you don’t have the shadow cabinet jumping in and holding their own counter-programming whenever Prime Minister Boris Johnson or (at least for the moment, as Johnson recovers from coronavirus) Foreign Minister Dominic Raab speaks in order to drown their message out.
The Labour Party can be assured there’s plenty of drowning-out in the U.K. Guardian already.
Even Messina didn’t seem particularly keen on the idea, saying that “[i]t can look political.” Which was exactly Ruhle’s point, mind you, and it’s a bad one. Turning media briefings into political footballs isn’t a great look when the argument is that Trump is turning media briefings into political footballs.
Second, the problem is that Messina was actually right at the beginning of this answer: Biden’s “done some of that.”
However, when he has, it’s consisted of going on old-media TV shows and making nonsensical statements like this one, for instance: “We have to take care of the cure. That will make the problem worse, no matter what.”
What would a Biden shadow media briefing look like? Would he be taking questions from the media? Would any of them be adversarial?
I’m assuming they’d all be variations on the theme: “Joe, why are you so great with dealing with information about the novel coronavirus when President Trump is hosting a clown show briefing at the White House? Why can’t you be president now?”
However, assuming any contradictory voices manage to crash the Zoom briefings, I can just imagine the response. “Listen, corn-muffin, any more of that talk and I’m going to wally-bash you like like we did way back on the mean streets of Wilmington. Lying dog-faced pony soldier.”
We can glimpse what a Biden briefing might look like, however, after he hosted a “virtual happy hour” in late March which managed to go badly, and not just because the former vice president’s a teetotaler.
In addition to his stilted performance throughout and problematic gaffes like stating that Obamacare was “the most important human right that anyone should have, and that is to be able to take care of your own,” it struggled to garner viewership. (“There were about 2800 simultaneous viewers throughout the chat,” according to CBS News reporter Bo Erickson.)
That’s utterly pathetic for a man who was almost certain to become the Democratic presidential nominee at that point.
Biden is terrible at digital engagement and even worse when asked to think on his feet.
As creepy and deep state-ish as forming a “shadow government, shadow cabinet” sounds, go ahead and let him. He can put together whoever he wants to compete with Trump, Fauci and Birx.
The fish rots from the head, after all, and even when you’re just viewing him through a series of tubes that eventually come out on your computer screen, you can still smell the blandness and diminishing returns on the other end.
Politicizing the pandemic is a bad idea. Politicizing it with Joe Biden is a worse one.
The fact that a former Obama aide — someone who was in the White House and knows Joe Biden all too well — couldn’t get behind the idea should have told Ruhle all she needed to know.
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