Long Reads

Joe Biden’s Losing Campaign

Joe’s not running against Trump, he’s running against the couch.

Despite the polls, the news, and those Jons at Pod Save America, I think there is a very real, very distinct likelihood that Joe Biden is going to lose this election. I think that although we have a lot of data, we are misunderstanding it by not placing it into a larger context. In my opinion, it comes down to motivation. While raw fear may energize the GOP base, it does not seem to motivate voters to turn out for Democratic candidates to the same extent. Trump alone is not enough of a boogeyman to boost turnout. Instead, I think they need to vote for something, not simply against an unpalatable alternative.

Image via Settle for Biden.

Biden’s “at least I’m not Trump” message only works if voting is mandatory. In reality, there is a third option that is very easy to choose: staying home. Joe’s not running against Trump, he’s running against the couch. Repeatedly pointing out Trump’s innumerable failures is futile: everyone is already at least generally aware and either agrees or doesn’t care. His supporters cannot be swayed in meaningful numbers, so there is no attack that will stick or budge the polls. Meanwhile, we are left asking—like Hillary once did—why Clinton Biden is not 50 points ahead.

Joe’s not running against Trump, he’s running against the couch.

I also do not think that “Never Trump Republicans” are a statistically significant voting demographic. Their versions in elected office give token support when the outcome is assured, but when it matters, they always fall into line. The voters act similarly, a lesson Democrats still haven’t learned since Truman’s speech in 1952:

I’ve seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn’t believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.

Harry S. Truman, 1952. “Address at the National Convention Banquet of the Americans for Democratic Action,” via the Truman Library.

We saw this exact approach fail in 2016, to disastrous effect. And that playbook continues to be run by some of the same craven losers in the Democratic party who once refused to see Obama’s candidacy as legitimate.

People still want change.

Biden needs to be telling people how things can be better, not “back to normal.” “Normal” wasn’t working for many people who weren’t watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and reading op-eds published as Twitter threads. No amount of voter shaming from terminally online liberals will change that, despite their accusations that staying home is a “vote for Trump.” People staying home don’t care about that anymore. They’re demoralized and have been shown over and over how little their votes matter.

Why can’t we go with Obama’s message? People still want change, they want to upend the status quo, and if we can’t show them how to do it, we’re going to get Trump, or worse.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong.