Politico’s Proposed Reelection Strategy for Joe Biden Is Absolutely Bonkers

Joe Biden’s reelection chances are dimming, and about the worst thing he could do is cozy up to Rahm Emanuel, the Clintons, and Liz Cheney. Yet that’s the kind of advice he gets in a bizarre new column from one of Politico’s senior writers.

President Joe Biden arrives at San Francisco International Airport ahead of the APEC summit on November 14, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

If Joe Biden is indeed the Democratic nominee for president next year, there is a more than negligible chance that Donald Trump will reenter the White House. Even before his decision to bear-hug Benjamin Netanyahu and his recent eleven-point approval rating drop, Biden’s weaknesses were manifold. Trump now leads in key battleground states like Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and the 2020 electoral coalition that narrowly ensured Trump’s defeat appears to be coming apart thanks to huge dips in support from black Americans, Arab Americans, and those under thirty.

For what it’s worth, after months of denialism from pundits and Democratic operatives alike, there now seems to be a growing consensus that Biden could actually lose. This is perhaps the most generous thing that can be said about the latest intervention from Politico’s Jonathan Martin (titled “Here’s How Biden Can Turn It Around”), which offers up a veritable buffet of strategic suggestions about how Biden can win: whatever else, Martin doesn’t try to wave away the terrible polling or bury his head in the sand when it comes to a possible Trump victory. Taking as axiomatic that Biden will be the Democratic nominee for president (the most likely possibility at this point), he even has a few ideas that aren’t terrible and might help a hypothetical Biden candidacy.

The lion’s share of Martin’s piece, however, is no more or less than a bizarre smorgasbord of different ideas and strategies — many of them apparently crowdsourced from interviews with “dozens of Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans” — that often contradict each other and do not add up to anything resembling a coherent whole. The result is something like the pundit equivalent of fantasy football: a peculiar exercise in political wish-casting assembled from disparate fragments that cannot actually exist together in the real world.

Thanks to Biden’s poor polling and the threat of a second Trump victory, Martin writes, “2024 will be an extraordinary election, and it demands extraordinary measures.” Fair enough. The problem is that a good number of Martin’s would-be extraordinary measures are nothing short of absurd. To shore up the center and protect his right flank, he argues, Biden should “smother [Joe] Manchin with kindness and keep him in the Democratic tent” while attempting to “woo Manchin’s Republican friend (and third-party temptress) Mitt Romney” — both of whom can then “actively make the case that voting for Biden is the only way to block Trump.”

Adding further to this growing mound of conservative figures, Martin proceeds to ask in tones of sheer disbelief why Biden is “not doing more to secure the support of Liz Cheney?” who, he suggests, could be deployed to “bring other prominent figures with her, including her father [former vice president Dick Cheney] and former President George W. Bush.”

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because Martin is basically describing a reheated version of the strategy that failed Hillary Clinton so spectacularly in 2016 and handed Donald Trump the presidency in the first place. (Having faced an unexpected insurgency to her left, Clinton opted to run on the right and present herself to voters as the standard-bearer for both party establishments, a calculation so catastrophic that its consequences are still being felt to this day.)

Martin’s Clinton redux strategy is especially perplexing, because only a few paragraphs later, he cautions against repeating Clinton’s mistakes, arguing instead for a quasi-leftward pivot that would see Biden “lash” his opponent as a fake populist who “so regularly sides with the wealthy.” That isn’t a bad suggestion (though Biden’s lengthy history of genuflecting to Wall Street would probably blunt the effect). The issue is that Martin elsewhere calls on Biden to bring in none other than the corporate-aligned poster boy for 1990s triangulation, Rahm Emanuel, to chair the campaign, and bizarrely suggests the appointment of both Bill and Hillary Clinton as “high-level envoys” for a new peace process in the Middle East.

When it comes to messaging, some of Martin’s proposals are less absurd. He thinks Democrats should stop telling voters to eat their vegetables and go head over heels for so-called “Bidenomics.” (In one of the piece’s most persuasive sections, he quite fairly writes of the effort to construct a brand around Bidenomics that “attempting to make voters believe something they don’t is folly [while] attaching your name to that strategy borders on masochistic.”) He also suggests that Biden attack Trump on reproductive rights, the effectiveness of which was certainly borne out in both last year’s midterms and in recent special elections.

Things soon go off the rails again, however, as Martin calls on Biden to “[lay] down a message on immigration and the border” without actually specifying what the message should be. He believes Biden would be well-served in denouncing a supposed epidemic of lawlessness and taking a firm stand against the scourge of shoplifting. (“While most Americans recoil from Trump’s vow to shoot shoplifters in the back, they also are alarmed by videos of stores being looted in cities across the country.” “Why,” he anxiously pleads, “aren’t the president or vice president linking arms with store owners, employees and police departments?”).

In sum, Joe Biden should run for reelection by attacking his opponent as an ally of the rich while foregrounding his relationships with several prominent Republicans in a campaign overseen by Rahm Emanuel. He should go all-in on a conservative law-and-order message while saying something firm, though unspecified, about immigration and the border. He should avoid Hillary Clinton’s mistakes, while also repeating several of them and quite literally naming both Clintons to spearhead a new peace process in the Middle East.

It’s hard to know what to conclude from Martin’s strategic blueprint except that the modern Democratic Party is a deeply contradictory political formation. Having canvassed various operatives, party luminaries, and anti-Trump figures about what Biden should do to reverse his polling decline, Martin ends up with an incoherent pastiche of focus-tested populist messaging, Beltway received wisdom, and warmed-over electoral orthodoxy from the 1990s with a handful of strategically sound and socially liberal ideas thrown into the mix.

All told, it’s not a bad summary of the Democratic Party mainstream today — which so often aspires to be neither Left nor Right and, as a result, ends up sounding more like a corporate firm that does some charity on the side than a progressive formation with any particular vision for reforming society.