Biden says America is ‘coming back’. Trump says we are ‘in hell’. Are they talking about the same people?

LEFT: President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Philadelphia, Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) RIGHT: Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump, pumps his fist as he leaves after a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2024, at National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Maryland, February 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, file)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) / (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Biden says America is ‘coming back’. Trump says we are ‘in hell’. Are they talking about the same people?

Election 2024

Doyle McManus

March 11, 2024

To one presidential candidate, the United States is a failing nation descending into a cesspool of ruin. In many ways we were now living in hell.

According to the other candidate, America is coming back. Our future is brighter. The American people are writing the greatest comeback story never told.

You already know which candidate is which.

The first is former President Trump, who last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference painted a vivid picture of an America descending into chaos. The second is President Biden, who praised the country’s resilience in his State of the Union address last week.

The clash of these starkly conflicting views is at the heart of the 2024 presidential election.

Political professionals say a successful campaign offers voters a compelling story, a story about the state of the nation: what went wrong, what’s going right, and what does the candidate plan to do about it?

You have to explain where the country is, how you’re going to make it better and how it’s going to affect their lives, said Doug Sosnik, who helped President Clinton win reelection in 1996.

Rarely have two major candidates presented their stories at such odds. It seems that they describe completely different realities.

Biden’s story rests on three arguments. He says the economy is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated recession, the comeback story he’s pushing. He says he will lead the country to a more prosperous and fairer future, financed by tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy. And he claims Trump would drag America back into the past by restricting abortion rights and other freedoms.

Our economy is literally the envy of the world, Biden said. Wages continue to rise and inflation continues to fall. It takes time, but the American people are starting to feel it.

He said the main threat to further progress is Trump, whose refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election reflects his desire to rule as an autocrat.

When he says he wants to be a dictator, I believe him, Biden said about Trump on Saturday:

one day

after the former president met with Hungary’s dictatorial leader, Viktor Orbán.

Has Biden’s story attracted attention? Reviews were mixed.

Some Democratic strategists worried that the president’s upbeat economic message did not match the views of most voters, who told pollsters they think the economy is in bad shape.

“I would have worded it a little differently,” Sosnik said of the State of the Union address. I would have said that we have inherited an economic crisis and that we are moving in the right direction, but we still have more work to do. You have to meet people halfway.

But Sosnik said Biden’s calls to raise taxes on the wealthy, lower prescription drug prices and help first-time homebuyers are likely to be better off.

That’s the narrative he’s following a populist narrative, the strategist said.

Trump’s America sounds like a very different place.

We are a nation whose economy is collapsing into a cesspool of ruin, whose supply chain is broken, whose stores are not stocked, the almost certain Republican nominee claimed last week.

[Richmond speech, March 4]

. We are a nation where freedom of speech is no longer allowed, where crime is rampant and out of control like never before. It was an echo of his 2017 inaugural address, when he described the state of the nation as “American carnage.”

As is often the case with Trump, a fact check is in order: the economy is far from collapsing and growing at a healthy pace of about 2.5% per year; the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic are almost completely over; and violent crime has dropped significantly since 2022.

Trump blames two causes for the country’s problems: radical left Democrats and asylum-seeking migrants who have crossed the country’s southern border.

During a second Biden term, he told conservatives, there will be so many migrants entering the U.S. that Medicare, Social Security, Medicare and public education will collapse and collapse.

Ruthless gangs will explode even more in the suburbs,” he warned, “…as armed law enforcement officers hunt down conservatives and people of faith.

Our country is being destroyed, and the only thing standing between you and its destruction is me, Trump claimed.

Biden and others have pointed out that Trump has instructed Republicans to block a bipartisan compromise that would have tightened border security, apparently because the former president wants to keep the crisis going as a campaign issue. “We can fight about fixing the border, or we can fix it,” Biden said in his State of the Union address. I’m ready to fix it.

Trump’s argument, Sosnik said, sounds like it is designed to turn off his base, not appeal to swing voters.

These are the stories on which the next eight months of campaigning will be based.

If Biden sounds overly optimistic, Trump sounds cartoonishly dystopian, out of step with the reality that the economy is actually improving.

Trump seems confident that voters will remain dissatisfied with high prices and blame Biden for the border crisis, but not hold the Republican Party responsible for blocking a possible solution.

Biden hopes he can remind swing voters of the reasons they hated Trump in 2020 and, above all, trust that the economy will continue to improve.

Which story best reflects real-life voters’ concerns?

That’s what the next eight months of campaigning are about.


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