Former Vice President Joe Biden may think it’s nice to have Washington on his side. That’s his world, the one in which he’s lived since the early ’70s, when he first entered the U.S. Senate. He may have been commuting much of the time back and forth from Delaware, but it’s inside the beltway that has been his home.
That’s a liability going into the November election. Biden has lived in a bubble all those years. He may be from Scranton, Pennsylvania, originally, but it’s doubtful he has a feel for what the folks living there now think and feel and how many of they view the government as impeding what they want to do with their lives. His ad guys may understand “real America”—and some of the spots they produced have been masterful—but it’s doubtful he does.
By contrast, and many people will no doubt find this surprising, it’s Donald Trump who has his finger on America’s pulse. The just-concluded Republican National Convention, truncated though it was, made that clear. The folks who spoke in support of his second term were surprisingly, even refreshingly diverse. They all had stories to tell that not only fit Trump’s narrative but the country’s, representing one nation in which we are best defined by those things that make us similar.
The speakers at the Democrats’ convention, on the other hand, ranked gender, race and economic status above their “Americanness.” Almost everyone who took to the podium at the DNC took great plans to place themselves in a category or categories before launching into a denunciation of the president and an articulation of what he’d done that was offensive to his or her particular group. They had four days to make Trump seem like the devil incarnate—and used virtually every moment of their program to do so.
Where this approach fails, and there are already polls suggesting that’s what’s happening, is that Trump and company had four days over the following week to argue that’s just not so.
Moreover, the Democrats’ decision to spend more of their convention talking about why Trump is wrong for America than why Biden is right is highly risky. Once the fall campaign moves to a discussion of issues—and there’s no way to prevent that from happening—character becomes an ancillary consideration for many voters. There’s an argument to be made that shouldn’t be the case, that character should always count, but as the GOP found out in the Clinton v. Dole contest, it generally falls on deaf ears. And, unlike in 1996, the 2020 race will play out with the mainstream media and most of the pundits saying over and over again it’s the most important issue in the race.
It will help the GOP if some of the president’s supporters get together on an independent ad campaign in which rank-and-file Republicans explain why they’re voting for Trump even if they don’t like him or have concerns about his conduct. That message—that what Trump does is less important than what a Biden-Harris administration would do to America over the next four years—would likely resonate with independents who are still unsure which way to turn, as well as with dissident Republicans who can still be brought home.
These same voters can likely be moved on the two issues you didn’t hear the Democrats talk about much during their convention: China and the protests, which, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, Biden continues to describe generally as “peaceful.”
The American people understand instinctively the folks engaged in the rioting, the ones occupying sections of major cities, and whose demands increasingly resemble threats to disrupt the day-to-day activities of law-abiding businesses and their customers are a political force the Democrats can ill afford to offend. Democratic Party leaders continue to distort what Trump said about what happened in Charlottesville, but when it comes to Portland, Seattle, Louisville, Washington, D.C., and now Kenosha, they’ve had little to say. Biden’s recent condemnation of “needless violence” hit with all the impact of a wet noodle and came only after the issue of the riots, as Don Lemon observed, started showing up int eh polls.
Likewise, while the president has promised to get tough on China, not just on trade but because it needs to be held responsible for unleashing the novel coronavirus on the world and then lying about it, Biden and company seem ready to hold hands with President Xi Jinping and sing “Kumbaya,” while getting back to business as usual as quickly as possible. That’s not going to sell with Americans either—especially when they realize the former vice president’s plan for handling the virus and his willingness to consider another lockdown owes more to Beijing than he’s probably willing to admit.