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The Biden Campaign Embraces Nihilism

Posted on Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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by Walter Samuel
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An intriguing phenomenon has emerged over the past few weeks: Donald Trump is talking to everyone. Whether it was African Americans and Hispanic Americans in the Bronx, Logan Paul’s audience of online millennials and Gen Z’ers, a Black church in Detroit, or the All-in Podcast’s Silicon Valley audience, Donald Trump has been going where no Republican, and arguably few candidates of any party, have gone before.

Trump’s efforts to reach new audiences have been met not with the heckles that all too often characterize Biden’s events, but with polite interest at worst and enthusiasm at best. Many of those Trump is speaking to are unsure whether they will vote for him or even vote at all, but they express a greater openness to supporting the former president after their conversation with him. The Trump campaign is clearly betting that unsettled times breed an unsettled electorate – an electorate willing to consider new options.

Lenin, whom many American college students might consider reactionary these days, once observed, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” The last four years have seen decades happen: COVID-19, double-digit inflation, the outbreak of war in Europe and the Middle East, even the redefinition of what a woman is. The border has fallen, America’s cities are flooded with migrants, while many liberal prosecutors seem to have given up on prosecuting criminals. Prices are nearly a third higher than in January 2021 (and in some cases much more than that), and the Biden administration seems intent on printing money through executive fiat to forgive the student debt of the pro-Hamas activists disrupting his events.

If the Trump campaign sees new opportunities from these developments, the Biden campaign seems convinced that nothing has happened at all.

“Joe Biden is a great president, and great presidents get re-elected” is, according to Axios, a common refrain from Mike Donilon, Biden’s senior adviser for more than 40 years, who believes that “democracy” and “January 6th” will determine the election and the electorate will “do the right thing.” Donilon’s views are apparently also backed up by his boss. A campaign spokesperson told Axios, “This is Joe Biden’s strategy — and Mike Donilon and his top advisers are in agreement with the president. The polling shows that democracy ended up a top issue of concern for voters in 2022, and it will be in 2024.”

Staffers who question this narrative risk excommunication. “Even for those close to the center, there is a hesitance to raise skepticism or doubt about the current path, for fear of being viewed as disloyal,” a Biden aide reportedly told Axios. Their fears are justified. When reached for comment, the Biden campaign responded with a degree of slavish loyalty that, if it emerged from the Trump camp, would have made every late night show in the nation. “In Mike I Trust,” wrote former White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain, making Donilon sound more like a member of a religious order than a consigliere.

What we are witnessing in this campaign are two theories of not just the election, but of politics itself. On one side is a Trump campaign that believes in a time of inflation, chaos that has spread from the border to cities and towns across America, and a society that seems lost, voters have become unmoored from traditional allegiances. On the other is a Biden campaign that believes nothing that has happened over the last two years matters, and the only thing that matters in the last four is the Dobbs decision.

The Biden campaign’s attitude is on full-display in Donilon’s recent remarks comparing the 2024 election to that of 2004 in an interview with the New Yorker. Donilon suggested that in his view 2004 was a “9/11 election” implying it was unwinnable for John Kerry, whose campaign, partially run by Donilon, never figured that out. Donilon went on to suggest that the same is true in 2024. Voters may claim they care about issues, performance in office, and Biden’s declining cognitive facilities, but when push comes to shove in November, they will vote on “January 6th” and “democracy.”

What is interesting about this argument is that it directly contradicts Donilon’s own line to campaign staff that “Joe Biden is a great president, and great presidents get re-elected.” If the only thing that matters is something that took place two weeks before Biden took office, his record as president is irrelevant.

This belief that Biden’s record is irrelevant would be a convenient one for a campaign that recognizes that Joe Biden is in fact a terrible president, and terrible presidents generally lose reelection, most of the time badly. However, it makes no sense for a president who is ostensibly running on a “successful record.”

The belief that Biden’s record is irrelevant is also a convenient argument for a campaign and candidate who want to absolve themselves of the need to do anything. If elections are decided by ads, messaging, campaigning, debates, and issues, then what Joe Biden and his campaign do today will determine whether he wins reelection. But if all that matters is the memory of “January 6th,” all of that is irrelevant. The polls, Donald Trump’s fundraising, all can be ignored, as those factors will not matter in November since the outcome is preordained. That is a convenient belief for a campaign that needs to justify voting for a president unable to perform the most basic public functions dogged by a record most voters view unfavorably.

One man it is even more convenient for is Mike Donilon, as it absolves him not just of responsibility for this year’s campaign, but also for John Kerry’s defeat in 2004. What is fascinating about the New Yorker interview is that Donilon received almost no pushback when he solely blamed John Kerry’s defeat on a single late ad featuring Osama Bin Laden. This erases the impact of same-sex marriage, a major factor at the time that probably swung Ohio, and the war in Iraq, which is functionally erased from existence.

The 2004 election was far from a landslide for George W. Bush. He won the national popular vote by 2.4 percent, and in Ohio, the state that decided the election, the margin was 2.1 percent. If John Kerry was vulnerable on foreign policy, it was because he made himself so. Bush’s record was tarnished by the war in Iraq, already beginning to turn sour as Iraq had descended into chaos, and Kerry, as he was apt to remind everyone, was a combat veteran who had won a Purple Heart.

There were at least two issues that probably mattered more than the memory of the September 11th attacks. First, John Kerry neutralized his ability to take advantage of the escalating disaster in Iraq by “voting for the war, before he voted against it,” which turned what should have been one of Bush’s weaknesses – the accusation that he was chickenhawk with something to prove who was trigger-happy abroad – and turned into evidence reinforcing a narrative that John Kerry was morally weak. He had volunteered to fight in Vietnam, and protested the war. He had voted for invading Iraq, but also attacked George Bush for having done so. Bush, at least, was consistent. John Kerry had no principles.

The second issue was same-sex marriage, which had burst into the open with the decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to legalize it in the state. John Kerry, as Massachusetts’ senator, was in a difficult position to be sure. However, he made his own situation worse by trying to pretend to oppose same-sex marriage in principle while also opposing any legislative attempts to stop it.

With hindsight, Kerry would have been better advised to double-down on his vote against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and use that to sell him as a leader who did what he believed in. No one would credibly believe the man who voted against Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 opposed same sex marriage in 2004. They might believe the man who did something unpopular on one issue would show principle on others.

To the extent Donilon and the Biden team are correct that 2004 was a 9/11 election, it is because the election turned on leadership. It seems implausible Joe Biden, Mike Donilon, or any other partisan Democrat would argue George W. Bush had passed the leadership test with flying colors in the shadow of the invasion of Iraq but the theory that Bush won because he did allows them to ignore that Kerry lost because he failed to pass it. Not just on terrorism, but on anything.

Why does this matter? Because if there is one area where the contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is barely a contest at all, it is on the question of leadership. When voters are asked in polls who they believe demonstrates the qualities of leadership, it is Donald Trump. It is an answer that emerges from voters who do not even agree with him on the issues.

Large numbers of left-leaning independents and even Democrats view Joe Biden not just as a failed president but as a failed leader. Even if they approve of his policies – such as support for Ukraine – they have no confidence in his ability to carry them out. By contrast, they believe Donald Trump can get stuff done.

In fact, more than anything else this explains the discrepancy between the strategies adopted by the two campaigns. Donald Trump is talking about issues with voters because voters believe he can and will do things in office, and hence are interested in what he might do. This belief is, ironically, one shared by the Biden campaign’s advertising, which focuses heavily on the mythical “Project 2025.” By contrast, the Biden campaign can only talk about what Donald Trump might do because no one, even Biden supporters, believes Biden will actually do anything successfully. Whether his audience is African Americans, left-wing college students, or even businessman, Joe Biden can only talk about Donald Trump.

When it comes to Mike Donilon and the Biden campaign, their strategy may be motivated by absolute faith in Joe Biden, or a cynical realization that everyone else has no faith in him. Either way, they are forced to bet that leadership doesn’t matter and the results are already baked in.

Walter Samuel is the pseudonym of a prolific international affairs writer and academic. He has worked in Washington as well as in London and Asia, and holds a Doctorate in International History.

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Vilas Gamble
Vilas Gamble
18 days ago

I can only say that if the whole election is to depend upon the ability to kill babies at will, this country is worse morally than what I ever thought possible.

Glenn Lego
Glenn Lego
18 days ago

Hopefully people will do the right thing and not vote for Biden.

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
18 days ago

The biggest difference (besides the obvious) is Trump has a plan for everyone to keep their money while Biden’s is to steal someone’s money and “share” it with those who will vote for him.

anna hubert
anna hubert
18 days ago

Trump stands firmly on the ground on his own two legs The Others are all over the place flapping like a rainbow flag in the wind They have no leg to stand on and know it Trump must be stopped by any means Assassination is not an option so keeping him tied up in courts is a good option possibly jail until “elections” are over There is no low to which they will not stoop to

Joe
Joe
18 days ago

The campaign contrasts are clear: Joebama is for killing babies both inside and post partum, promoting the rainbow flag freak show, open borders, EV mandates and America last (and it’s a VERY LONG list). Donald Trump is AMERICA FIRST and MAGA. Are you better off after over three years of bozo Biden, or were you better off during Trump’s presidency? VOTE TRUMP!!!!!

Melinda
Melinda
18 days ago

The “decades” that have happened in the last four years, actually have happened over the last forty (or more) years. The Marxists have been working towards this for a long time and I sincerely hope their grand plans are thwarted, although I know they won’t give up easily.

Leslie
Leslie
18 days ago

Does ANYONE really think that the Deep State of entrenched federal employees will let DJT be President any more than they did last time? We will likely be looking at a civil war if he does get elected again. I’m still voting for him because America cannot survive through another 4 Biden(even though he really isn’t actually running the country) years.

Jeri
Jeri
18 days ago

2nd paragraph last sentence says everything that needs to be said.

Gloria
Gloria
18 days ago

I am totally dumbfounded that people who are suspect of being highly intelligent, can be so gaslighted by such a corrupt 70+ year politician of lies and treason.

jerry
jerry
17 days ago

Yes ,Mr. Donilon, I will “do the right thing”. I WILL vote for President Trump.

sue
sue
17 days ago

biden is the Rip Van Winkle of America. When will he wake up and recognize the damage he has done. Thank God that God is in control and His timing is the perfect. But I get a little antsy waiting. Goid forgive me and forgive America.

Vince
Vince
17 days ago

I’m amazed at who really thinks Biden has done anything good for our country. It’s all been done to make America weaker. The only way Trump doesn’t win is a steal again (like 2020) or WWlll. Sad!

uncleferd
uncleferd
18 days ago

Left-leaning politics is an “impressions only” game, as many of us have witnessed since even before the slippery, soiled Clintons became household names. The Biden ideology of “Elect me just because…” is becoming painfully evident to an increasing number of disillusioned voters, who recognize the lack of altruistic purpose displayed by the Biden Administration.
Sooner or later, as Mr. Biden’s “presidency” seems to be showing, most who are steeped in corrupt and ineffective leadership will embrace the notion that “Filthy” does not enable “function”…

Linda
Linda
18 days ago

The Left is not worried, since they have already figured out how to rig and steal the 2024 election, just as they did in 2020. The only answer is to pray to God Almighty, and ask Him to step in and fix our country, since it’s gotten to the point of being almost impossible to fix unless there is divine intervention. 2 Chronicles 7:14!

Secret Service agents rush Donald Trump off the stage.(AP: Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden greets President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, Wednesday, November 15, 2023, at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, California.(Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe)
President Joe Biden speaks on the phone with Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to discuss his approval of a FEMA disaster declaration in response to the impacts of Hurricane Beryl, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

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