A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

With economy humming, Democrats split over how to beat Trump

Why We Wrote This

Former Vice President Joe Biden is hitting President Donald Trump on character issues. His Democratic rivals are focusing more on the need for systemic policy changes.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Attendees listen as Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses a campaign rally in Iowa City, Iowa, May 1, 2019.

Dear reader:
“The 2020 election isn’t going to be close.” That was conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, writing in the Washington Post last weekend.
Mr. Hewitt’s confidence in President Donald Trump’s reelection boils down to one factor: the economy. Last year, many economic analysts were nervously predicting a recession on the horizon. Today, the economy is looking stronger by the day. And in the modern era, presidential elections have often tracked with the state of the economy.
Still, there are a number of factors working against the president. Mr. Trump is uniquely unpopular, the only president whose Gallup approval rating has never once reached 50% or higher, as CNN’s Chris Cillizza points out. His standing in key swing states is even lower.
In this context, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign message – casting the Trump presidency as “an aberrant moment” in the nation’s history – may be a shrewd move. Unlike many of his Democratic rivals, Mr. Biden is not running on the notion that the country has deep, systemic problems in need of dramatic overhaul.  He’s running against Mr. Trump’s personal values and alleged character deficits.
Mr. Biden might as well don a blue cap saying: “Make America Great Again,” National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar wryly notes.
By taking this approach, the former vice president “deftly avoided wading into the ideologically driven conversation currently dominating the Democratic primary in favor of a broad anti-Trump message that’s embraced by all the party’s fractious factions, from the hard Left to anti-Trump Republicans,” Mr. Kraushaar writes.
Throughout the Trump presidency, Democrats have vacillated on precisely this question: Do they attack the president as an anomaly – someone who is unqualified to run the country, who has coarsened our national discourse and obliterated norms of presidential behavior? Or do they campaign against him the way they would against virtually ANY Republican – criticizing him for a tax policy that favors the wealthy, for rolling back regulations that protect the environment, for trying to strip health coverage from those who need it most, and so on?
To Mr. Biden, the president is the problem. To others in his party, Mr. Trump is the logical outgrowth of a corrupt status quo, embodied by modern Republicanism, that needs to change.
We’ll find out which vision Democratic voters prefer.
Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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