If you’ve watched Joe Biden’s campaign for president unfold, you probably have noted two things: one, that he has a massive lead in every poll well before anyone has voted, and two, that he has not really campaigned at all. Sure, he’s been on talk shows (especially The View, where he is beloved) and the like, but where are his campaign rallies? He had a kickoff in Pittsburgh and a couple of fundraisers, has booked a few day trips in New England, and no plans afterward. Where’s his platform? While other candidates have issued nation-changing plans for education, health care, gun control, and the environment, Joe’s Vision for America is mostly Obama-era platitudes. Where‘s his outreach to leftist voters? For a centrist candidate whom progressives have criticized, he’s not exactly out there winning friends.

Overall: Where is Joe? For a campaign with this much star power, it sure is low-wattage. What he’s doing stands in marked contrast to the content-rich campaigns of Warren, Booker, Harris, O’Rourke, Inslee, and the like. Only Pete Buttigieg is following Biden’s model of just occasionally being places and hoping a campaign will happen around you. Why is Biden doing this?

One possibility is that he’s letting the other candidates churn out their news cycles before dropping a real campaign on us when we get bored with them. Dude is 76, and an 18-month war might not be what the geriatrician ordered. Then again, 69-year-old Elizabeth Warren is campaigning like she’s 28. Warren undoubtedly believes she has to work harder and be more aggressive to get the same attention as a man, and she’s probably right about that.

Another possibility is that he’s focusing on building his team first and rolling it out when they’re all in line. This is a stellar list of staffers, but it still looks incomplete. Shouldn’t there be more than one person in Iowa? Maybe there’s behind-the-scenes work to do before we see Biden in all his resplendency.

Personally, I’m buying another reason, and it’s worth saying first that I’m totally cool with a Biden candidacy, though I favor some other candidates. He proved himself as VP, and has apologized for past sins, especially those involving Anita Hill. The issue of his ooky behavior toward women is troubling, to be sure. Assuming he apologizes in some way, I’m Team Biden.

But here’s what I think’s going on, and why he’s going to lose if he doesn’t change course fast. I think Biden is intentionally ignoring the primary. What we are seeing is the difference between candidates who are running to be the nominee and a candidate who’s expecting to be the nominee. It’s not clear if he believes it or if everyone else around him does and that’s fine with him.

There’s more than a full year till the Democratic National Convention. When he gets to Milwaukee, Biden presumes he’ll have all of Democratic America on his side. That’s because he is not campaigning against Democrats. Biden is campaigning against Trump. He’s forging a campaign that’s all about winning the general, and he’ll never mention a candidate other than Trump (who has been more than happy to get in the ring with him). Some headlines:

This is a man who knows, like Hillary Clinton knew, that the nomination was just around the corner. It’s as if his campaign slogan is “Biden: My Time.”

In game theory terms, this is called fighting the next war. This is a preferred strategy, as it contrasts with fighting the last war (as in the aphorism “Generals always fight the last war”). When someone fights the last war, they pick opponents and tactics founded on an outdated understanding of political and environmental realities. Britain fought the last war in the American Revolution. We fought the last war in Vietnam. Iraq fought the last war in the Gulf War. We’re fighting the last war against Russian hackers.

Biden’s approach, if I have it assessed right, is to avoid the Sanders-Clinton dynamic of the 2016 election. For him, there are no liberals and no centrists; there’s just people who’ll vote for someone who has the best chance to beat Trump. Biden’s probably a better candidate than Hillary Clinton, and she actually beat Trump in the popular vote. So, a few focused efforts on places Trump barely won to secure the nomination and then an all-out blitz on Trump from July to November of next year means President Biden in 2021.

I’ll take it as a given that Biden’s the best candidate to beat Trump. This is not possibly-bad-President Trump; it is catastrophically-bad-President Trump. You get two old white guys in there, throw in a charisma-free coffee exec, and I think Biden runs away with it. That’s not the point. The point is we’ve seen this before with another J.B. It went disastrously for the candidate.

Why is there a second font on the date, Jeb!?

Hearken back to May 2015. In a rare flash of self-awareness, Mitt Romney declined to run again. That cleared the road for John Ellis “Jeb” Bush. The third Bush to run for the office, the Florida ex-governor had most folks believing he’d cruise to the nomination. Trump had yet to descend an escalator, so Jeb’s most fearsome declared foe was Ted Cruz. Seriously, anybody could beat Ted Cruz, right?

This is Bush’s response to Fox’s Megyn Kelly about his brother’s invasion of Iraq, in a pre-campaign interview that aired on May 11, 2015.

Kelly: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”

Bush: “I would have, and so would’ve Hillary Clinton.”

The entire Kelly interview is focused not on Bush as a person, but his ability to vanquish Hillary Clinton, who did not then have a single primary win. Clinton was thought of as a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, as Bernie Sanders had floated his intention to run less than a month earlier, and was weeks out from launching the campaign that galvanized liberal America. Bush planned to run against Clinton, and was unconcerned over what would soon become the most crowded Republican field in history. Prior to announcing, he sized the task up in a quixotic manner.

“I kind of know how a Republican can win, whether it’s me or somebody else, and it has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more willing to, you know, to be practical now in Washington-world. Lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles — it’s not an easy task, to be honest.”

Lose the primary to win the general? As was obvious to all, no candidate makes the general election without a primary win. Yet that was exactly what he proceeded to attempt. When running his campaign to win the White House, Bush projected an air of being above the fray of the contested primaries. He led polls from November 2014 to June 2015, by which time other candidates like Scott Walker (c’mon now, America) had inched up to contest the race.

As I hardly need to spell out for you, it all went south for Bush fast. The lifeless exclamation point logo (“It connotes excitement,” he offered). The Wreck-It Ralphy “Jeb Can Fix It” slogan. The slow horror of “Please clap.” The mind-blowing internet-written musical of his campaign.

By October 2015, Bush was clocking the lowest numbers of the surviving candidates. Meanwhile, you could feel the dynamism—hatemonger though he was—from Trump as he hammered on Bush’s “low energy.” Similarly, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie were on television because they were clashing with each other. People rallied around Bush’s foes because they were focused on beating other Republicans. Looking past the primary cost Bush the general election. He was out of the race before Super Tuesday in February 2016, a bumbling afterthought in Trump’s unsettling rise to power.

The Admiral knows.

For Bush, the Republican primary was what sports fans call a trap game. When a team looks beyond its next foe to a future one, they run the risk of falling into a trap and failing to get out. Sometimes it’s a failure to beat a point spread that angers bettors. Other times… well, let’s look at one of the most famous trap games ever.

Going into the 2007 season, the Michigan Wolverines football team was ranked #5 in the nation. They were stacked up and down the line with future NFL players. Like pretty much every college team you’ve heard of, Michigan played in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the top level of NCAA football. But there’s another, less heralded division called the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) that features smaller schools. When FBS schools want an easy win, they schedule a home game against an FCS opponent—and pay them to be there. These teams are called “cupcakes” because playing them is the competitive equivalent of a human vs. a cupcake.

Because of a friendship between the coaches, Michigan paid North Carolina’s Appalachian State Mountaineers $400,000 to visit the Big House on September 1. Listening to the players’ reflections, the Wolverines greeted the game without fear.

“I had never heard of them. Even watching their film, it was really grainy and bad quality. I felt like I was watching a high school highlight tape or something. I personally wasn’t worried or concerned about the game.”—U-M wide receiver Greg Mathews

Vegas sportsbooks were just as overconfident, as they did not give a betting line on the game. That was a tactical error, as App State was ranked #1 in their division, had won the previous two FCS championships, and were expected to win a third. The Mountaineers were as good a cupcake as cupcakes could ever be. They were ready.

“We didn’t start getting ready for them in August. We started getting ready as soon as we knew the game was happening. We knew that conditioning was going to be huge.”—ASU coach Jerry Moore

Moore pumped the Michigan fight song through the Mountaineers’ practices all summer. They hated the Wolverines by game day, whereas Michigan wasn’t quite as fired up. They faced a highly regarded Oregon team the week after ASU, and didn’t focus on their season opener.

“Throughout that week, there were a bunch of parties. Every night of the week, it was like a crazy, insane party. I just didn’t manage that very well. Guys were missing practice, coming to practice hungover, having to sit out because they were hungover.”—Mathews

Even if you’ve never heard of this game, I bet you can see where it’s headed.

App State’s 34–32 win over highly ranked Michigan was one of the greatest upsets in sports history. Michigan looked past the Mountaineers as if they weren’t there, and the next day the Wolverines had fallen out of the top 25. They fell into the trap, lost big at home to Oregon the next week, and only then realized what they had failed to do. To their credit, Michigan reeled off eight straight wins thereafter, and finished with a respectable 9–4 record. But so much more was lost on that day in Ann Arbor, because they looked ahead to play the next game without worrying about the one in front of them.

We all do this, though rarely as spectacularly as Michigan did. We forget to forget to fix the storm windows in the sunshiny days before the rains come. We spend so much time planning the kid’s birthday party that we forget our anniversary. We blast a candidate in the primaries without predicting the hangover of that when they make it to the general. Traps are everywhere.

It is impossible to know yet whether Biden is falling into a trap like that. By ignoring the primaries and focusing on his presumed opponent in the general election, Biden could become Jeb! 2.0. That didn’t work out well for Jeb! 1.0. But there’s plenty of highway ahead. Let’s see how this goes for Joe!

(Ugh. I’m sorry. I’m never putting that exclamation point there again.)

This is the 38th installment of a series on politics and game theory. It has covered impeachment of Trump, Russian collusion, white supremacy, abortion, guns, nuclear war, debt, the NFL, sexual harassment, the Mueller probe, taxes, Trump’s first year, the Clinton Foundation, immigration, parades, the Democrats, hope, family separation, trade wars, Trump’s endgame, the New York Times op-ed, Justice Kavanaugh, Speaker Pelosi, lame ducks, the GOP legacy, the stock market, the Democratic field, shutdowns, third party candidates, the Virginia scandals, in-party impeachment, Trump’s mafia code, college admissions, William Barr, Brexit, Iran, and the Mueller Report. The first 21 of these essays are in my book Game Theory in the Age of Chaos, which you can order by clicking the link.