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Enough of the Gospel According to Nate Silver

Let us begin this piece by noting that Nate Silver was once an excellent number-cruncher. That was true even before he began writing about politics, and instead was applying his gifts to baseball analysis. It is entirely plausible that he's still an excellent number-cruncher, though we do not know because we do not pay for his Substack. It's also possible he doesn't do much number crunching anymore because it's hard work, and sometimes people just rest on their laurels (see, for example, Al Pacino).

What Silver is not, however, is a political strategist. Nonetheless, he has gotten into the habit, particularly on Ex-Twitter, of sharing his non-evidence-based opinions on political strategy. And because of his still-sterling (no pun intended) reputation, the media tends to treat his utterances like they come straight from the mouth of Solomon.

So it was yesterday, when Silver offered a fairly damning assessment of Joe Biden, and virtually every outlet ran with it. Here it is (from his Substack, mind you, not Ex-Twitter):

Personally, I crossed the rubicon in November, concluding that Biden should stand down if he wasn't going to be able to run a normal reelection campaign—meaning, things like conduct a Super Bowl interview. Yes, it's a huge risk and, yes, Biden can still win. But he's losing now and there's no plan to fix the problems other than hoping that the polls are wrong or that voters look at the race differently when they have more time to focus on it. Neither is so implausible and it is likely to be a close race. But even the most optimistic Democrats, if you read between the lines, are really arguing that Democrats could win despite Biden and not because of him. Biden is probably a below replacement-level candidate at this point because Americans have a lot of extremely rational concerns about the prospect of a Commander-in-Chief who would be 86 years old by the end of his second term. It is entirely reasonable to see this as disqualifying. The fact that Trump also has a number of disqualifying features is not a good reason to nominate Biden. It is a reason for Democrats to be the adults in the room and acknowledge that someone who can't sit through a Super Bowl interview isn't someone the public can trust to have the physical and mental stamina to handle an international crisis, terrorist attack or some other unforeseen threat when he'll be in his mid-80s.

We also wrote about Biden potentially reconsidering his Super Bowl interview, given the Robert Hur report coming out at the beginning of that week. But otherwise, we find most of this to be pretty objectionable from an analysis standpoint.

Let us focus, in particular, on several key points:

In short, if Silver wants to show his math, we're still interested because of how good his early work was. However, when he just starts pontificating off the top of his head, well, he kinda sounds like the people that his work was once supposed to be the curative for.

And now, we will present our strategic assessment. We do not have Silver's certitude, nor do we plan to lecture the Biden campaign on what it should do, since that is not actually appropriate for psephologists.

To start, it seems very clear to us that when it comes to Biden really hitting the media circuit hard, there is such a thing as "too early." He does not want to cause voters to become burned out on him and on his messaging. Further, when it comes to the specific problem of pushing back against the "He's too old and mentally feeble" narrative, Biden is not going to dispel that right now, no matter how dazzling he might be. On the other hand, he could make a mistake that lingers. Such is the nature of these things.

And again, it is true that we thought Biden might consider doing the Super Bowl interview because of how damaging the Hur Report was. However, the campaign correctly guessed, it appears, that the story didn't really have legs. Again, when it comes to political strategy, they are better at this than we are.

Moving along, it also seems very clear to us that when it comes to Biden hitting the media circuit hard, there is such a thing as "too late." If he doesn't spend a fair bit of time getting his message out there, and also showing that he still has his marbles, he may run out of time to change enough hearts and minds.

If you accept our two propositions, then that leads to just one question: When should Biden '24 flip the switch? When we started laying this piece out, it struck us that there is a pretty obvious answer to that question. And we would have shared it, not as "advice" to the President, but simply as a prediction. As it turns out, however, we already know that the answer we came up with is the same one that Team Biden came up with. They see the real launching point of their campaign as... the State of the Union Address.

So, with Donald Trump already in full campaign mode, March 7 is when the race for the White House begins in earnest. And at that point, we will see what the Biden campaign has up its collective sleeves. (Z)

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