Three Branding Observations on the Debate

1 Jul 2024  

It is the week after the debate. People are still digesting exactly what happened and the implications. Here are three observations on the campaign.

Biden Shouldn’t Run

For Joe Biden, the debate was a branding disaster. Heading into the event, his brand was tarnished by perceptions of age and cognitive decline. The debate reinforced these perceptions; he flubbed answer after answer. He looked old. At times it seemed like he just couldn’t follow what was happening.

Here is Biden talking about the benefits of his proposed tax plan:

“We’d be able to help make sure that all those things we need to do: childcare, eldercare, making sure we continue to strengthen our healthcare system, making sure that we’re able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I’ve been able to do with the a COVID, excuse me, with dealing with everything we have to do with a, look, if. We finally beat Medicare.”

Shaking these brand perceptions won’t be easy. Every time he does anything that actually reflects his eighty+ years people will say, “Look! I knew it. The fellow is nice but just too old.” And when he doesn’t appear old, even if he joins me in the Ironman 70.3 in Muncie, Indiana in a couple weeks, people will say, “Look! I knew it. He is just trying to compensate. He is just too old.”

For the country, stepping down is the best move. Wherever you stand on politics, the country should have two physically capable candidates.

Biden Will Run

Early indications are that Biden is planning to continue his campaign. When you consider the people involved in the decision, it makes all the sense in the world.

For Joe, the minute he declines to run is the minute he loses power and relevance. I suspect it is pretty thrilling to be the center of the world, with everyone looking at you and waiting for your next word. A campaign is exciting. Who wants to declare that they are old and irrelevant? There is always a chance something will break his way. Trump is unpredictable.

For Jill Biden, there are lots of reasons to encourage Joe to run. You remain the center of attention. You get to fly around and meet with influential people. You speak at big events. When Joe isn’t a candidate, who wants to hear from Jill? And maybe Joe will win! Either way, for Jill, the campaign should go on.

Even easier is Hunter. He has lots of troubles but one thing he has going for him is that his father is the president. Why would Hunter recommend Joe step away?

Biden’s team will want Joe to run, too. Those closest to Joe are aligned with his brand. To leave the spotlight now, after that disastrous debate performance, is not appealing. Even if he loses, Joe can go out on a high note, having bounced back a little. They will be able to talk about the amazing recovery process and strong campaign.

Since Joe and everyone around him benefits from the campaign continuing, well, the campaign will likely continue.

There Won’t Be Another Debate

The two campaigns apparently agreed to have two debates this year. I don’t think that will happen.

For Biden, another debate would be a risk. There is a very real chance that Biden’s weak performance reflects meaningful issues, so another debate wouldn’t necessarily go better, though it is hard to see how it could go worse.

For Trump, there is no reason to show up to another debate. He trounced Biden. There is almost no chance that another debate could go better, so Trump only has downside. He won’t show up. Instead, Trump will just run clips of Joe stumbling through his answers.

Trump will work very hard to ensure that Biden’s brand remains associated with aging and cognitive decline.

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