By Howard Kurtz
Published May 14, 2019
When you're relaunching, you're losing.
Since the political press feasts on strategy, they are touting a new approach, which of course is an admission that the old strategy was a flop.
What's driving this maneuvering is the way that Joe Biden's debut has dominated the race, with the former vice president defying all the pundit predictions of weakness and surging in the polls. He’s more than doubling Bernie Sanders in these surveys and knocking down everyone else almost to asterisk status.
With all the usual caveats — it's way early, Biden could stumble, anyone could catch fire — the press is giving some contenders the appearance of a do-over.
The former congressman jumped in "with breakneck energy and a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants campaign style," but the buzz has now "evaporated ... He's made few promises that resonated or produced headline-grabbing moments, instead driving around the country meeting with voters at mostly small events."
The man who lost to Ted Cruz is in a "quiet period" now, an adviser says, but "O'Rourke is planning to try again, taking a hands-on role in staging a 'reintroduction.'" That began with a Rachel Maddow interview last night and an appearance today on "The View."
What happened is that Beto tried to run for president the same way he ran for Senate, with small-scale retail politicking. And that just doesn't work in a national race. He deliberately turned down almost all TV invitations, which was a disastrous error.
So much of Beto's candidacy was built on his New Agey persona — he was "just born to be in it" — that media interest faded when he didn't have much new to say on issues beyond a massive climate-change plan that many dismissed as unrealistic. His Vanity Fair cover story could turn out to be the campaign's high-water mark unless he can fix that pretty fast.
Here's a New York Times headline: "Kamala Harris Is Trying to Reset Her Campaign by Taking On Trump."
The California senator is suddenly attacking President Trump for bigotry, saying he isn't trying to make America great but "trying to make America hate."
Harris, says the Times, "was nodding to a political truth: She is attempting to reset her campaign after stagnating in Democratic primary polls, using her strengths as a prosecutor ... to mount a sharp indictment of Mr. Trump."
Harris has "found herself in a political vise, squeezed by competing factions in her party," the Times says. While she got some good press for interrogating Bill Barr, she also made a major stumble by embracing a Medicare-for-all bill that would abolish private insurance. She tried to backtrack on that Sunday with CNN's Jake Tapper, but he wouldn't let her off the hook.
Hence, another reset.
In a related piece, Politico quotes allies of Cory Booker as complaining that the media are being unfair to the former Newark mayor by lavishing love on the South Bend mayor, Pete Buttigieg — the not-so-subtle subtext being that Mayor Pete is white.
But here's the thing: In addition to his groundbreaking status as a gay candidate, Buttigieg has been candid, personal and just plain interesting in a spate of interviews and appearances. His strategy has been the opposite of Beto's, accepting many TV invites, which has gotten him traction and boosted him to third place in the polls.
In the piece, Booker's backers say he's got a great story as "a former Stanford college football player who is dating actress Rosario Dawson." But he refused for months to say who he was dating and doesn't talk about it now, a small but telling thing.
It's obviously hard to stand out amid the blur of 22 candidates; they could be their own "Jeopardy" category. But we wouldn't be seeing all these reintroductions if a man who needed no introduction, Joe Biden, hadn't quickly lapped the field. The also-rans have to hope that the debates give them a boost or that Biden starts sinking once the media grow bored with him as well.