“They introduce me? Am I on?”
Thus began Joe Biden’s speech during a glitchy, stilted “virtual town hall” set in Tampa, Florida so plagued by technical problems that made the former vice president’s event look like it was run by local seniors attempting Zoom for the first time.
The YouTube event began with a series of Florida politicians attempting to introduce Biden — when their livestreams worked. Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo’s speech was marred by lag and audio glitches. Rep. Charlie Crist’s (D-Fla.) video abruptly cut out as he was speaking. For a long stretch between speakers, the video was simply of a man identified as DJ Jack Henriquez — who appears to be this local Tampa musician and entertainer — grooving to some tunes amidst flashing disco lights.
Things only got slightly better as Biden came on, apparently speaking from his backyard.
“I wish that we could have done this together and it had gone a little more smoothly,” the former vice president said as he removed his trademark aviator sunglasses to begin his speech.
His speech focused on how Trump has let down America as the coronavirus ravaged the country. In what could be heard through the glitching video, he slammed the president as unqualified and unable to lead the nation through the coronavirus pandemic.
When the basic tech wasn’t failing Biden, a rather loud, angry-sounding chirping bird drowned out Biden’s remarks better than any MAGA protestor could ever hope to achieve.
This might all seem silly — and it obviously pales in contrast to the ongoing federal meltdown as the coronavirus kills tens of thousands of Americans, or even to President Trump’s irascible and falsehood-filled White House press conferences. But Trump’s campaign has invested heavily in its digital operation, and just launched a $10 million ad campaign to paint Biden as a doddering old man (as well as tie him to China). If Biden and his team can’t figure out how to up their digital game, that attack may cut deep.
Biden has been the presumptive Democratic nominee for almost two months now, about the same length of time he and much of the rest of the country have been locked inside and forced to cope with a new socially distanced reality. It took his campaign weeks to build a home studio so he could even communicate with voters, leaving a conspiratorial “Where’s Joe?” campaign to float in the ether, pushed by critics of his on both the left and right.
The Biden campaign’s digital problems have been so glaring that top Democrats have begun publicly sounding the alarm that his team needs to get its act together — and fast. David Axelrod and David Plouffe, two of President Obama’s top campaign strategists, penned a joint op-ed earlier this week that warned Biden and his team they better figure out this whole digital campaigning thing in a hurry.
“Biden is mired in his basement, speaking to us remotely, like an astronaut beaming back to earth from the International Space Station,” they lamented.
Lis Smith, Pete Buttigieg’s former top adviser, followed up by encouraging Biden to become “the hottest bad boy and disrupter in the media game.”
Biden spokesmen didn’t respond to requests for an explanation for what digitally had gone wrong with the event.
It was funny but forgivable when Biden’s team had a similar technical meltdown in his first virtual town hall “from” Illinois in mid-March. Almost two months later, it’s unfathomable that he’s still having these struggles, even as it’s become clear that the 2020 presidential campaign will be run remotely and online.
Biden currently leads Trump in most state polls as Trump’s disastrous coronavirus response has further eroded his standing with voters. Digital messaging might not define the campaign — but if he can’t catch up to Trump on this front it will become harder to effectively communicate with voters and hold that lead.
Cover: Joe Biden holds a “virtual town hall” for residents of Tampa, Florida on May 7, 2020. (Photo: YouTube)