Why Trump Is Winning — And How To Beat Him
Looking into what makes Trump 2024 so much more different than his past runs.
It can be hard to know exactly what Biden's people are thinking. Ever since the announcement of his first candidacy in 2019, his team has garnered something of a reputation for secrecy. In contrast to Trump’s operations, which leak like sieves, you rarely hear much about the Biden campaign or Biden administration that those involved don’t want you to know. The few inside stories we do hear, like the recent Politico report about how he curses out Trump in private, could not be more obvious plants if they had Jen O’Malley Dillon herself on the byline. If you want anything more substantive than that, you’re out of luck. For most political campaigns, this would leave us in the dark about how they’re thinking and what flaws they might have. Fortunately for us, however, the Biden campaign has been so spectacularly out-of-touch as of late that many of the stories they believe will be positive for them have ended up being immensely revealing.
My favorite example of this as of late was the extensive New York Magazine profile of the campaign that was published in December. Reading the article, it’s immediately clear that Biden’s people wanted it published to project confidence to their backers. Instead, all they did was come across as bizarrely arrogant. There was not a single concern that the author brought up that they were not ready and willing to dismiss out of hand. They dismissed his low approval rating. They dismissed outrage over his Palestine policy. They dismissed his persistent struggles with young and nonwhite voters that have come out for Democrats in every election in living memory. And they dismissed, more than anything else, concerns about his age. They complained that anyone cared about it at all and whined about how the coverage of the issue was repetitive and boring. To the extent they said they were working on a counternarrative, it was that they convinced Biden to adopt the Dark Brandon meme—which, I’ll remind you, is something that a friend and I came up with two years ago to make fun of him.
What in the world could account for this level of confidence? The article doesn’t directly say it, but if you pay attention to what the interviewees say, you can notice a common theme. This is that the Biden camp is completely convinced that the election will revolve around the same favorable dynamic as 2020—namely, that Trump will be seen as the erratic chaos candidate, while Biden will be seen as the competent candidate of reason. As such, they expect that every event that puts Biden in the news and reminds voters that he’s Trump’s opponent will benefit the President through a favorable contrast. It doesn’t matter if said event is the start of a war overseas, a crisis in Congress or Trump’s own electoral victories. As long as Trump and Biden are on the same screen, the Brandonites say, voters will invariably be drawn to Biden and the steadiness and competence he supposedly represents.
It’s understandable that they would think this. Most of these staffers worked on the 2020 campaign, when the question of leadership and competence was perhaps Biden’s greatest strength. His experience, age, and accomplishments made this a given from day one, and his campaign pressed it during the entire election. It was a real asset that arguably made him uniquely well-suited for the race that year. However, 2024 is not 2020. Biden’s reputation now is not the same as it was back then. Years of turmoil at home and abroad have taken their toll on his brand and reversed the dynamic that once formed the core of Biden’s message in 2020. As hard as it may be to believe, Trump, not Biden, is now the candidate who wins the leadership question in a matchup between the two. In contrast to an incumbent President who voters see as weak and unfit to serve, he is seen as the candidate of strength and competence. It may sound absurd. It may be impossible for liberals to imagine. But it’s true, and it’s the reason why Trump is ahead.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the polls. First and foremost, there’s the fact that a supermajority of the public has long considered Biden too old to serve as president—far from an idle judgment. In comparison, even Trump’s detractors largely see him as in charge of his own affairs. There’s the question of leadership, where Biden is seen as weak and Trump is seen as strong. There’s also the question of handling specific issues, where Trump has routinely polled above Biden on the economy, overseas crises, and pretty much everything else besides abortion. The problem here is not a question of ideology, where voters still see Biden as far more mainstream than Trump. It’s not a question of policy, where Democratic proposals are still more popular than Republican ones. It’s simply a question of basic management, and it’s where voters have entirely lost faith in Biden. Add it all up and you get attitudes like those held by one Trump-supporting swing voter: “I’m going to turn off the TV. I’m not going to watch the news, and I’m just going to enjoy Trump’s economy.”
Biden’s people may find this unfair. Maybe they’re right. It doesn’t matter. Whether they like it or not, it’s real, it’s defining the race, and it’s why they’ve been behind for months. While the easiest answer to this problem would be simply replacing Biden with someone who can actually project competence, this is something they’re completely unwilling to do, so we’ll need to work with what we have. Here are the biggest things the Biden campaign could do to turn this perception around, along with some recent choices by his campaign that I actually did find to be somewhat smart.
What Biden Should Do
Step One: Stop Calling Trump Mean. Call Him Stupid Instead.