President Biden and his allies are hoping to get back onto the center of the political stage in the coming weeks, framing next year’s general election contest to their advantage early on.
The move, which has at its centerpiece a $25 million advertising campaign, comes after a period during which Biden has been overshadowed by the legal challenges facing former President Trump and the early stages of the Republican presidential primary.
The president has also faced some setbacks, including criticisms that his response to the wildfires in Maui lacked urgency and the collapse of a plea deal that looked set to end his son Hunter’s immediate legal worries.
A campaign official outlined the recipe by which the Biden team hopes to work itself into a stronger position, however.
“We’re going to keep focusing on the same issues that the President talked about in announcing his reelection bid: fighting for Americans’ freedoms, including the right to choose; protecting our democracy; and lowering costs and fighting for the middle class,” the official told The Hill.
Despite being marginalized by the more dramatic happenings on the other side of the aisle — and peppered by attacks from congressional Republicans who have raised the specter of impeachment — Biden’s approval ratings have remained largely unchanged.
Those ratings are not a source of much comfort for Democrats outside the president’s team, who believe Biden has not gotten credit for his achievements.
In the weighted polling average maintained by data site FiveThirtyEight, Biden scored 41 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval Thursday evening, a rating almost exactly the same as one month before.
The campaign official said the launch of the $25 million ad campaign — which began on the same day as the first GOP debate — could help frame the coming election in a more favorable way.
“While Republicans are duking it out in a very expensive and very divisive primary, we are doing aggressive outreach and spending. The $25 million paid-media purchase is the start of that. We are able to draw the contrast for a year.”
Democrats are avidly hoping that such a push begins to make a difference. They are disconcerted not just by Biden’s distinctly lukewarm approval ratings but by polls on a hypothetical 2024 match-up with Trump that show the race to be nerve-janglingly tight.
An Economist/YouGov poll released this week put Trump ahead by 1 point, 44 percent to 43 percent, while a Morning Consult poll, also released this week, gave the 1-point edge to Biden.
The de facto dead-heat comes despite the despite the former president being twice impeached, four times indicted and facing a total of 91 criminal charges.
“I think that is just a signal to Democrats not to take anything for granted,” Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh said.
Longabaugh evinced confidence that Biden’s record on kitchen-table issues would pay off in the end, citing as an example the plan to reduce the price of 10 drugs, outlined this week. He also argued that it is simply difficult to get less partisan voters — who tend to be less engaged with the daily political cut-and-thrust than their more hard-line counterparts —to focus on such topics such a long way out from an election.
“It’s hard,” he said. “Even Obama, the great communicator that he was, sometimes had a hard time getting the public to be aware of the great things that were in the Affordable Care Act. It’s difficult to cut through sometimes — but we have a year before it’s even the 2024 Labor Day Weekend!”
Many Democrats also note the potency of the abortion issue. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Republicans fared much worse than expected in last year’s midterms, and the abortion-rights side has rolled up victories in ballot measures even in conservative states including Kansas, Kentucky and Montana.
Still Republicans argue there is no panacea for Biden’s political problems. They contend that government spending stoked the inflation that raged at historically high levels a year ago; that Biden policies caused unauthorized border crossings to spike; and that the Democratic Party generally has become a vehicle for policies that conservatives see as “woke” and hostile to their values.
The president’s party denies all that, noting among other things that inflation has ebbed and border crossings have also declined from their peak.
In any event, while some Democrats believe that a new push from the president’s team will boost his reelection hopes, there are some who express concern that too much is riding on the unproven assertion that Trump will be the Republican nominee and is close-to-unelectable in a general election.
“I think the entire strategy of the Biden reelection team is: Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, and we can beat him no matter what we say,” progressive strategist Jonathan Tasini said. “Well, I would not go to Las Vegas and bet on that.”
Tasini accepted that there were limitations on what Biden could have achieved so far given tight congressional math. But he worried that a lack of more dramatic action on issues including climate change and student debt could come back to haunt the president in terms of voter enthusiasm.
Even in relation to the economy — a topic that the president is seeking to frame as an argument in favor of the success of ‘Bidenomics’ — the public seems notably dissatisfied.
The latest Economist/YouGov poll indicated that 51 percent of Americans disapprove and just 41 percent approve of Biden’s performance on jobs and the economy.
The Biden campaign official argued that polls were less important than other metrics that are linked to tangible behavior in a stronger way, such as consumer confidence.
Speaking primarily of the closeness of polling between Biden and Trump, the official said: “I can’t comment on a specific poll, but Biden officials saw the same kind of polling days before the midterms, and those were proven wrong.
“I think reporters and others should think about whether these polls or [things such as] soaring consumer confidence are the better indicators. Consumer confidence reflects how people are actually acting.”
There is a whole other argument, however, made by some Democrats.
They welcome Biden’s new ad strategy and acknowledge the need to push his message in a more forceful way.
But they also contend that the current prominence afforded to Trump and the GOP is no bad thing for the current president.
“Trump is clearly damaged goods — and clearly leading the pack for the Republican nomination. The rest of the country is not bought into that. He would be the perfect candidate to run against,” said South Carolina state Sen. Dick Harpootlian (D), who served on Biden’s campaign finance committee during the 2020 campaign.
As for the dramas of the GOP primary campaign, Harpootlian had an equally pithy response.
“When your opponents are fighting, I don’t know why you would step in and get in the way.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.