OPINION | Biden needs a better messenger if he wants to beat Trump

When Congressman James E. Clyburn speaks, President Biden needs to listen. The South Carolina Democratic Party’s warning that the Biden campaign has not been able to “break through” with voters should set off alarm bells in the White House and prompt it to rethink its strategy, message and messengers.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Clyburn said he was concerned that the Biden campaign “hasn’t been able to break through the MAGA wall” to communicate what the administration has been able to accomplish. She cited judicial appointments and the fact that Biden has nominated more Black women to federal appeals courts than previous presidents combined. He cited the fact that Biden canceled $127 billion in student loan debt for 3.6 million borrowers, but his plan to forgive many more similar loans was struck down by the Supreme Court. .

But in addition to better explaining what the administration has already accomplished, the campaign should tell voters what initiatives Biden will launch in his second term. There’s nothing wrong with getting voters to imagine a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. Please tell us what that future looks like.

One way to do that is: Campaigns can better leverage the Democratic Party’s most effective messengers. Democratic National Committee Chairman Jamie Harrison deftly guided the party through the midterm elections, reducing the expected red wave to a pinkish ripple. Stacey Abrams’ brainpower and energy in registering new voters helped Democrats become more competitive in Georgia. One result was the election of Sen. Raphael G. Warnock, whom the party should tout as a rising star. Biden’s team should rely on former Obama administration official Julián Castro and others to keep Latino voters on the Democratic ticket.

To win in key states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan, Biden will need to win huge numbers in black and diverse districts such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Detroit. There’s no question he’ll win those cities, but he needs to win them big. And in all battleground states, he needs to repeat his strong 2020 performance in MAGA-favored suburbs.

It’s not that the campaign has ignored African Americans, young people, suburban women, or other members of the Democratic coalition. Biden was at his home base in Clyburn on Monday, speaking at Charleston’s historic Mother Emanuel AME Church. The church was the site of a 2015 massacre in which a white supremacist shot and killed nine black worshipers, including a pastor. Biden called former President Donald Trump’s denial of the 2020 election results a “second lost cause” and called Trump a “loser.” When demonstrators interrupted the speech to demand an end to Israel’s invasion of Gaza, the audience drowned them out with chants of “Four more years!”

Vice President Harris spoke Saturday at an AME Women’s Missionary Association retreat in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Harris’ ability to connect with African American voters is underreported and undervalued. But if Clyburn says the message isn’t getting through, the Biden-Harris team would be wise to pay attention.

Biden gave his first major re-election speech last week in Pennsylvania, near historic Valley Forge, and defined his upcoming campaign (presumably against Trump) as a fight to save American democracy. The newspaper reported that Biden mentioned Trump’s name at least 44 times during his 30-minute remarks. True believers in MAGA have “abandoned the truth and abandoned democracy,” Biden said. “Now the rest of us, Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans, have to make a choice.”

That’s enough for me. I fully understand the dangers of having President Trump near the White House again. And I understood the strategy. The more successful the Biden campaign is in the election over Trump, the more likely it is that Biden will win.

But is “I’m not Trump” enough of a message to drive enough non-MAGA voters to the polls for Biden to win? I do not underestimate fear and disgust as powerful motivational tools. And I wouldn’t be upset if the polls showed the election was close. Because these days there are only elections like that. But what worries me are polls showing that key Democratic constituencies, such as young people and African Americans, are not enthusiastic about voting in November.

Clyburn, whose 2020 endorsement energized Biden’s then moribund campaign, also told CNN he was “very concerned” about Biden’s standing with Black voters. The problem is not that African Americans will abandon Biden for Trump (although the chances of that happening are essentially zero), but that they may simply stay home.

Trump can’t beat Biden, but he might be able to if he’s apathetic. And the stakes are too high for that to happen.

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