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Democrats are Sleepwalking Back to 2016
This week brought the news of Joe Biden’s official run for president in 2024. Conventional wisdom says it would be a slam dunk for a party to support their incumbent president rather than switching horses. Considering that the Democratic Party is run by a gerontocracy older than the one that preceded Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, one would not expect any deviation from the formula.
Unfortunately for these elderly representatives of a bygone time, we are not living in an ordinary era. I did the math and realized that in my lifetime as many presidents have won additional terms (Reagan, Clinton, Dubya, Obama) as have failed in that endeavor (Ford, Carter, Bush I, Trump.) Heck, the guy before Ford had to resign during his second term and LBJ had to drop out of the presidential race in 1968. There’s been a lot of focus on Biden’s age, which I believe is a serious issue, but not as much around the erosion of the incumbency advantage.
Democrats have also failed to learn the lessons of 2016 (and 2008, to be honest.) That year they ran a highly unpopular candidate, meaning a lot of base voters did not turn out. It also meant more Democratic-leaning voters were willing to jump to third party candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. That election also showed that the electoral college can easily elect an unpopular candidate like Trump, who lost the popular vote by three million. All Republicans have to do is swing a few thousand votes in a few key states, and they can win another election while losing the popular vote.
I want to be clear that I actually like Joe Biden after disliking him for a long time. He has a common touch, he has a genuine passion for public service, and he got some really important legislation passed. The thing is, he has not won over the masses. His age means he can’t be as vigorous in his public appearances, meaning I see no way he expands on his popularity before the election. If there’s a recession, then things are really bad. I think ANY generic Democrat would poll higher than him in the 2024 election. A candidate like Josh Shapiro or Gretchen Whitmer, with experience winning the kinds of states Democrats need, would do even better. Having a much younger candidate than Trump would also provide a needed contrast.
Democrats also should have learned from 2008 that voters want to vote FOR something. Obama gave voters the feeling that their vote would change the country. Biden, like Clinton in 2016, will mostly be arguing from a negative position, that we need to save the country from Trump. That won’t be enough motivation because that argument felt vital in 2020 in a way it doesn’t now. Furthermore, someone like DeSantis, as awful as he is at relating to people, would provide the “newness” that low-information voters will glom onto.
A lot of Democrats were not motivated in 2016, the situation in 2020 gave them inherent motivation. I am beginning to see a return of the 2016 mentality. Younger voters are upset by Biden's administration's opening up of Alaska for drilling. They will be easy pickings for a Green third party run and I am sure Republican donors will use dark money to make that happen.
On top of this, Republicans are taking active measures to limit the Democratic vote. They are not just up to their usual trips of depriving Black communities of polling stations and using ID laws as an intimidation tactic, they are actively plotting to get rid of polling places on college campuses. After 2020 I am sure there will be a massive increase in polling place challenges and local MAGA officials throwing away votes. The courts have been packed with MAGA-ites who are already approving gerrymandering in places like North Carolina.
Crucially, the media has already normalized Trump again. Because the mainstream media is wedded to their cowardly interpretation of “objectivity” they are already treating Trump as merely another legitimate politician, even though he tried to overthrow the government. As they did in the past, they will give him tons of free airtime because it boosts their ratings and will respond to his lies with a fatuous “he-said/she-said” framing.
As I have been saying over and over again since 2016, the only thing that will save this country from an eventual authoritarianism is what Lincoln called a “new birth of freedom.” We need to radically reimagine our social contract and articulate a vision of positive freedom where every person can live a dignified life. Democrats instead are crossing their fingers that people dislike Trump so much that they will vote for a different candidate they don’t like very much. It’s a dangerous strategy that also fails to give the majority of this nation that wants something better anything to vote FOR. This will not end well.