Biden’s path to victory must be built on unity
A look at Joe Biden’s chances in the upcoming presidential election in November, an outline of the voters he needs to convince, and a consideration of his need to differentiate himself from Obama and the pre-Trump status quo.
A look at Joe Biden’s election chances in the upcoming presidential election in November, a consideration of the voters he needs to convice, and a look at his need to differentiate himself from Obama and the pre-Trump status quo.
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris – the man behind such ground-breaking works as The Thin Blue Line (1988), The Fog of War (2003) and, most recently, American Dharma (2018) – posted a tweet of serious relevance regarding the upcoming 2020 U.S Presidential Election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Even if Biden wins –– and I hope he does –– what happens with the 40% who believe in Trump? Do they just go away?— errolmorris (@errolmorris) June 9, 2020
What Morris alludes to here is the reality that even if the former Vice President to Barack Obama beats his incumbent opponent, he will still have an extremely challenging uphill battle in reconciling the political and social divisions made during President Trump’s time in office, as well as gaining the trust and support of Trump’s base – the “40%”.
Biden has built his campaign with this goal as a central tenet. He has claimed that he entered the race to “unify this country”, to “bring together all Americans […] regardless of your race, your gender, whether you have a disability, your ethnicity, Democrats, Republicans, independents”. He added that this is “what we have to do to win. This is what we have to do to unify the nation”. On his campaign website, Biden claims that “We’re in a battle for the soul of America”, and while he may be referring to the Trump administration’s conservative policies and the affects they have had on the country, he could also be speaking to Trump’s behaviour during his divisive Presidency, which has contributed to the polarization found in American society today.
While it is unlikely that Biden will convince hardcore Trump supporters to flip and vote democrat in November, he may be able to appeal to the moderate, centre-right supporters who voted Republican in 2016. These are the key votes Biden must win back, as they were the very votes that lost Hillary Clinton the Presidency in 2016.
Many, myself included, would argue that one of the key reason Clinton lost in 2016 was because she represented the status quo – a continuation of things as they were under Barack Obama. And while that message may have appealed to many who liked Obama’s charming persona and benefited under his administration’s policies, there was also a sizeable portion of the population that didn’t believe or experience that. When Obama won the Presidency against the late John McCain in 2008, he assured Americans, many of whom were decimated by the financial crisis, that his election would bring about change in their country. While in many respects that message of hope, optimism and change was lived up to – such as in healthcare costs, LGBTQ+ rights, foreign nuclear disarmament and action against climate change – in other respects, the only change Americans saw were several years of slow economic recovery, a loss of job security and a sense that the establishment were apathetic towards their plight. They craved a meaningful change in their politics and their lives and Donald Trump offered it – at least in pre-election rhetoric.
That is the hurdle Biden must overcome. He must not be seen by moderate Trump supporters as just another Democrat who thought the country was great for all under Obama. He must offer something different, an alternative to both Trump and Obama, if he wants to win the White House. As for the “40%”, while he will never convince all or even most of them to come to his side in the upcoming election, he should still extend a serious and sincere hand to those voters. He should assure them that if he becomes President, when the rest of the country rises, they will rise with them. He must acknowledge that their concerns and fears about what the future may hold are valid and that he will do his utmost to address them.
And while it is vital for Biden to maximise the number of ex-Trump voters he can convert come November, the distribution of these across States is paramount. Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 – but she lost the White House. This reveals another key mistake her campaign made; they did not give enough consideration to key swing states that ended up deciding the result. If Biden is serious about attracting the swing voters he needs to win the Presidency, he will have to fight for them in the states that matter to the Electoral College, such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida. There is little to be gained in converting Republicans in safe Democrat states if it doesn’t lead to an electoral victory.
Currently Biden is pulling away from the President in the polls, with disapproval for Trump at around 55%, leading to some comparing Trump’s current numbers to that of Jimmy Carter and George H.W Bush; two incumbents who lost re-election in 1980 and 1992 respectively. Meanwhile, Biden has an average lead of about 10 points. These numbers are most likely due to Trump’s abysmal handling of the Covid-19 crisis as well as his hard-line response to the George Floyd protests, which are still ongoing across the nation. In another blow for President Trump, former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell – who served under George W. Bush – has voiced his support for Joe Biden, telling CNN that “We have a Constitution. And we have to follow that Constitution. And the President has drifted away from it”. Powell has aligned himself with other military leaders such as former Secretary of Defence James Mattis and General John Allen, who also condemned Trump’s recent actions, which could encourage other Republicans to do the same.
While the signs look promising for Biden at the moment, there’s still a long way to go before November – and Trump isn’t known for pulling punches, especially in his campaign rallies (restarting this month) and in debates, where his aggressive and confrontational personality may dominate. Biden will need to rise above Trump’s tactics of divide-and-conquer and smearing the opposition, by offering a message of hope and unity to those who feel left behind in the swing states. Otherwise, it could be four more years of strife, conflict and division in the White House.
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