‘There’s no joy in being right’: Biden makes cautious return to the campaign trail

‘There’s no joy in being right’: Biden makes cautious return to the campaign trailOctober 3, 2020

In the hours after Donald Trump tested positive for Covid-19, word spread quickly within Joe Biden’s campaign: There would be no public gloating. Stay off of social media, staffers were told. Avoid conversations with reporters. Don’t make any mistakes.

Friday was a day of “hibernation,” as one Biden adviser put it, an approach designed to allow the news cycle to burn on its own fuel.

Campaign advisers said that the public would come to its own conclusion that the president’s failure to protect the nation or take the pandemic seriously enough had come back to haunt him, and that his mockery of Biden for wearing masks and being cloistered “in his basement” was now freighted with an irony that could cost Trump a second term.

Their bottom line was this: on Friday, with just 32 days until Election Day, Biden was on the campaign trail in Michigan. And Trump, along with First Lady Melania, were in quarantine.

“Karma’s hell,” said one Biden donor, Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina lawmaker. “Biden’s been right all along — there’s no joy in being right and you don’t want anyone to get ill, nobody’s getting smug about this. But it is four weeks before the election and Trump has taken himself off the playing field, which he brought on by himself.”

The moment served as a campaign fable, one that Biden began writing months ago. Biden’s aides, following the advice of medical professionals, went to extraordinary lengths to painstakingly keep the candidate and the campaign safe during the pandemic. That meant following safe practices but also ignoring months of criticism from Trump and others who chided Biden for appearing weak and “hiding in his basement.”

The campaign didn’t find out Trump tested positive for Covid from Trump aides or the White House, but rather through news reports. While there was apprehension among aides over whether Biden or any staffers had become infected because of the proximity of the two staffs at Tuesday’s debate in Cleveland, it was blunted by their confidence that all along they had followed the strictest health protocols. That included regular testing, always wearing masks, limiting crowd sizes and practicing social distancing at all times.

On Friday, advisers huddled to discuss a range of possibilities, including whether Biden should continue traveling or whether the campaign should scuttle a new plan to allow door-to-door canvassing in four states.

They came to a quick verdict. Biden traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., as planned on Friday, though the campaign canceled a scheduled fundraiser for later in the day. The door knocking will go on after all.

The flight to Michigan occurred after Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, tested negative for Covid, according to a campaign statement from Biden’s physician Dr. Kevin O’.Connor said.

“The seriousness of this virus also underscores how we need regular testing with results turned around rapidly and available to everyone,“ said Biden in Michigan. “It’s not just the folks in the White House or travel with me who deserve regular testing…every single American deserves safety and peace of mind.”

“This is not a matter of politics. It’s a bracing reminder to all of us we need to take this virus seriously. It’s not going away automatically.”

The Biden campaign also tested those who attended the first presidential debate with the former vice president for Covid-19. A source familiar with the situation told POLITICO that the Biden campaign has “rapid testing capability and is testing everyone who attended the debate.” The campaign has not reported any positive results.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) were among those who traveled with Biden to Tuesday’s debate and have been tested. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti were also among those who attended the debate. Coons, Ryan and Garcetti have reported negative tests.

Ryan expressed anger at the Trump family for its approach to the virus at the debate, saying the family and campaign should be held accountable for potentially exposing Biden and other attendees to the virus.

Ryan, who sat in the Cleveland debate hall where the Trump family refused to wear masks, said he woke up Friday morning to see the news that the president had tested positive and promptly was tested in Washington D.C. because he would have to fly home soon to be with his wife, a school teacher, and children.

“Not a one of ‘em wore masks. It was obnoxious when I saw it that night, but after having a Q-Tip jammed down my nose again, I’m angry at them,” Ryan told POLITICO, referring to the Trumps. “It’s the height of arrogance. It’s dangerous. They endangered other people. They were up on the stage where Joe Biden was.”

“The fact is that Biden was responsible and Trump made fun of him for it,” Ryan added. “Biden should keep doing what he’s doing, especially if your opponent can’t go out and you can, because you did it right.”

Biden on Friday offered his condolences to Trump and first lady Melania Trump after they tested positive.

“Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery,” Biden wrote in a tweet Friday. “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”

Biden donor and bundler John Morgan urged Biden to stay the course and keep his campaign schedule, including an upcoming stop in Florida.

“Joe can show us all what the new normal looks like. You can’t live in a bubble underground. He wears a mask and social distances. He can be instructive and it vividly highlights who we all should be following,” Morgan said.

“The only thing that has changed is Trump has Covid because he did not campaign the proper way. Herman Cain is dead because he didn’t campaign a proper way.”

Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, was tested on Thursday as part of the campaign’s routine testing protocol, and tested negative. The California senator and her husband, Doug Emhoff, were both tested again for Covid-19 on Friday morning and both tested negative. They will continue on their planned travel to Las Vegas, Nev., and Greensboro, NC, respectively, an aide said.

Harris will also attend virtual fundraisers Friday with former President Barack Obama.

“There’s not a lot of schadenfreude,” said Steve Schale, who runs the pro-Biden Unite The Country super PAC. “The feeling out here is for Biden to put his head down and finish the race. Ran through the tape.”

Chris Cadelago and Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.

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