“Biden will flunk the question.”
I was speaking with two senior Democratic operatives last week about the upcoming election and more specifically about the suggestion from David Axelrod — CNN analyst and former senior adviser to President Obama — that President Biden may want to reconsider his reelection bid as former President Trump gets closer and closer to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.
Axelrod logically voiced his fears after the New York Times and Siena College published polls showing Trump leading Biden in five of six key battleground states. In a social media post, Axelrod wrote, “It’s very late to change horses; a lot will happen in the next year that no one can predict & Biden’s team says his resolve to run is firm.” He then added: “Only @JoeBiden can make this decision. If he continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?”
For daring to voice his honest opinion, Axelrod — as reported in Politico — was referred to as a “prick” by President Biden, who has been known to fire off profanities when upset. Being told to pack it in by a former Obama guy was clearly just the thing to push Biden’s buttons.
Regardless of that spat, the Democratic operatives were not interested in any of it. Nor were they interested in debating Biden’s age nor his cognitive ability.
“I don’t care about any of those things,” one of them said. “They honestly don’t matter in relation to the question. And Biden is going to flunk that question and lose.”
The question these Democratic operatives feared being: “Were you better off four years ago than you are now?”
This is a reverse of arguably the most important question ever asked in a presidential debate. During the final week of the 1980 presidential race between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and GOP nominee Ronald Reagan, the two candidates held their sole debate on October 28.
Reagan used his closing remarks to look into the camera and ask Americans the question — one that became the defining moment of the election: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
He then followed with: “Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago?”
Now, the reverse of that question is the one Biden should fear most: “Were you better off four years ago than you are now?”
There is no doubt that former President Donald Trump and independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will use variations of those questions to pummel Biden. And with good reason.
Tens of millions of Americans do believe they were much better off four years ago than now. Americans who know mortgage rates were at record lows; gasoline prices were well below three dollars per gallon; inflation was under control; our border was more secure; our major cities were not homeless encampments; crime was dramatically lower; and the world was more at peace.
To add insult to injury for President Biden, while confirming the worry of the Democratic operatives, the Financial Times just ran an article headlined “Only 14% of US voters say Joe Biden has made them better off.” Ouch.
Ultimately, some percentage of voters may care about Biden’s age or ability to govern effectively. But every single voter is concerned with quality-of-life issues that negatively affect them and their families.
Trump and Kennedy pounding on that question for the next several months will prove to be devastating for Biden.
Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.
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