“Generals,” according to an old proverb, “are always prepared to fight the last war.”
I’m worried that Joe Biden is prepared to fight the war of 2020, when he emerged as the best alternative to Donald Trump. He knew about governance, he cared about governance. He had a record as an old-style union/labor guy. He is a decent human being.
In 2020 that was enough to get him over the finish line and set Trump into peals of “stolen election,” “fraud,” and “I will be your retribution.”
As Trump’s indictments have mounted so has his popularity. As Biden’s years have mounted — he’s now 80 — his popularity has diminished. Nearly three-quarters of Americans doubt that he is still up to the job.
Biden has — to my mind — done a pretty good job, all things considered. The job market is strong. Unemployment is down. Inflation is tamed. He’s marshaled unified support for Ukraine against Putin. He’s been the best President so far on Climate Change.
But I’m worried that he is holding on because he beat Trump once, thinks he can do it again and wants to do it again to cement his place in history. Scrawny kid from Scranton topples evil Giant from Gotham, latest iteration of David v. Goliath. Who wants to be a footnote in a history textbook, when you can be the chapter head?
During the 2020 campaign Biden suggested that his would be a “transitional Presidency,” a bridge to a new generation. That framing of his administration and of his contribution seems to have vanished before the specter of a second Trump administration. Trump famously said, “I, alone, can fix it.” Does Biden now think, “I, alone, can beat the demon of Donald”? “I alone can save the Republic?”
Some time back, Tom Friedman of the New York Times, suggested a “national unity ticket.” Made up of a Democrat and a Republican. Such a ticket would signal the urgency of our moment and the need for extraordinary measures to stymie Trump’s return to power and save the Republic.
Let’s dust that idea off again. Because, make no mistake, we could find ourselves with Trump once again in the White House, without the restraints of inexperience or a desire to be re-elected.
What would a “national unity ticket” for 2024 look like? How about Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, and Larry Hogan, former governor of Maryland? Or John Sununu, governor of New Hampshire with Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota and candidate for President in 2020? Or Biden’s Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, with Sen. Tim Scott?
A “national unity ticket” made up of Democrat and a Republican says, “Situation Urgent: Adapt, Innovate, Overcome,” (to quote the Marines). We’re are not out of the Trumpian/MAGA woods yet. Thinking that Biden/Harris can do it again in 2024 may be wishful thinking.
Biden’s gamble is not just his alone. It is ours too.