The 2024 election will be determined by two things. Neither one is Joe Biden’s age.
The fact that Trump appointee Robert Hur could figure out no conceivable way to indict Joe Biden on the classified documents case, but still wanted to audition to be Attorney General in a potential Trump presidency is the only story that people should be paying attention to in terms of that ridiculous report he issued on Friday. This is not the “hair on fire” moment one anonymous bedwetter Democrat says it was in the Washington Post.
As Joe Biden would say “Look, here’s the deal”: the two major party nominees in this year’s election are both around 80 years old. Both mis-speak from time to time (as does pretty much everyone in public life). Both will have moments where they momentarily forget a specific date or name of a person, or mention one country when thinking of another, like 52 year old Mike Johnson did just the other day when he talked about how proud he was of the aid we just passed for Iran.
One of those presidential candidates, Donald Trump, is so obviously far worse than the other that we shouldn’t even be having this conversation. He is visibly, demonstrably, every day out there rambling off on bizarre non-sequiturs and wild tangents, unable to complete a coherent sentence without uttering an obvious falsehood. Over the course of the long general election campaign ahead of us, voters are going to understand that Joe Biden is far steadier, far more reliable, and far more concerned about the well-being of Americans than Donald Trump; and they will understand that Donald Trump is far more cruel, far more chaotic, and far less sane than the incumbent.
Voters are thus going to do what they normally tend to do: vote for the candidate who they think shares their values and their agenda. In 7 of the 8 presidential elections, more voters have voted for the Democrat rather than the Republican, and I believe that will be the case again.
That’s not to say this election will be easy. There are big challenges (in addition to the woe is me Democrats who panic at any sign of trouble). But it will not be Biden’s age that is the determining factor. The election will turn on two other things. One is whether Democrats can bring their base voters home. The other is whether they can convince enough cynical, alienated working class voters that the President has their back on the economic issues that matter the most to them.
The big challenge of consolidating the Democratic base
Let’s not sugarcoat things: those of us in the Democratic Party who care about not having Donald Trump, an open fascist, winning the presidency have a lot of difficult work to do in terms of consolidating the Democratic base. The war in Gaza has formed a serious breach in the progressive coalition, and no one should underestimate how difficult it will be to repair that breach. It’s not just Arab-Americans and Muslims, either. Young progressives, the people who voted for Bernie in the millions in the 2016 and 2020 primaries, are also very much against the war in Gaza. And many progressive people of color have stood in solidarity with Palestinian-Americans on this issue.
This disaffection is also driven by the fact that people of color and young people have been the hardest hit by the inflation of the last few years. Add to this challenging mix the threat of well-funded (by the Republicans, of course) third party candidates- RFK, Jr, Cornel West, Jill Stein- and the situation gets more serious.
The good news is that the Biden campaign and other Democrats understand these dynamics and are developing strategies to address them. They have been listening to the concerns of the Arab-American community and the peace movement, and we have seen some movement in the right direction on Mideast policy. They have been making great hires in terms of youth and progressive organizing and forging partnerships with key groups in this space.
As the campaign goes on and progressive voters focus on the horrors of the possibility of another Trump presidency, and as the campaign and White House work hard at bringing base voters back into the fold, more and more progressives will come home. Progressive organizations, influencers, opinion leaders, and activists will need to do their part, and I’m confident they will.
However, we aren’t going to get every base voter back, which is all the more reason we need to have a robust strategy to win over more working class swing voters.
The profound importance of swing voters from the alienated working class
This might be counter-intuitive to some, but the best place to make up the votes we lose among progressives who either don’t vote or vote for third party candidates is among working class swing voters, especially those outside of big metro areas. My guess is that we have probably already won over most of the higher educated, higher income big city suburban voters we are going to win, leaving working class swing voters as the place to go to get the votes we need.
Non-metro working class counties are the areas that shifted most dramatically from Obama toward Trump in 2016, but they started to come back to Democrats in 2022 in races like the Fetterman and Shapiro elections in PA, the Whitmer race in MI, and the Evers race in WI. Gains in these kinds of counties were critical to Congressional wins in PA and the Midwest that, going into the cycle, most people thought we would lose.
The swing voters in these places tend more than anywhere else to be “double negative” voters, people who don’t approve of either Trump or Biden. In 2022, Democrats won those voters easily, and we are going to have to do that again this time.
These voters are highly cynical about politics, political parties, political ads, and what they call the biased corporate media. They are desperate for trusted sources of information about issues and candidates and the news. They increasingly think Trump is a bad guy. They think Biden is a better person and well-intentioned, but inflation has hit them hard and they trust Trump more on the economy. They are starting to be aware of good things happening like lower insulin prices and more highway construction jobs, but don’t yet know that Biden deserves most of the credit.
They are economically populist in a way that could lead them to vote Democratic. They trust and like labor unions a lot, and they think wealthy corporations and their CEOs have screwed them over badly. They want corporations reined in and wealthy companies and millionaires to pay more in taxes.
These kinds of voters are classic swing voters. If we do the kind of organizing and social media work that builds trusted relationships over time (not just right before the election), and get them news articles and videos that give them good information about the issues they care about, we can move them our way.
The Joe Biden I know
I have known Joe Biden for almost 40 years. The reason I chose to work for him in the 1988 campaign was because it was obvious from the first time I met him that his number one concern was making the lives of working class families from places like Scranton and Wilmington, and the families I grew up with in Northeast Lincoln, better.
When I talk to Joe Biden today, he is still the same as he was back then- sharp, detail oriented on policy, focused on how to get good things done, empathetic, funny. Middle class Joe. I have worked for the two other Democratic Presidents of my adulthood- Bill Clinton in the White House, Barack Obama in the transition- and neither of them in two terms got even close to getting done for working families what Joe Biden did in his first three years in office. And the big things Biden accomplished- stemming the Covid crisis and the economic damage done to the economy because of it, bringing factory jobs back to the U.S. by passing the CHIPS bill and signing the Made-in-America Executive Order, passing the infrastructure bill, taking on Big Pharma and finally starting to lower drug prices, passing the biggest climate bill any country has ever passed- are all focused on benefiting those working families he has always cared about.
The Biden campaign has challenges it will need to overcome, but because he has been the most effective President in many decades, and because he is so focused on the working folks he cares the most about, we will overcome the elites who have each and every time underestimated Joe Biden.
Democrats need to settle down and get back to business- registering voters, signing up volunteers, raising money, reaching out to our progressive friends, and focusing on the economic issues that matter to people. If we do, we will win this election.