Former Vice President Joe Biden returned to the top of the Democratic primary on the back of consolidated moderate support and his core campaign message of returning America to the normalcy of the pre-Trump era.
And that means a return to the Obama administration. According to a widely circulated report on Axios, Biden advisors are prepping what they’re describing as “Return to Normal” plan where familiar faces from Obama’s White House, including John Kerry and Susan Rice, would reemerge and steer America back to circa 2012 or so.
They’re betting that Democrats yearn for the era of hope and change—but actually want comfort more than they want change. But the rallying cry of “Return to Normal” sounds like the liberal version of Make America Great Again. And while it may get Biden elected, it’s never going to actually work.
Biden isn’t a particularly strong candidate. He has a conservative record, a habit of making misleading statements about his past and may be suffering serious cognitive decline. He’s built a comfortable lead over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary but still polls behind Trump in key swing states. That’s partially because his national campaign efforts have been nonexistent—the Biden campaign had just eight field offices in the 14 voting states on Super Tuesday, mostly capitalizing off high profile endorsements and the positive media coverage therein.
But Biden’s also polling poorly against Trump because the vice president doesn’t offer anything beyond being a corrective to Trump’s chaos. That’s something every candidate, Republican or Democrat, can run on. There are no new ideas to excite or mobilize voters, just a promise of a return to the normalcy of the Obama years. And there’s a huge hole at the center of that promise. It assumes that Americans want to return to a normal where the Democratic Party squandered its executive power, lost 800 congressional seats and allowed a Republican Congress to gut popular social programs, including the Affordable Care Act.
72% of Democratic primary voters say the next president should go beyond restoration to make major changes to the way government works vs. 25% who say they should restore the government to the way it was before Trump took office via new @CNN poll.
— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) March 9, 2020
Republicans already have their Biden counterprogramming lined up. The GOP wants to be the party of working class voters and economic populism. Running against Biden, they’ll have their best chance yet. Trump surrogates can excite the president’s base by bashing Biden’s corruption and saying that he plans to “refill” the swamp with Democratic elites. It’s no coincidence that Trump wanted dirt on Biden and has spent most of the last year trashing him. Fox News has already begun, stating that Biden is “reportedly planning [Barack] Obama’s third term.”
But none of this matters if Biden beats Trump, right? Four years of a stable administration will set America back on course and away from Trump’s Constitution-threatening, authoritarian tendencies. But that assumption ignores the reality of modern politics. A Biden victory will galvanize Republicans deeper into the unfettered reactionary nativism of the Trump era and inevitably rally around a candidate as angry as Trump but lacking his mercurial incompetence.
On the surface, returning to normal seems like the sensible play for Democrats. But they need to realize that the normalcy they pine for brought about Trump in the first place. Returning to it could easily lead to something worse.