Republicans say they have a good argument to make when it comes to this classic election question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
Inflation is high, crime is up, stocks are flat or falling and immigration is out of control, GOP operatives say.
But Democrats — and even some Republicans — argue emphatically that Americans in 2024 will feel they are much better off than they were four years ago, when the country was suffering through the pandemic in the final year of Donald Trump’s presidency.
They say many Americans will remember the Trump presidency as among the darkest times in U.S. history and point out his four years in office included two impeachments — the second over a riot at the Capitol.
“Good luck with that argument,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “Personally, I'd think voters remember the Trump years as a time of constant anxiety, chaos and cruelty — hence voting him out.”
To be sure, the are you better off argument has some pluses for the GOP. But it may also be a double-edged sword, inviting call-backs to Trump even as he is the frontrunner for the GOP nomination next year.
“It's an invitation to run with Trump, whether or not he’s on the ticket,” said Republican strategist Susan Del Percio, who opposes the former president.
“It’s not a winning strategy for the Republican Party,” Del Percio added. “It’s looking backwards.”
Biden’s poll numbers have been underwater for months and a Gallup poll out this week showed that voters disapprove of his handling of foreign affairs, energy policy and the environment. When it comes to the key issue of the economy, only 32 percent of those surveyed approve of Biden’s performance.
A Real Clear Politics average of national polls this week showed just 28 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction.
Republicans see Biden’s weaknesses as an opportunity to draw a contrast. They say they have a good argument to make that the country was on more solid footing before Biden took office.
“In just over two years, Biden has tanked the economy, opened up our borders, embarrassed America on the world stage, worsened a supply chain crisis, and stoked the coals of division in our country,” said Republican National Committee spokesperson Emma Vaughn. “Americans are less safe, and their paychecks are worth less as a result of Biden’s reckless policies.
“Come 2024 voters will send him packing home to Delaware for good,” she said.
Even Republicans who are desperate to see Biden lose next year are hesitant to talk about the Trump era and urged party operatives not to make the comparison.
“I don’t think people really want to go back to the Trump years because they were so tumultuous,” said Republican strategist John Feehery.
He and other Republicans say there is a case to be made in pointing to Biden’s flaws — from inflation to the border — as a way to make the case that the country needs to move in a different direction.
“He’s out of touch, barely cognizant and that’s why his poll numbers are so low,” Feehery said. “Not only is he from the past but his ideas are from the past. They need to make that connection to his view of the world.”
One Republican strategist said the comparison between Biden and Trump is a good one to make “because at the end of the day, the biggest issue will be the rising cost of groceries and the inability to pay soaring bills.”
“Even if things seemed not so great under Trump with all his shenanigans and bullshit, this election is going to be about the economy, period,” the strategist said.
GOP candidates are taking issue with some of Trump’s positions.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce a bid for the presidency in the coming months, has sought to undermine Trump’s handling of COVID-19 and lockdowns during 2020.
“You take a crisis situation like Covid, the good thing about it is that when you’re an elected executive, you have to make all kinds of decisions, you’ve got to steer that ship,” DeSantis said in January. “And the good thing is that people are able to render a judgment on that: whether they re-elect you or not.”
But Democrats say they will win any argument that compares Biden’s tenure to Trump’s. Biden, they say, helped bring the nation back from a deadly pandemic and an economy that was quickly tanking as a result.
They also tout the record job growth under Biden and highlight his legislative wins.
“If Republicans overall election strategy is to compare the Trump presidency to Biden, then who am I to stop them from handing Democrats the White House for another four years?” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau.