By Robert Reich
You’re probably as stunned as I am to learn that Biden is now trailing Trump by 4 to 10 points among registered voters in the key battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, according to new polls by The New York Times and Siena College.
I want to use today’s letter to reassure you.
First, as I’ve noted before, polls a year before an election are not predictive of outcomes.
Yes, these latest polls are disturbing. I’m appalled that majorities in five key swing states are for Trump. What planet have they been living on? What planet have I been living on? How can it be that majorities in five pivotal states are willing to vote for a person who staged an attempted coup against the United States and is now being tried for four separate state or federal crimes, not to mention civil fraud?
Voters say they trust Trump over President Biden on the economy and foreign policy. But these voters obviously haven’t been paying attention. A year before an election, most voters are not paying attention.
Even before the pandemic — made worse by Trump’s rejection of basic public health protocols — the economy was creating far fewer jobs than it has under Biden’s watch, and the median wage was lower. On foreign policy, Trump coddled Putin, emboldening him to attack Ukraine, and supported anti-democracy movements in Europe.
As I noted recently, Biden is the only adult in the room. He is also the most progressive, labor-friendly president we’ve had since Franklin D. Roosevelt. His legislative record would be judged successful even if he hadn’t had a razor-thin majority in his first two years against the most hostile Republicans in memory.
Many voters don’t see this because Biden doesn’t communicate in ways that today’s media — and many of today’s voters — are able to process. His communications are straightforward. They minimize emotional turbulence. He exudes calm determination.
By contrast, everything Trump says and posts is designed to spur a large emotional reaction. His ridicule, anger, and vindictiveness are intended to elicit immediate, passionate responses.
Trump gives the impression of strength because of the strength of his bile.
When voters tell pollsters they think Trump is “stronger” than Biden on the economy or foreign policy, they’re responding to emotions associated with strength that Trump stirs up — rage, ferocity, vindictiveness, and anger.
On the economy, many voters continue to feel overwhelmed. Because of the Fed’s high interest rates, most people face high finance charges on cars, mortgages, anything they buy on credit. So Trump’s bile may feel more appropriate than Biden’s tame discussion of economic data.
On foreign policy, many if not most Americans feel anger, fear, betrayal, impatience. Trump’s rage more closely matches those feelings than Biden’s measured diplomacy.
The issue of Biden’s age has become a proxy for all this. Only three years separates Trump from Biden. Trump is evidently more out of shape than Biden. And if you watch and listen to Trump you’ll find signs of mental deterioration. (His testimony yesterday in the civil fraud lawsuit against him drifted from incoherent rant to rambling digression.)
But Trump’s bile gives him a patina of vigor. His anger appears to shows vitality. His vindictiveness makes him seem forceful. We live in an angry time. It is easy for the public to confuse anger with strength.
Biden projects strength the old-fashioned way — through mature and responsible leadership. But mature and responsible leadership doesn’t cut through the media and reach today’s public.
At least not now. But elections have a way of concentrating the public’s mind. As the 2024 contest draws closer, more Americans will decide they prefer competence to chaos.
I expect more panic among Democrats, who will suggest that Biden pull out of the race and make way for a more “attractive” Democratic candidate.
Rubbish. The reality is that Biden is the only person who has beaten Trump. Biden is the incumbent president with all the advantages of incumbency. Biden has shown himself to be a strong campaigner. There is no one to take his place.
If Biden simply continues to be the adult in the room — governing maturely and responsibly — more of the American public will eventually come around to him, including in the swing states. And the more they see that Trump is increasingly unhinged, they will decide that they’d rather have a competent adult in charge.
So my advice is not to panic, not to unduly worry. Biden will need to work hard for it, and the rest of us will have to work hard in support of him, but Biden will win in 2024.
This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack