The year was 2012. Republicans had just nominated for president a former governor of Massachusetts deemed too liberal for certain conservative circles. The party’s solution was adding a wonk congressman from Wisconsin who critics complained either made staffers read Ayn Rand or would push grandma off the ledge due to cuts in Social Security. The GOP’s theory was the wonk would balance the moderate bringing in more conservative and libertarian voters. Despite the fact the wonk abandoned his so-called free-market beliefs for a massive government ‘rescue’ and spending spree during the 2008 financial crisis (and would do it again while House Speaker), the presidential nominee also attempted to shore up his conservative bonafide through the support of reduced regulations, a border fence, E-verify, opposition to gay marriage, and eliminate federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Their convention was a mix of conservatives and center-right (and one libertarianish celebrity) all looking to rally voters towards the ticket.
The results? A loss and four more years of a Democrat presidency.
Flash forward to 2020. Democrats just nominated for president the former vice-president who is considered a centrist. The party’s solution is a so-called progressive senator from California who did a rather excellent job at hammering the presidential nominee during the primary. The party’s theory is the senator will assuage the minds of progressives while ignoring the vice-president nominee’s horrific (and recent) history on justice reform while serving as California Attorney General. The convention was a mix of progressives and more center-left with a group of former (?) Republicans showing up to endorse the current nominee. Purportedly creating a grand coalition looking to defeat an unpopular president.
Yet, the nominee and party appear worried about defections from progressives and democratic socialists despite all the so-called unity at the convention.
“If you look at Joe Biden’s goals and Bernie Sanders’s goals, they’re not that different, from a forty-thousand-foot level,” former President Barack Obama told The New Yorker in a feature piece on Biden. “They both want to make sure everybody has health care. They want to make sure everybody can get a job that pays a living wage. They want to make sure every child gets a good education…A lot of times, the issue has to do with ‘How do we go about that, and what are the coalitions we need?’ What I think the moment has done is to change some of those calculations, not because necessarily Joe’s changed but because circumstances have changed.” (emphasis mine)
The simple message: Biden wanted what Sanders desired but believed it important to achieve the goals incrementally. Now, it’s time to want it all at once.
The New Yorker sees it as a backward campaign. Biden ran to the center in the primary, now he’s going left in the General Election to defeat Donald Trump. It might work, however, it depends on how much of the electorate is at stake.
“[Trump’s supporters] think that they will be materially better off if he’s President,” Biden told The New Yorker. “He has gotten through, I think, to some degree—to about forty per cent—saying, ‘The Democrats are socialists. They’re here to take away everything you have.’ ”
The quote might be better than Mitt Romney’s 47% comment from 2012 from an articulation standpoint. It’s still worth noting given Biden’s leftward swing on a policy standpoint.
It also potentially exposes a flaw in Biden’s campaign. He’s looking for center-left, center, and center-right voters who find Trump’s personality and some policies disgusting. Yes, there’s a palpable desire for Trump’s removal from the White House, however, Biden’s policies do nothing to draw me into his candidacy since it’s just more and more government spending. Much like Trump.
Two questions worth considering. What are the chances of Republicans deciding to skip casting a ballot in November because they don’t like Trump, but are concerned about Biden’s stances? What are the chances of Trump-leery Republicans still casting a vote for Trump in November because of concern about Biden’s stances? Yes, Biden is leading in the polls but polls have been wrong before, and counting on the center to hold seems a bit arrogant.
Things worth considering as election season drags on.