close
close

Opinion | Crisis advisor advises Biden to pull out

Opinion | Crisis advisor advises Biden to pull out

Dan McGinn is Managing Director of McGinn and Co.

For the past 40 years, I have worked as a crisis consultant, advising business leaders, celebrities, and senior government officials who have faced complicated, sensitive, and all-consuming situations. My job is to tell these successful and often brilliant people things they don’t want to hear and recommend things they don’t want to do.

Most of them have fallen into some basic traps, and I see President Biden falling into them as well. I would tell him that.

President Biden, you need to expand your circle of advisers.

The most valuable asset in a crisis is clear, objective and fearlessly honest advice. That’s why the first thing I tell every client is: don’t rely on the advice of family and close friends. As wise and caring as they may be, they cannot be unbiased and will inevitably represent what they think the client wants.

In this case, the president seems to be relying on the advice of those who love him and are desperate to get him what they think he wants and deserves. That is the wrong path. He needs to listen to new voices.

The crisis will not be over just because you say it is over.

I’ve told countless CEOs, “The decision is yours… until it’s not.” It’s hard for extremely successful people to understand — and even harder to accept — that they can lose control of a situation. Biden obviously still has a lot of influence in this crisis, but he doesn’t hold all the cards. With respected analysts, prominent supporters and a growing chorus of elected officials urging him to step down, his hard-line approach of doing the time and forcing the convention to nominate him carries enormous risks.

Demonizing your critics is a dangerous game.

Getting caught in a firestorm is a test of emotions, but also of intelligence and judgment. The natural human reaction is to freak out. Highly qualified people in particular always feel misunderstood and treated unfairly. And they want to attack the media, their critics and what they see as disloyal friends and incompetent co-workers.

What you need is not just thick skin, but generosity. When Biden attacks or dismisses the media, the so-called elites, and even the numerous well-meaning supporters who question his mental and physical fitness, he comes across as small, unworldly, and selfish. That’s not who Joe Biden is. He has his faults and blind spots, but he’s always been a decent, normal, likable guy. He needs to lean into that fundamental element of his character and recognize that anger is not a strategy. Boasting is not a message. And demonizing his critics almost always backfires — especially when those critics are longtime allies who have no motive to say anything other than the truth as they see it.

You will not succeed if you tell the public to ignore what they know or sincerely believe.

At the heart of the controversy is Biden’s frailty at age 81. This is not an obscure political issue involving NATO or the unemployment report. Americans of all backgrounds and from all parts of the country have cared for a parent, a grandparent or an elderly neighbor. They have seen the people they love and admire slow down. And they know from hard experience that time cannot be turned back.

Since the debate, the president, his family, and his campaign have made several comments that do not accept this reality. First Lady Jill Biden praised his performance, saying “you answered every question.” His staff’s initial assessment after the debate was that “nothing fundamentally changed.” When reality set in, they told us he had a cold and was jet-lagged. The president himself said, “I almost fell asleep onstage” and that he told his staff not to schedule any events for him after 8 p.m. None of these attempts to sugarcoat the very real concerns of millions of Americans are helpful.

Don’t forget your core values.

Biden won his first national office at age 29 and has dedicated his life to public service. Of course he has ambition and a big ego—no one runs for president without those qualities—but his strong sense of family, community, sacrifice and patriotism have been the driving force of his career.

Now, at the defining moment of his long and extraordinary public life – and facing an election he credibly describes as the most consequential in our history – I would advise the president to step back and slow down. He should listen with deep respect to those who have expressed their deep concerns. And he should ask himself what the 29-year-old version of himself would recommend to the 81-year-old president of the United States.

If he listens to young Joe Biden, I believe he would do what he has always done: put the country first and resign. That would be deeply painful, yes. But at a time when Americans have lost faith in our politicians, it would also be an act that would secure his place in history and show the nation and the world the essence of selfless leadership.