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Joe Biden’s “No Malarkey” bus is smarter than you think

It started with a bus. Earlier this week whoever’s running Joe Biden’s Twitter account posted a photo of a tour bus emblazoned with the name of his latest cross-Iowa campaign jaunt: the “No Malarkey Tour.” Immediately, the internet erupted — a polyphonic chorus of derision across the political spectrum, ranging from Mike Huckabee to Desus Nice.

The jokes revolve around the idea that Biden is a weird old guy who says weird old guy stuff, like “malarkey,” and therefore his tour name is yet another unquestionably foolish decision from a bumbling campaign. The first part is undeniably true. The second part? Not so much.

Joe Biden is not a convincing progressive standard-bearer. He’s widely hated by the young, savvy online left, with good reason: his past support for harsh crime bills is appalling, and many of his current policies, especially on health care, are thin gruel. And yes, he often says strange things in public, like “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” But a lot of the discussion around “No Malarkey” seems to be conflating Joe Biden’s numerous gaffes with intentional campaign strategy, in order to laugh at how out-of-touch the candidate is. That’s a major fallacy, and it has a lot to do with why Biden remains the candidate to beat, even as pundits repeatedly claim that his campaign is on life support.

The fact is, Biden employs a corps of public relations experts who read the same websites, listen to the same podcasts, and follow the same people on Twitter as you do. They aren’t blind to the fact that “No Malarkey” sounds like something that a guy from a 1950’s MST3K educational short about why men should feed their families roast beef every night would say. In fact, they’re counting on it.

They’re well aware that Biden, and the slogan, are brutally corny. Guess what: People like corny shit. Especially old people, who are the bulk of Democratic primary voters. Young people, too! You can find the same wits tweeting snarkily about the Biden tour one moment, and the next, lustily posting reaction images of Baby Yoda.

There’s nothing wrong with Baby Yoda. He’s super cute. (For the record, I think “no malarkey” is also kind of cute. Sue me.) The character was designed by a hundred-billion dollar corporation who presumably did extensive market research on the coveted 18-35 demographic. They are selling something, and it’s working, because the product lines up with the tastes of tons of other people just like me and you (89,000 #fennecfox posts on Instagram can’t be wrong).

Same with Biden. His eleven point lead in the RealClearPolitics average reflects the decisions made by the people running his campaign. This includes naming a tour bus “No Malarkey” specifically because it will light up zones in the brains of millions of elderly Iowans who haven’t received a thank you note from their TikTok-addled zoomer grandkids since the Obama administration. In 2016, 71 percent of Americans over 65 voted in the presidential election, as opposed to 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds. Playing to the elderly is a winning strategy, and the Biden PR machine knows its audience.

This is why I find the immediate reflex from the savvy classes to sneer at “No Malarkey” a little tedious. Yes, Biden’s entire campaign often feels like an exercise in dismissing the valid concerns of the young. Sure, he’s an establishment flunky who’s moderated his positions into hollow pretzels of mediocrity. But he knows what he’s doing. While you’re knowingly roasting the old guy’s lame tour bus, he’s riding it all the way to a victory fueled by the high-octane nostalgia of the Silent Generation, while the rest of us ineffectually fling eggs at the windows.