Biden can't make the same election claims this time around
Trump is a weaker candidate than he was in 2020, but so is Biden.
Joe Biden believes that Donald Trump running again for the Republican nomination strengthens his case to be the Democratic nominee in 2024, despite his age and poor polling numbers. After all, he has already beaten Trump once.
However, Biden can no longer make the same case against Trump that he made in 2020, to either Democratic primary voters or the general electorate.
There were two levels of the Biden 2020 presidential campaign. To the general electorate, he offered a return to normalcy in American politics after the soap opera of Trump’s term. He also developed a unity platform with Bernie Sanders to placate the Democratic base.
Biden ultimately won the Democratic nomination because of his perceived electability, that he was a familiar figure who was credible in pledging to return American politics to pre-Trump norms. That proved a good bet and was the reason Biden beat Trump in the general election.
However, Biden didn’t govern from the center-left, as a return to normalcy implied. Instead, he sought, with the narrowest of margins in Congress, to enact the unity platform he had developed with Sanders.
That platform encompassed a radical change in the political economy of the United States, in essence transforming this country into a European-style social democracy. The role of the government would be greatly expanded. The reach of the welfare state would be extended much further into the middle-class and even upper middle-class. The role of the government in directing investment capital and economic activity would be substantially enhanced.
This was partially included in Biden’s bloated Covid relief bill, generally believed to have contributed to the runaway inflation the Fed is attempting to tame, although the Fed shares the blame for setting off inflation pressures.
The transformation was to be made permanent by Biden’s Build Back Better plan, intended to be enacted through a straight party-line vote via reconciliation. That was thwarted by the opposition of Joe Manchin and, to a lesser extent, Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. The substitute, the fraudulently named Inflation Reduction Act, expanded the government’s role in the healthcare and energy markets, but wasn’t the thorough remaking of the country’s political economy initially intended and attempted.
There was some governing from the center-left, most consequently Sinema’s infrastructure bill. But Biden was mostly a supportive bystander in these efforts. And there was opportunity for more of it that Biden’s attempt to cram down the radial transformation snuffed out.
With Republicans taking over the House, Biden has no choice but to attempt to govern from the center-left for the remainder of his term. Republicans massively underperformed in this election, but regaining the House, by however small a margin, completely changes the governing landscape.
However, Biden’s attempt to remake the American political economy into a European-style social democracy cannot be erased. And it won’t be forgotten.
That means that he cannot offer himself to the general electorate as an anodyne alternative to Trump, someone who will keep American politics within known and broadly supported parameters. Which means that he can no longer offer himself to Democratic primary voters as someone more electable than any other progressive in a contest against Trump.
In fact, an argument could be made that a younger progressive going into the race with a cleaner slate would have a better chance against Trump than Biden, who starts out with an electorate that disapproves of his performance in office and increasingly doubts his capacity to handle the job.
The Republicans are in a world of hurt. Trump is their frontrunner even though the 2022 election was a thorough rejection of Trumpism.
A House with a narrow GOP majority will be a spectacle and a likely disaster, substantively and politically. With it, there’s a serious risk of a government shutdown and even default on the national debt over the next two years. Even if disaster is skirted, the GOP House will inevitably further tarnish the Republican brand among independent ticket-splitters. They won’t be able to help themselves.
Trump is weaker than he was in 2020, perhaps considerably so. But Biden is also weaker as an acceptable alternative to independent ticket-splitters and disaffected Republicans.
The American people passionately don’t want to see a rematch in 2024 between Biden and Trump. I suspect Democrats will have a much easier time easing Biden aside than Republicans will have dislodging Trump.
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org.