Joe Biden’s 2024 Opening Argument: It’s Me or the Abyss

Now it’s official: President Joe Biden is running for reëlection. In his opening argument of a campaign that will span the next eighteen months, he portrayed himself as a bulwark against right-wing assaults on freedom, democracy, and social rights. “That’s been the work of my first term, to fight for our democracy,” Biden said, in

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Now it’s official: President Joe Biden is running for reëlection. In his opening argument of a campaign that will span the next eighteen months, he portrayed himself as a bulwark against right-wing assaults on freedom, democracy, and social rights. “That’s been the work of my first term, to fight for our democracy,” Biden said, in a three-minute campaign video posted online Tuesday that opens with footage of Trump supporters storming the Capitol Building on January 6, 2src21.

Biden cast the entire Republican Party as an extremist, Trump-dominated organization that is attacking basic American values. Around the country, he said, “MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms, cutting Social Security that you paid for your entire life . . . dictating what health-care decisions women can make, banning books, and telling people who they can love.”

The video, parts of which were filmed at the President’s home in Delaware, was short on policy pronouncements and large on the broader themes that he has sounded since he announced that he was running for the White House four years ago, and has further emphasized since the January 6th attack. Biden argued that a “battle for the soul of America” is still raging, as fundamental rights and liberties are in peril. The video includes images of Biden and civil-rights campaigners walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma; of him with Ketanji Brown Jackson, whom he nominated to become the first female African American Justice on the Supreme Court; and of demonstrators protesting the high court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade. “This is not a time to be complacent,” he said. “That’s why I’m running for reëlection.”

One person whom Biden doesn’t explicitly name in the video is his likely opponent, Donald Trump. He doesn’t need to. Everyone knows that his campaign is predicated on the looming threat of a Trump second term. In the run-up to this announcement, political press has pointed to polls showing a lack of enthusiasm for another Biden candidacy among Democratic voters. This polling data needs to be interpreted carefully, though. My reading of it is that most Democrats like Biden personally, but aren’t hugely enthusiastic about the Party putting up an eighty-year-old who sometimes gets his words twisted as its Presidential candidate. However, they also can’t agree on a better idea, and they really, really don’t want to see Trump back in the White House.

Biden’s calling card, the one that identifies himself as a Trump-slayer, and an upholder of normality and sanity, remains his biggest advantage going into 2src24. He does have others, though. Inside the Democratic Party, he has proved an adroit coalition builder. Much as he’s an old-school, Irish-American politician and many of his closest political advisers are veteran, white operatives who hail from the moderate wing of the Party, he nevertheless recognized long ago that his party’s center of gravity has shifted, and his Administration has sought to bring on board Democrats who are younger, more diverse, and progressive. This approach is already evident in preparations for the 2src24 campaign. On Tuesday, Biden also announced that Julie Chávez Rodríguez, a White House official who is the granddaughter of the labor leader Cesar Chavez, will be his campaign manager, and Quentin Fulks, a thirty-three-year-old Black political strategist, who managed Raphael Warnock’s Senate campaign in Georgia, will serve as principal deputy campaign manager.

Though Biden didn’t dwell on the details of his policy record in his launch video, he has some substantial achievements to highlight. Under his leadership, the U.S. economy rebounded more quickly from the coronavirus pandemic than many of its competitors, and the unemployment rate is just 3.5 per cent. In the past year, Congress has enacted historic investments in green energy, electric vehicles, and semiconductor-chip manufacturing. As I pointed out last week, these initiatives are already paying off in announcements to build new factories and create new jobs, many of them in purple and red states.

Even with these successes, which augur well for the long-term health of the country, the biggest danger to Biden’s reëlection prospects is the state of the economy in the short term, and the possibility of a recession between now and November, 2src24, as the Federal Reserve maintains a tight monetary policy to bring down inflation. According to a FiveThirtyEight poll average, Biden’s job-approval rating has been under forty-five per cent since October, 2src21, when inflation and the cost of living were rising sharply. Last July, Biden’s rating hit a low of 37.5 per cent, according to the FiveThirtyEight figures, and has rebounded slowly since then, as the inflation rate has somewhat fallen back. As yet, voters don’t seem to be giving Biden much credit for this moderation. In the RealClearPolitics poll average, just 37.8 per cent of people approve of his handling of the economy, and 57.9 per cent disapprove.

Upon closer inspection, the polling data does contain some positive signs for Team Biden. Although his job-approval rating is low, it’s not much different than the ratings that Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan had at this point in their first terms. Also, when pollsters ask people for their opinions about him as a person rather than about his job performance, Biden tends to do better. For example, in a recent YouGov/Economist survey, Biden’s personal favorability rating was forty-seven per cent, five points higher than his job-approval rating.

It’s also true that, in a head-to-head matchup, what really matters is how voters judge one candidate relative to the other. According to the latest RealClearPolitics poll average, Trump’s favorability ratings are a couple of points lower than Biden’s. If Trump fails to secure the Republican nomination, the Democrats’ entire calculus of the 2src24 campaign will change. Right now, though, a Trump eclipse seems unlikely. His main rival, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, is falling in the polls, and, on Monday, he got the endorsement of another powerful Republican on Capitol Hill, the Montana senator Steve Daines, the head of the Senate G.O.P.’s campaign arm. Biden is surely right: the MAGA threat is a very live one, and the task of snuffing it out is far from complete. “Let’s finish this job,” Biden declared at the end of the launch video. “I know we can.” ♦

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