There were three tote bag options, two T-shirts, two sweatshirts, and a donkey baseball cap at the Democratic National Committee meeting where Joe Biden presented his reelection soft launch this weekend, but nothing with any allusion to the president himself.
There were no outside sellers hawking unapproved Biden merchandise on fold-up tables in the Philadelphia streets. Only one relic from the 2020 campaign was spotted: Cedric Richmond, the former congressman and White House aide, was dressed in the navy blue Biden-Harris jacket when he arrived in the cold.
Democrats who came to support Biden said they didn’t need to feel the same personal emotion they did for Barack Obama or even Bill Clinton – not with Biden’s record to run against and a Republican Party still dominated by Trumpism.
“At the end of the day, you can see Donald Trump’s visage on a T-shirt, but he lost the 2020 election. That isn’t what is important. What matters is, ‘Are we impacting the lives of the American people?'” asked DNC chair Jaime Harrison, dismissing any reservations about Biden as he listed off statistics about the economy improving and Democrats far outperforming expectations in the midterm elections.
The DNC members – state party chairs and other super-involved Democrats who travelled across the country to attend meetings of the committee’s Rules and Bylaws subcommittee – were screaming “Four more years” when Biden spoke Friday evening at a dismal Sheraton. Even within this group, many saw Biden as a pragmatic compromise candidate in 2020, rather than a candidate of dedication and passion. Multiple members informed HEADLINESFOREVER that they are now embracing him as the candidate of calm and competence, if not love, as they coalesce around his reelection.
“The reality of the matter is – and I adore Barack Obama – [Biden] has really gotten more through Congress and has done more to deliver to the people that I represent,” Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell remarked as she prepared to listen to Biden’s Democratic National Convention speech.
Dingell said it’s “all our fault” that Democrats haven’t done more to support Biden.
“Joe Biden is a good person. “And what draws the most attention is the vitriolic nature,” Dingell remarked. “I’d rather have the real thing. I’d like the healer. I’d rather have someone who is more concerned with getting the job done than with being that.”
Many congressional Democrats privately say they still wish their party had a more exciting, heartfelt candidate, and a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday found that 58% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer a different choice. But it’s Biden’s record that will have many lawmakers rising up again and again during the president’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday, with his remarks set to be framed similarly to the “Are you with me?” message he delivered in Philadelphia.
Biden ran through the highlights of his first two years in the White House in his speech Friday, including the bipartisan infrastructure bill, lowering health care costs by capping insulin prices for many at $35 per month, record diversity in his judicial appointments, the first significant gun safety legislation since the 1990s, and the largest investment in climate change mitigation ever – all while presiding over falling unemployment and rising job creation.
“He has done what he stated he would do and more. And he doesn’t receive the credit he deserves,” said Trav Robertson, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
Robertson attributed at least some of this to “Covid malaise” and Democrats’ retreat from intensive door-to-door organising to explain who Biden is and what he has been doing to the far less politically engaged.
“I think you’ll see all of that turn around, to the point where we’re not only happy about him, but excited about the programmes and things he’s doing,” Robertson said.
According to many who have spoken with him, Biden can be sensitive about his lack of love and credit. That’s why he and the West Wing have a chip on their shoulder about it. At the same time, White House aides point to an established perception of the president – with his aviator shades and heart on his sleeve – to explain opinion polls that show Americans’ perception of him hasn’t changed much, even as voters say they disapprove of the classified documents discovered in his home and old office.
Several attendees at the DNC meeting suggested that Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, another restrained older White man who presided over four years of low-key governing, be the Biden 2024 model. Evers ran for reelection last year against a proudly “Make America Great Again” candidate by focusing on results rather than frills, and won by 3 points. In his victory speech, Evers announced with an uncomfortable fist pump that “some people call it dull,” but “as it turns out, boring wins.”
“Gov. Evers isn’t glamorous, and he understands that what people want isn’t always flashy. “They want their highways restored, their schools to teach their children, and their phones not to buzz at 5 a.m. with something that will keep them from falling back asleep,” said Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “President Biden has the same thing working for him: decency and a feeling of steady leadership over turmoil and any kind of ideology preceded by the word’ultra.'”
And even if people aren’t crazy with Biden, that may be enough, according to Wikler.
“In an era when right-wing radicals generate revulsion, worry, and the most violent kind of cheering, having a Democratic leader who gives you the impression that everything is going to be OK is exactly what the doctor ordered,” he said.
Biden tries to promote a government message.
Last week, Biden focused on consumer garbage fees and promoting long-term railroad tunnel building. That’s not “the magic,” according to one participant at the DNC meeting who spoke only under the condition of anonymity, nor did any other who indicated anything other than unequivocal support for a Biden 2024 candidature. But it’s all part of the president’s endeavour to restore public trust in the government.
According to advisors, part of Biden’s projected reelection pitch would include extending the type of political triangulation he’s been promoting since launching his 2020 campaign with a rally in a Philadelphia park about three blocks from the Sheraton. It’s not a Bill Clinton-style jamming of Republican and Democratic leaders by pushing middle-ground concessions, but rather an attempt to reconcile Democratic and Republican supporters fatigued by antagonism within their own parties.
And, if none of that is enough, Biden advisers keep repeating like a mantra that elections are a choice, and they believe that the new Republican House majority and future Republican presidential contenders are providing abundant material for Biden to be the preferred choice.
Unlike the Republican National Committee gathering in California a week earlier, the DNC meeting was calm and collected. People smiled as they strolled along the halls. When members packed in for sessions full of perfunctory applause and parliamentary process, their only serious complaints were that the hotel bar was too tiny and that some of the rooms were not adequately air conditioned. California Rep. Maxine Waters told the Women’s Caucus that she is already feeling revived in the minority, and Harrison riffed on how House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republicans are “simply Airbnb-ing the House of Representatives” for the next two years.
Even the rescheduling of the presidential primary calendar went down without a hitch, and by the end of the meeting, members had passed a resolution endorsing Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for reelection.
Darlene Crowe, a physical education teacher from Piscataway, New Jersey, was starstruck in the crowd on Friday and pushed her way to the front to get a closer look at Biden.
“I told him, ‘Mr. President, I adore you.'” And he reached out, saying, ‘God loves you, too.’ “And he stretched out to shake my hand,” she recalled after sprinting back to a friend.
Crowe joked that she would never wash the hand that had touched the president.
“When he’s speaking,” Crowe added, “it truly taps a space that I say to my children, I say to my pupils, ‘We have hope. We have a chance. Work hard, be a nice person, and respect others.”