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A week in America | 7 March 2024

By Martin Liptrot

By Martin Liptrot

This week we learned who the next Presidential candidates - law suits obliging - are going to be. Martin also looks forward to the State of the Union address which will kick start the longest election campaign in US history.

If Not So Super Tuesday, Hopefully Spectacular Thursday

Last night, Super Tuesday – the day when lots of party members across many states choose their preferred candidate to be President – came and went.

In previous years, it has been preceded by heated and volatile debate, buckets of dirt throwing, and fringe candidates sparring with the form-favourites in making dubious claims and counter claims about the suitability of anyone else for the top job.

This year, in keeping with the scaled back economy, the continued descent of interest in party politics, and the fracturing of the mainstream media which anyone paid attention to, the day pretty much came and passed without note.

In case you are interested in what happened, on the Republican side, Trump won every state other than Vermont, and Nikki Haley, the only remaining contestant to Big Orange, dropped out.

On the Democrat side, Joe Biden – the incumbent President – was backed in every state contested. It would have been Unbelievable Tuesday if the party kicked a sitting POTUS out.

So, what can we take from that?

In effect, the election starts today. It starts in real earnest tomorrow, Thursday, with Joe Biden delivering the State of the Union address.

And for political networkers and campaign consultants, the job of raising the millions of dollars which fuel what will now be the longest election campaign in US history becomes a priority.

I’m unabashed in saying I’m 100% in Biden’s camp. I can think of nothing more damaging to the US economy, the fate of hundreds of millions of low paid, low job security workers, or the stability of a volatile world than the return of former President Trump.

That said, I’m not 100% confident that Biden will be a great second-term President, but if he can hang on to his faculties, look and sound coherent, he has a job to do.

President Biden, your mission if you choose to accept it, is to prevent the chaos of Trump II.”

Joe will have good people around him. Senior Democrat advisers include Barrack Obama, ex-White House aides including Jen O’Malley Dillon, Mike Donilon and Chavez Rodriguez, and senior state pols like Cory Booker, Gavin Newsom, and Wes Moore. They will help to shape and focus the campaign.

Whoever is writing the President’s State of the Union address needs to score points on a number of fronts.

First, and by far the most important takeaway – Biden must look and sound Presidential.

The Democrats know their biggest risk is that the voting public don’t believe Joe is up to the job for another four years and no amount of policy announcements will paper over that. We live in a very visual age – TikTok, Discord, Instagram and YouTube garner millions of views in seconds and a slip, a fall, or a glazed-over expression could be the defining image of a long campaign.

Second, the writers have to set the context for this election, define the battle, and put the issues voters will be asked to decide on front and centre. Steer clear of woolly, well-intentioned language and platitudes – tell the voters exactly what this election is about in plain English.

And third, recognise that many Republicans have severe doubts about Donald Trump, and winning their votes, or at least making them happy enough to sit this one out, will be massive.

Writing 24 hours before any speech is delivered makes it a banana skin for forecasting, but here is what I hope to hear loud and clear.

The US economy is robust. Biden must own that. The action the administration has taken and the tough love decisions of others to reduce inflation have meant the economic reset has been managed well, the fabled soft landing.

I want to hear the President say that bringing down interest rates without threatening job security is his policy, that the Inflation Reduction Act – his flagship policy – has prioritised investing in US innovation, securing US jobs, and growing the US economy – and he hopes to see the Fed start to cut rates – ‘easing your mortgage payments and boosting consumer confidence further’ – in September at the latest.

And we need to hear about the political risk to all this. While it is un-Presidential to name his opponent, he can let us all know what and who he is referencing. He can paint the picture of the Stability of his Presidential record – respect around the world, membership of the big institutions, American exceptionalism – vs the Chaos of trade embargoes, legal challenges, Russian interference, weakened global military presence.

Stability versus Chaos.

In 2020, Biden was able to bring together a broad coalition across a number of the battleground states to secure the White House. He needs to repeat this again in the coming months.

He can be Scranton Joe to command the support of blue-collar Americans by pledging his support for trade unions, worker’s rights and the continuing on-shoring of jobs. He also needs to retain the strong support and trust he holds with the largest and longest-lasting cohort of Democrat voters – African Americans and people of colour – by acknowledging the ongoing challenges to social justice and the plight of our biggest cities.  

But Soccer Moms and BBQ Dads are also going to be a key constituency. Suburban, college educated men and especially women are turned off by Trump and their votes are up for grabs. In the primaries yesterday, around half of Republican voters in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, Minneapolis, Minnesota and the DC Beltway commuter suburbs like Fairfax, Virginia voted against Trump.

Understanding their concerns over the economy and issues like crime, education and healthcare are vital too.

And then there is immigration and the Southern Border.

This is the poster child of this election.

With 300,000 people a month illegally crossing, it isn’t hyperbole to say this is a crisis.

And it is a political crisis for the Democrats too. The President doesn’t currently own the narrative but completely owns the problem – a terrible place to be.

Earlier this week, Biden and Trump both visited border towns and spoke very differently about the problem. 

Trump blamed Biden and called for security and ‘The Wall’ to be completed.

Biden visited refugee processing camps and spoke to aid workers.

Whatever the rights and wrongs are, the imagery was very different and probably favoured the challenger over the incumbent in the minds of many Americans who are already concerned by a never-ending stream of stories about migration, bussing illegals to New York and San Francisco, crime, and the cost to state budgets and the toll on communities.

Biden cannot pretend the issue isn’t his to resolve.

Senior Democrat voices like NYC Mayor Eric Adams have already said the issue will “Destroy New York” and the largely Democrat voting citizens of Gotham agree.

Democrats across the nation share that view too. And for many Republicans it is the issue they need to see real action on if they are to consider backing Biden if Trump isn’t to their liking.

But does an 81-year-old who has had a lengthy political career by virtue of being all-things-to-all-people, treading the path of least resistance, and side-stepping the tough decisions, have the will, energy and appetite to now front policy which he is probably personally challenged by?

This is where Biden and party chiefs will have to strike a deal.

In return for delivering Biden’s second term – no-one wants to be a loser, a one term President – Joe will have to deliver on the issues his advisers know will determine who is sworn in on the Capitol Steps next January.

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Martin Liptrot

Martin Liptrot is a Public Affairs, PR and Marketing consultant working with UK, US and Global clients to try and ‘make good ideas happen’.

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