What is the Positive Vision for Biden’s Second Term?
Voters want to join a team with a clear mission, not just hate the other side. A “pro-worker, pro-family, pro-America” agenda provides a path forward.
With Trump’s big win in Iowa on Monday, and the long odds facing the remaining Republican candidates, the 2024 general election match-up between the former and current presidents begins in earnest.
All indications point to a tedious slug fest between two party leaders that majorities of Americans strongly dislike—nearly six in ten U.S. adults hold unfavorable opinions of both Trump and Biden in Gallup’s latest polling.
Team Biden’s entry into the election thus far has been underwhelming and entirely retrospective. It’s not surprising that he’s either losing or barely ahead in many battleground states. He tried unsuccessfully last year to defend “Bidenomics” amid high inflation, and has now turned to framing the 2024 choice as a vote between democracy and authoritarianism.
Of course, as TLP/YouGov data shows, many Americans despise Trump—much more intensely than they despise Biden. Negative partisanship is certainly a component of a reelection strategy, particularly given Trump’s inability to widen his appeal with normal American voters or to dedicate himself to basic constitutional norms.
So Biden could eke out a win in the political game of “Who do you hate more—me or the other guy?” But it’s a risky proposition.
Can Biden and Democrats really sustain interest in their campaign over the next 10 months, motivate more people to vote, and persuade skeptical voters to join up with them employing an entirely backwards looking, rhetorically negative message?
Anger and fear do motivate some people to action, but these emotions also lead others to check out and become cynical—which probably helps Trump more than Biden.
There are very few successful organizations in society run entirely on anger and fear (other than the media which is part of the problem with contemporary politics).
Successful organizations need a well-defined mission, a common purpose, and an affirmative agenda that people understand in plain language.
What is the common purpose holding together Biden’s campaign and driving his vision for a second term?
No one knows yet because they haven’t outlined anything positive. There’s nothing concrete in any recent speeches; nothing on the campaign’s web site; nothing on any of its social media feeds; nothing from outside groups; nothing for supporters to rally behind.
It’s all negative “anti-MAGA” messaging, which purposefully or not, puts Trump not Biden at the center of public discussion—free media and attention that the former president craves more than anything.
The components of a positive vision should start with Biden’s personal character and values, and then build toward easily understood political goals and sentiments.
Despite the sharp divisions in public life today, many of which seem unbridgeable, we know that Joe Biden throughout his career has cared deeply about: the country and its basic values, his faith, the importance of workers, the standing of middle-class families, and the nation’s capacity to work together pragmatically to make things better for everyone.
Biden is an old school Catholic Democrat who is committed to the well-being of working people and middle-class family values—a clear strength in a party awash in elite cultural norms. He believes in using American economic and military power to stand with our allies like Ukraine and Israel while others tear him down for doing so. As president, he worked with the other side to help pass important bipartisan legislation to strengthen American manufacturing, build up our national infrastructure, and protect our interests against outside threats from China and Russia.
The recipe for winning a presidential campaign is not that complicated—it’s two parts character/personality and one part organizational might/message.
So make Biden’s patriotism, his “pro-worker, pro-family, pro-America” agenda, and his pragmatism the centerpiece of a pitch for a second term.
To do this: (1) Reject all leftist rhetorical nonsense and activist priorities that preoccupy a minority of the party; (2) Occupy the center on immigration, energy issues, and crime and let voters know about it; and (3) Focus exclusively on policies that stand up for American workers, American businesses, American families, and American interests.
Biden should campaign as an economic nationalist and cultural moderate—his natural inclination.
Rather than just directing people to hate the other guy and his supporters, ask people to join a big-tent team dedicated to prosperity and opportunities for all Americans—and provide a hospitable invitation to those with misgivings about Democrats (and doubts about Trump) to give the president a second look.
Biden can try to scare people from now to November.
Or, he can simply state and exemplify through his actions and policy choices: “I love America. I love the American people. We’re a great nation. Thanks for giving me a chance to be your president. It’s an honor. I may not have your vote now but I hope to earn your trust and vote in the future. Let’s keep working together to make America the best it can be—for everyone, in every part of the country.”
At this point in American history, Biden probably can’t unite a country as politically divided as ours (and Trump certainly cannot). He’s not going to be a second FDR.
But President Biden might be able to bring together just enough people to win a second term—and continue advancing American economic and national security priorities—if he chooses to take the high road of earnest patriotism and genuine humility rather than the low road of anger and fear.