Although he hasn’t officially announced it yet, President Joe Biden has been acting like he’s on the campaign trail for some time. Tuesday’s tense and tense State of the Union speech isn’t just the latest, most visible sign that Biden is in campaign mode; It predicted how different the 2024 campaign would be from other elections of the past decade.
During his State of the Union speech, Scranton Joe appeared not only to draw encouragement from House Republicans, but also to make a positive case for a possible 2024 slogan (“end jobs”) and Democrats. It was a different kind of political message for a party that, since 2016, has been accused of being too reactive and too defensive in the face of Republican attacks.
Vox spoke with several Democratic strategists who all see Biden’s speech as a preview of a larger shift in how he and Democrats will press their case during the 2024 campaign. Biden’s campaign is likely to be less adversarial and more optimistic, focusing less on highlighting how bad the other side is and more on imagining how much more Democrats could accomplish with four more years in power. (The White House declined to comment on its approach.)
Biden has a lot to do. Despite the worst approval ratings for a second-year president and a rough economy in 2022, the president can now boast record-low unemployment, a low-threat pandemic and a string of legislative victories that are now taking effect, including elements of deflationary legislation. A comprehensive infrastructure, health, and climate bill was passed last year
“He feels confident in his record, in what he’s going to present to the American people,” Chris Moyer, a longtime Democratic strategist and presidential campaign veteran, told me. “Politics lacks the thirst for optimism and the same old negativity that drives people to hate real politics.”
That’s not necessarily how Democrats have run their campaigns in the Trump era, even in a Biden presidency. Since the 2016 election, much of the Democrats’ political strategy has been to run a vocally and blatantly anti-Trump, anti-MEGA Republican campaign. This approach fueled much of Hillary Clinton’s campaign closing message and fueled the 2018 blue wave and 2020 Biden victory, when Biden cast the election as a battle between her and Trump’s “dark season in America.” That kind of message helped defy the odds for Democrats in the 2022 midterms.
But 2024 offers a different opportunity for Biden, as an incumbent, to make an active case for government’s role as a force for good and an optimistic vision for the upliftment of the middle and working classes. “In  In the midterms, there was a split in thinking about how Democrats should campaign. “Democrats — congressional Democrats — in general have a hard time talking coherently about their accomplishments,” Rodel Molyneux, senior adviser to the pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country, told me. “Biden’s stubbornness and his perception that, ‘Hey, we’ve done a lot and we have this Shouldn’t be hidden,’ was helpful in the interim and showed his political instincts.”
Molyneux told me he sees parallels between the 2010 midterms, Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and the current political moment. During the 2012 campaign, Democrats were unsure how positively to talk about the economic recovery, given its slow pace and the “shackling” they received in 2010. Meanwhile, the post-Covid economic recovery has been faster than post-GREAT. Recession Economic Recovery. But during a period of high inflation, Democrats faced criticism last year for not engaging Republicans hard enough in the economic argument.
Despite some dire polls assessing their handling of the economy, voters ultimately didn’t punish Democrats as harshly as expected, and if economic trends continue to show improvement, Biden could enter 2024 on top on the issue, while Republicans find themselves cornered in a cultural, anti-“woke” crusade. Either. “There’s this divide between thinking that ‘you shouldn’t tell people things they don’t believe’ if they feel they’re being fobbed off, and the positive economic indicators we’re seeing now,” Molyneux said. “Biden can go out there and talk about these achievements if the economy continues the trend that it is and people start to buy into the idea.”
That positive case is also possible because Biden has an incumbency advantage. After a chaotic first two years, many of the president’s key legislative victories, particularly the Inflation Reduction Act and the Invest in Chips and Science Act, will finally begin to become more visible this year — something the White House has been arguing for months, and which has become a clear message. Arise the President and his Cabinet to speak of his achievements across the country. Meanwhile, Biden has visited Wisconsin and Florida since his speech, touting some Republican proposals to scrutinize infrastructure projects and Social Security and Medicare.
“The first full year of the Biden presidency was consumed by a global pandemic that wiped out countless lives. You would look out of touch with the American people if you were saying how great everything was. Then for two years, most of the narrative was ‘Democrats are in disarray,’ they can’t come together, they can’t pass anything,” Kurt Bardella, a Democratic strategist and former Republican adviser, told me. “Well, here we are at the beginning of year three. , and you’re finally in a position, post-Covid, post-law gridlock, where you can actually tell that positive story.”
It also helps that Republicans have chosen a doom-and-gloom political message, exemplified by Arkansas governor (and former Trump spokeswoman) Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ rejection of the State of the Union. Choosing to hype discussions of gender pronouns, critical race theory, and Latinxs is A calculated strategy among leading Republican presidential candidates like Trump and Ron DeSantis, who have engaged in a once-fringe but now normal cultural crusade that most Americans don’t understand.
This strategy for Republicans to go all-out on social issues while Democrats talk about the economy appears to be a shift in control of the economic narrative toward Democrats, in contrast to a long-running partisan message divide. “Democrats, for years, have been kind of allergic to saying good things about the economy, even when we’re in office,” Matt Bennett, co-founder of the moderate Third Way think tank told me, adding the Obama administration has often been wary of economic messaging. “What are we waiting for?” Bennett said. “I mean, I have been in politics for 35 years. During those 35 years, the economy was basically perfect for the two of them.”
That doesn’t mean Democrats have to give up ground on social issues. Progressives like Sawyer Hackett, a senior adviser to former presidential candidate Julián Castro, told me there is a way to fight the culture wars while still creating an optimistic vision for America. “We can highlight our accomplishments,” Hackett said, “while still reminding voters that we can do more if Republicans don’t stand in the way.” Hackett said Democratic messaging in the culture wars can protect vulnerable communities, and that Democrats are “somewhat derided” by Republicans. This levity could help Democrats retain parts of their base, such as young voters, infrequent voters and nonvoters, Hackett said.
Biden’s 2024 move also provides a way for Democrats to push a populist road map for the economy, which former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer called a “blue-collar blueprint for winning re-election.”
Building smart economic appeals will be critical to rebuilding the Obama-era coalition of college-educated voters, black and Latino voters, and working-class voters without college degrees. “We saw the beginning of this in the speech,” said Jennifer Fernandez Ancona, co-founder of the progressive group Way to Win. “To have a story that goes against the onslaught of the culture wars, it has to be a story of economic renewal that addresses and celebrates diversity, and that talks about the role of government in being inclusive.”