Biden’s Line that Could Change History, and Secure His Re-election
On Thursday, at a Rockville, Maryland rally, Joe Biden was a President who had found his stride. Coming off a summer of significant legislative victories — from taxes, to healthcare, to guns, to climate — and facing an immediate spike in intensity of both support and criticism over his move to eliminate student debt, Biden hit the stage in full campaign mode.
He hit all the notes one would expect at a rally — abortion rights, election integrity, social security, race and culture. But he concluded with something he has rarely, if ever, declared as forcefully as he did that day. “That is why in this moment those of you who love your country — Democrats, independents, and mainstream Republicans — we must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving America,” the President seemed to plead.
Was Joe Biden, the Democratic President, calling for a unity coalition with independents and mainstream Republicans? It sure sounded like it. Or, as history would suggest, was it simply political hyperbole from a President whose strongest rhetorical moments often emerge when he speaks of unity, and in his words, restoring the soul of America. The event, after all, was a rally sponsored by the Democratic National Committee and it understandably featured only Democratic voices.
Here’s why it matters.
The most consequential political coalition in the country today is that very coalition Biden called out — Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans who coalesced in 2018 and then held together again in 2020 to stop Donald Trump and Trumpism. It was an opposition coalition, not to be mistaken for a mandate coalition ready to fully support the national Democrats’ agenda. It was a coalition that today finds itself generally supportive of Biden’s legislative successes, but a coalition also willing to tilt elections toward a Glenn Youngkin over immediate matters of the economy, education, and culture war issues. It is fundamentally not a coalition of partisan allegiance, and therefore not one that Biden or national Democrats can take for granted.
Which is why Biden’s declaration was so intriguing. Does the President indeed accept that the pathway to protecting democracy, and likely to his own 2024 re-election, lies in rebuilding and strengthening this coalition? And if so, what is Joe Biden readying to do about it?
Abraham Lincoln famously convened a cabinet of rivals, appointing William Seward as Secretary of State, Salmon Chase as Secretary of Treasury, and Edward Bates as Attorney General, each of whom had previously run against Lincoln in the 1860 election. Might Biden contemplate creating a role for a Senator Murkowski, a Senator Mitt Romney, or gasp, even a former U.S. Representative Liz Cheney?
In the 1990’s, Bill Clinton reached out to one of his early critics, the veteran White House counselor and then Editor-at-Large of U.S. News & World Report, David Gergen, and invited Gergen to join the Clinton Administration. Clinton’s ask of Gergen was that he provide the President his private counsel instead of publishing his criticisms in the weekly opinion pages. Could Joe Biden expand his team of White House advisors ahead of his 2024 candidacy to begin to implement policy and communication strategies beyond traditional Democratic themes?
We may be about to find out.
Rarely has one party had the emerging coalition opportunity national Democrats have today. Though opposition to Trump and Trumpism was the catalyzing force behind today’s coalition, within that coalition lies a broad swath of American voters sincerely looking for a permanent home. They simply need to be invited into the tent, and they need to be able to see their politics and their ideology fitting alongside, not replacing, traditional Democratic orthodoxies.
For national Democrats, it means targeting the millions of Americans who have left the Republican Party but not yet joined the blue team. That data is readily available through public records. Spend resources targeting former GOP voters and make the case that the Democrats’ legislative successes this year represent a reasonable compromise of competing political approaches.
These strategies are understandably not natural strategic moves for a party. Parties today are built around shared dogma, not coalitions. In fact, over the last 20 years every major and minor party has largely extracted from their tents any semblance of a coalition and focused instead on intensifying and hardening their ideological positions.
But if the stakes are indeed as high as Biden declared— that the fate of our republic hangs on the premise of uniting “Democrats, independents, and mainstream Republicans” — then both basic math and last year’s Governor’s race in Virginia would suggest that now is the time to put in the work to keep independents and mainstream Republicans in a Democratic-led coalition.
It seemed a historic calling issued by Biden in Rockville last Thursday, not just for Americans, but for Biden himself. If the President is indeed serious, if he intends to do the things required to build and keep the coalition he has asked for, we may have just witnessed a Presidential line that changed history.