Commentary: A Gen Zer offers advice to President Joe Biden as he gears up for his reelection bid

Victor Shi, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Op Eds

If Joe Biden wins in 2024, he will make history by being the oldest person elected to the presidency. That month, he’ll turn 82. There is no shortage of people who doubt Biden’s ability to campaign. Polls and pundits are quick to connect Biden’s age with low approval numbers.

Even the former chief strategist for Barack Obama when he ran for president, David Axelrod, urged Biden to think about whether running again would be in the “country’s best interest.”

We have been here before, though. We have been in a situation in which sitting presidents — from Bill Clinton to Obama — running for reelection were trailing a year out from Election Day and ended up being reelected. We have been in a position in which Biden has been underestimated. None of this is new.

But if Biden plays his cards right, he may be the Democrats’ best chance at not only taking back the White House but also helping Democrats win down the ballot next year.

Despite what polls and pundits indicate, Biden heads into 2024 with an arsenal of advantages to defeat Donald Trump. Most obvious, yet overlooked: Biden remains the only person who has won against Trump. One of the most important parts of a successful campaign is building a broad and diverse coalition of voters. In 2020, Biden did exactly that, leading not only to the most votes amassed for any presidential candidate but also beating an incumbent for the first time since Clinton beat George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Certainly, however, just because Biden won once does not guarantee him a second term. Biden has his fair share of challenges. But three things are heavily in his favor: his record, his character and his opponent, all of which voters happen to care about deeply.

It’s no surprise the front-runner in the Republican presidential race is Trump, and he is all but certain to be the GOP’s nominee. That’s good news for Biden.

As Biden has said, “Don’t compare me to the almighty. Compare me to the alternative.” Nearly everything about the alternative is opposite that of Biden. So much so that the things Trump has said and done — and continues to say and do — can be turned into an instant split-screen ad by the Biden campaign about how diametrically opposite the two candidates are.

What’s more: After four years of a Trump tenure, voters are tired of the extremism that Trump has spread throughout the nation. For evidence, look no further than states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia, where Trump-endorsed, election-denying candidates in the 2022 midterm elections lost by an overwhelming margin. Recently, other election-denying, Trump-endorsed candidates lost races in states such as Kentucky and Virginia. Voters not only want democracy preserved, but they also want normalcy. And Trump is antithetical to both.

But it’s not enough to run against someone. Biden has to run for something. He must give people something to believe in and offer hope that a second term would bring even better change. Fortunately, there is no president who has more to run on than Biden. On nearly every major piece of historic legislation Biden has signed — from bills that have lowered the cost of insulin to those that combat climate change and gun violence — the vast majority of Americans approve. Yet, people remain generally unaware of what Biden has accomplished.

There’s a way around this. Biden must sell his accomplishments not just as much as possible, but as specific and as local as possible. That means less use of generic phrases such as “Bidenomics” and more focus on how legislation will help communities in real ways. The more Biden can tailor his messages and policies, the more voters can imagine how his policies will benefit them.


This approach could also boost candidates running for state and local offices. Consider the recent gubernatorial election in Kentucky. Democratic candidate Andy Beshear hinged much of his campaign around how Biden’s achievements improved the lives of Kentuckians while Republicans spent $30 million in ads painting Beshear as a “Biden governor.” The result? Beshear was reelected governor by a bigger margin than the first time he ran.

To ordinary Americans, policies like fixing infrastructure, lowering the cost of pharmaceutical drugs and protecting reproductive rights matter. They excite. And they turn out voters.

Lastly, while Biden is the oldest presidential candidate, anyone who has met him will say he is also a compassionate person. Biden’s character can go a long way at a time of frayed trust in government.

This can change — and it starts with Biden shifting away from scripted remarks. Instead, he should engage in authentic and meaningful conversations. That means hosting more town hall-style events where the broader electorate can see his wit and knack for connecting with voters. It also means more sit-down conversations on podcasts and other YouTube shows so that the public can see more of what Biden is like in an informal setting.

Humanizing the president and reminding people that he can still hold his own are essential. People can look past age and prefer real issues and policies, something Biden can communicate best when he is his natural self.

Biden is running in 2024, and he heads into the election season with a substantive policy record and character traits that the Republican candidates do not possess. If the Biden campaign can play to its strengths effectively, Biden will prove the prognosticators wrong once again — just like he did in 2020, 2022 and 2023.

Now, as Biden often says, “Let’s finish the job.”


Victor Shi is a senior at the University of California at Los Angeles. He co-hosts the“iGen Politics” podcast and is a strategy director for Voters of Tomorrow. Shi served as the youngest delegate for Joe Biden.


©2023 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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