Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum


[email protected]

March 1, 2024

We believe that voters not only care “what Biden needs to do” but more importantly “what Biden has done.” The first challenge for Biden’s reelection bid is really what he has accomplished in the past three years! Specifically, did Biden deliver what he promised in 2020? The world is not perfect, and no one expects that any President will keep all his/her promises. But anyone running for reelection must face reality and explain to the public what has happened first. As the sitting President, “what are your plans” is not good enough for voters to support you again!

All the talks about “plan,” “vision,” “what is other side promising,” won’t make much impression on voters if Biden does not accept the responsibilities of what he has failed and provide a new perspective on why he deserves another four years in the White House.

Further, attacking his opponent or the Republican party won’t make much impact. Biden is the President of the US, not the President for the democrats. Biden is also the official leader of the US Democratic Party, blaming the bi-partisan bickering means that Biden shoulders about 50% of the responsibility.

SOTU is a one night “talk show” for any President of the US. It will NOT make or break the Presidency. But the general election is fast approaching and Biden has to meet with voters in person and campaign, or drop out.

WHAT BIDEN NEEDS TO DO IN THE SOTU — A presidential State of the Union is really about two things: contrast and vision — what are your plans, and what is the other side promising? 

That duality is on full display in the runup to President JOE BIDEN’s SOTU next Thursday. The stakes for Biden are incredibly high: It’s likely to have the largest viewing audience of any speech he’ll give before the November election, and with the possibility of debates this fall appearing shaky at best, it may well be the largest TV audience he’ll have in 2024, period.

Combine that with widespread concerns about his age and fitness — fair or not, poll after poll relays the reality that this is gnawing at voters, and cannot be ignored — and you have the makings of a high-wire act without much of a safety net.

How do you approach an election-year SOTU speech? We asked someone who knows firsthand: JIM MESSINA , who managed President BARACK OBAMA’s 2012 campaign.

He pointed to two main things Biden needs to accomplish:

(1) “Voters want to see him do his job. They want to see him talk about this stuff. They want to answer any age questions they may or may not have,” Messina tells Playbook.

(2) “They want to hear what he’s going to do to make their lives better. And this is a format where you can be really expansive about that and really drill down.”

Baked into both of those tasks is this: “It’s also a chance to contrast himself with the other side. … I used to say to Obama: Is this a referendum on the incumbent? The incumbent usually loses. If it’s a choice , the incumbent usually wins, and you start to set that choice up in this period.”

How will he go about doing all of that? 

(1) DOING HIS JOB: Biden didn’t wait for the speech to take on arguably his biggest policy vulnerability — immigration — with a trip yesterday to Brownville, Texas. There we saw a preview of the message he’s likely to send Thursday, talking up the Senate’s bipartisan border legislation as the “toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country has ever seen.” And in an attempt to pluck the issue from the quiver of his predecessor DONALD TRUMP — who did a split-screen event 300 miles down the Rio Grande — he challenged the likely GOP nominee to work with him to support the bill: “Instead of playing politics with the issue, why don’t we just get together and get it done?”

To show that he’s taking the issue seriously , the White House is chewing over possible new executive actions aimed at owning the issue, some of which sound downright … Trumpian, our colleagues Myah Ward, Eli Stokols and Lisa Kashinsky report — including potential significant changes to asylum policy.

Meanwhile, on the other big issue pressing down on Biden — the war in Gaza — it’s looking increasingly certain that he won’t be able to show up Thursday with a cease-fire deal in hand, as Jonathan Lemire and Alexander Ward report . Biden, they write, “will be forced to tackle the crisis … with a diplomatic resolution remaining painfully elusive and with evidence mounting that it’s harming him politically back home.”

(2) MAKING PEOPLE’S LIVES BETTER: Though the SOTU speech will be rewritten until the very last moment, last night, a White House official gave Playbook a bit of a preview of its major themes and issues.

“The President will talk about whose side he is on and the work ahead to make life better for every American: Lowering costs — giving people more breathing room. Lowering health care premiums and taking on the drug companies to lower the cost of prescriptions drugs. Making the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share — putting the middle class first,” the official wrote us in an email.

Other themes you can expect: “Saving our democracy, protecting women’s reproductive health — rights and freedoms are on the ballot. Uniting the country — unity agenda: privacy and big tech, curb fentanyl, help veterans, end cancer.”

He’s getting no shortage of advice on what to say and how to say it. On the left, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Data for Progress have been conducting research and presenting the White House with polling on specific messaging that both would work for the SOTU and in the general election.

At the end of 2023, they warned the White House that “Bidenomics” was going nowhere fast. Since then, they’ve returned with poll-tested sentences served on a platter. “One big takeaway was that every economic issue — including health care — has to be talked about through the prism of costs and prices , not aspirational stuff like universality,” PCCC co-founder ADAM GREEN tells Playbook. “That’s just not where people’s heads are right now.”

The biggest recommendation Green and his team took to senior aides at the White House was building on Biden’s best moment in last year’s SOTU: protecting Social Security. It’s an issue where Democrats have lost their edge in the polls, and Green said Biden’s best play is connect the program with taxing billionaires.

“The single line there is: ‘Republicans want to cut taxes for billionaires and cut Social Security. Democrats want to protect Social Security from cuts and ensure billionaires pay their fair share in taxes,’” Green said. (We can’t help but note that Biden has already used a similar line publicly at least twice.)

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: AFTER THE SOTU, SWING STATES: Expect Biden to use the speech to slingshot him back onto the campaign trail. A person familiar with the president’s travel plans tells Playbook exclusively that Friday and Saturday after the speech, Biden will head to the Philly and Atlanta areas for campaign events that will underscore and build on his message.

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