The new conventional wisdom in American politics holds that Biden is making a mistake. After all, opinions are so fixed about Trump that there is little point in talking about him to voters who have already made their minds up about the President. Hillary Clinton largely focussed her 2016 campaign on Trump and his unsuitability for the White House, and look at how that turned out. When Democrats finally won again, in the 2018 congressional elections, many of them insisted that it was because they ignored Trump and stuck to issues such as health care. Impeachment is seen as political death for Democrats; most of the Democratic Presidential candidates (Elizabeth Warren excepted) have barely even mentioned the damning evidence of Trumpian obstruction laid out by Mueller. They are talking instead about Medicare for All and free college tuition, about the climate crisis and identity politics. But Biden appears to be rejecting their example. He is going all in on the old conventional wisdom, which is that Presidential elections four years into a Presidency are almost always referendums on the incumbent, and this incumbent presents a very large target.
We’ve got another five hundred and fifty-six days to go before we learn whether Biden is right. It’s a big bet. He is not selling a revolution, à la Bernie Sanders, but a restoration. “We’ll be back,” Biden promised an unsettled crowd of Europeans at the Munich Security Conference, when I saw him speak there, in February. He is offering a return, a do-over. Usually, Americans vote for the future, not the past. But is there anything usual about this President and this political moment? Or does Trump represent some fundamental break?