Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is not conducting a front-porch campaign — not with the social distancing advised during the coronavirus pandemic — but he may be trolling the late 19th-century campaign conducted by Republican William McKinley just a bit.
Whether that hold-back, speak-less, let-the-case-be-made-for-you style appeals to voters come Nov. 3 remains to be seen.
McKinley, like Biden, knew he couldn't match his peripatetic opponent — in this case Democrat William Jennings Bryan — for energy and loquacity in 1896.
"I might just as well put up a trapeze on my front lawn and compete with some professional athlete as go out speaking against Bryan," he said.
The Democrat had also announced an unprecedented campaign tour of the country in a special train. McKinley knew any gimmick he followed with would only be seen as competition.
"If I took a whole train, Bryan would take a sleeper," he told supporters. "If I took a sleeper, Bryan would take a chair car; if I took a chair car, he would ride a freight train. I can't outdo him, and I am not going to try."
McKinley, cognizant of the crowd that had greeted him at his Canton, Ohio, home after his presidential nomination and aware of presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison's reception of some visitors at his Indiana home in 1888, decided on a front-porch campaign.
Between late August and Election Day, some 750,000 people from 30 states trooped to his shady lot that fronted North Market Street, heard 300 speeches, shook his hand and received a brief guided tour through the house with the wide front porch.
Biden, of course, is going to do none of that. But his campaign appearances have been sporadic, his full-on questioning by media almost nonexistent and his answers to many pressing issues vague.
McKinley took somewhat of a similar strategy.
His speeches, according to biographer H. Wayne Morgan, were "models of brevity," and "he focused on a few understandable issues." Like Biden, he had to determine "what subjects to avoid."
For McKinley, in a more refined time, the issues were alcohol and religion.
For Biden, most recently, it has been the nomination of a Supreme Court justice to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the the threats made by his fellow party members to pack the court if he and a Democratic Senate are elected.
On a potential justice, the former vice president in June said his campaign was compiling a list of potential nominees for the high court and hinted it would be released during the campaign.
But earlier this week, he said he wouldn't release such a list, giving three reasons. The second of those, that anyone's name on the list would be subject to political attacks, is certainly the primary reason. If voters knew the records of the likely names on the list, they'd be less interested in voting for him.
On packing the court, Biden knows that doesn't play well with most Americans, and during the primary, when he needed to appear moderate, he rebuffed such calls, saying "we'll live to rue that day" and later that "I don't think you can start to fool around with changing the structure of the Constitution legislatively."
But last week, to his fellow Democrats' packing cries, he was vague.
It's a legitimate question," Biden said, "but let me tell you why I'm not going to answer that question. It will shift the focus. That's what [Trump] wants. Let's say I answer, then the whole debate's gonna be about what Biden said or didn't say. Biden said he would or wouldn't."
The Democrat knows that the less he says, the less he can be held account for. He's already well-established for flip-flopping on so many issues, his campaign understands that more isn't better.
And Biden's opponent has never been known for saying less. In fact, Biden knows the more Trump talks, the bigger chance there is that he'll say something offensive to some voters he'll need.
How quiet has it gotten in the challenger's campaign?
The New York Times said this: "There is scant physical evidence that the former vice president and Democratic nominee is in town. His visits are scarcely publicized beforehand, logistical details are closely held and his event venues serve as much as video studios as places of gathering. Barely anyone is allowed near the candidate."
Reporters following the campaign daily even have taken to announcing the "lid" to the Biden's campaign activities. Tuesday of last week marked the eighth day in September the "lid" had been slammed shut before noon.
Is that a winning strategy? Do voters want to hear less rather than more, vagueness instead of bluster and worry about what's being held back (and might be sprung on them after the election) instead of what's being put forth?
After four years of Trump, the answer is maybe. But we believe most people want to hear a candidate speak forthrightly and then decide for themselves. That's not the Biden campaign, though.