By Larry Levine –
If I were Vice President Joe Biden’s political consultant, here’s what I would tell him in preparation for Sunday’s debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders.
1. Be respectful of Sanders, but don’t engage with him directly. If he addresses a question or challenge to you, use the opportunity to talk to the American public. The microphone is you. You can say whatever you want. Remember, no one ever remembers the question; it’s the answer that’s important.
2. Be Presidential. Be a leader in control. Direct, declarative sentences delivered in a calm manner designed to inspire confidence.
3. Rip into Trump on the coronavirus. “People are dying and you called it a hoax. Then you went to Florida to play golf. When our nation needed leadership, Donald Trump failed. He eliminated the very department that should have been on top of this situation, then he blamed President Obama for it.”
4. Don’t buy into Sanders’ issues positions. Voters are responding favorably to your positions and not to his. This is particularly true on health care. When he goes off on health care for all and tries to press you on the issue, look into the camera and tell the people what your plan is without even acknowledging Sanders’ plan. Tell voters you will defend the Affordable Care Act that Trump and the Republicans are in court trying to overturn. You will protect coverage for pre-existing conditions and make sure people can remain on their parent’s insurance until they are 26. Offer a version of health care for all for those who want it and allow those who have private insurance to keep their coverage as long as they want to but have the option of Medicare-for-all available if they ever want to change.
5. Don’t worry about the Sanders zealots. They aren’t going to vote for you no matter what you say or do and you don’t need them to win. Those who vote in states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 were of no consequence then and will be of no consequence this November. Those who vote in states that Clinton lost were not the reason for her loss. You can defend Minnesota and New Hampshire and flip Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan even if those Sanders zealots vote for someone else. Many of the people who voted for Sanders in 2016 already have left him for you or other candidates in the primary.
6. You are winning because people trust you to return calm, civility and responsible leadership to the nation. Be calm no matter what. Respect Sanders, but don’t cater to him. Allow him his moments and then follow by addressing the nation as their future leader.
7. Don’t challenge Sanders’ position on any issue. But don’t feel compelled to buy into any of them or argue about them. Maybe even say something like “you have your approach and I have mine.” Then describe yours in calm, non-combative tones. You aren’t going to talk him into changing his position and you aren’t going to convince his most zealous supporters.
8. Now is not the time to talk about what you have done over the decades. Look forward, not backward. It is a time to show vision and talk about where you will lead the nation.