Just when it seemed things couldn’t get more surreal in the 2020 campaign, it appeared on Thursday that President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden were headed for a phone call to discuss the response to the coronavirus crisis.
Addressing a reporter’s question if Trump would be open to such a conversation, the president said during Wednesday’s press briefing that he would “absolutely” take Biden’s call if he were to ring him.
“I'd love to speak to him, sure," said Trump, who, despite routinely mocking the presumptive Democratic nominee’s mental acuity and tagging him, for months, as “sleepy Joe,” said he’s “always found him to be a nice guy.”
“I think he's probably a nice guy. No, if he'd like to call I'd absolutely take his call,” Trump concluded.
Biden, in a briefing call with reporters, seemed warm to the idea. “I’m happy to hear he’ll take my call,” he said. “My team’s working with him to set such a call up,” he told reporters on Thursday.
But hours before the briefing call, some Republicans, including allies in Trump’s own orbit, weren’t certain that any such call will happen soon, if at all, with multiple sources telling The Daily Beast it would be a bad move to give Biden more airtime on the pandemic.
“Is that a serious thing?” one GOP Hill aide said when asked about the possibility of a phone chat between the president and his likely general election opponent over the country’s most pressing issue. “It would just be two guys talking past each other. What would be the point?”
“Very crazy,” the source added. “People have too much time on their hands!”
Social distancing precautions for Covid-19 have scrambled the 2020 campaign cycle, leading Biden’s campaign to build a makeshift TV studio from his home basement in Wilmington, Delaware to counter Trump’s daily megaphone.
“Donald Trump is not responsible for the coronavirus, but he is responsible for failing to prepare our nation,” Biden said on Thursday in a statement, addressing the record number of Americans who are unemployed. Trump is to blame “for the months during which he continually neglected dire warnings from experts and downplayed the threat to us, and for the erratic and unacceptably slow federal response that has tragically lagged behind other countries.”
Assessing Biden’s willingness to criticize the president’s response to the crisis, three Trump allies cast off any hypothetical call as an attempt for Biden to steal the spotlight away from the president.
“The president has plenty of Democrats who hold office and are in leadership positions who are ready to work with him and have a role to play. The only thing Biden wants is oxygen,” one top former adviser to the president said. “Giving him more oxygen, at all, is a mistake.”
A third GOP source contended that Biden has been “behind the eight ball in terms of making suggestions” and “basically repeats the same talking points” during interviews. “Trump has the most up to date information. What else could Biden be adding to the conversation?” the operative said.
In the briefing call with reporters on Thursday, Biden said, “I’ve been offering my advice and proposing policies for what I’ve thought should be done for the past several weeks. The president is welcome to adopt every single thing I suggested he thought was worthwhile and i wouldn’t say anything about it except compliment him on the job he was doing.”
Irwin Redlener, a former member of the Biden campaign’s Public Health Advisory Committee, added that there could be utility in an exchange between Trump and Biden.
“If they had a productive conversation, that would be a reassurance to Americans that there will be maybe some common ground about what needs to be done now and some continuity come January 2021,” he said, but remained cautious.
“I wouldn’t be very confident that it would amount to more than a PR stunt.”
Despite showing glimmers of bipartisanship during the daily coronavirus briefings, Trump has been generally dismissive of other Democrats and has frequently bemoaned his presidency being left “a broken system” when it came to testing. Phone calls with certain state-wide Democrats have also been tense for Trump, who lashed out at the governors of Washington and Michigan last week, saying they were not “appreciative” enough of the federal government’s help.
But the bulk of his political ire has been directed at Biden, who has been a target throughout the former vice president’s year-long campaign.
Still, the president’s own tacit endorsement of a theoretical call on Wednesday, and Biden’s own acknowledgment that it’s in the works, provided a glimpse of optimism to some in Trump’s circle.
A fourth Trumpworld source, who is involved in regular campaign briefings, said that a call might not be such a crazy idea after all, and that there has been internal chatter around the possibility recently, before Biden acknowledged it.
“It’s been a peripheral conversation,” the source said. “Nothing concrete or solid, but of course we talk about these things.”
“There would be some benefit from doing that,” the official added, speaking anonymously and careful of giving too much credit to Biden. “If you keep the politics… out of the conversation and show you have the same goal and purpose, what could that hurt?”
—With additional reporting from Hunter Woodall