Overlooked is that Biden and his team are also making a strategic bet. Limiting his exposure to the press and, by extension, the public isn’t simply a defensive ploy to avoid an embarrassing gaffe. It’s a conscious calculation that people don’t need—or want—to hear from the president on an hour-by-hour basis, that they will be satisfied if he can revive the economy and end the pandemic. After all, Americans just had a president who entered their life and refused to leave, who gripped the megaphone and wouldn’t let go. Biden has no wish to resurrect Donald Trump’s in-your-face presidency.
“People aren’t beating down the door and saying, ‘Why isn’t he in my living room every day? Why am I not seeing that big face staring at me and promoting himself in some way?’” Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, told me. “People are happy to see Joe Biden when they see him. But they’re happy not to see him every day.”
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Were he advising the White House, Luntz said, he’d recommend delaying the news conference even longer, perhaps holding one at the 100-day mark. “A press conference will not help him and can only hurt him,” he said. “There’s nothing to be gained from it. His message is getting out, and it’s getting out relatively unedited and uncriticized.” Luntz added that the audience for a presidential news conference these days is shrunken and fractured. “The problem is, you’re talking to the choir,” he said. “No Trump voter will listen to Joe Biden, just as no Biden voter would listen to Donald Trump.”
As of last week, Biden had publicly spoken about 116,000 words and spent 12 hours on camera as president, Bill Frischling, the founder of Factba.se, a data-analytics firm, told me. Over the same period last year, Trump had spoken nearly three times as many words and been on camera nearly three times as much.
That’s no accident. As president, Biden is following a pattern he set during the campaign. Citing the pandemic, he largely stuck to his home in Delaware while Trump raced around the country leading marathon rallies. Biden’s victory seems to have reinforced the belief that what worked in the campaign will work in the West Wing. In this view, spooling out news conferences sparingly carries no penalty, only upside. “Joe Biden is not that exciting, right? He’s genuine. We love him. But he’s not Obama. He’s not the orator in chief,” one former Biden-campaign aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me. “He’s boring in the best possible way. We need boring. We want boring.”
Boring seems to be paying off. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week showed that 59 percent of American adults approve of Biden’s performance in office, a four-point increase from January. Only 35 percent disapprove.
What incentive, then, does Biden have for showing up at a news conference and risking a misstatement or garbled bit of syntax? For one, it’s in the public interest for the president to make himself routinely available to questioning by journalists. For another, there’s always the chance Biden will ace the test. Republicans have spent the past two years spreading the notion that Biden suffers from some sort of cognitive infirmity. Against that low bar, he’s bound to exceed expectations. “Here’s where I think Republicans have made a mistake,” Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary under George W. Bush, told me. “If Joe Biden doesn’t drool all over himself at the news conference, he’s going to have done better than they expected. They set those expectations at the drool level.”