McManus: Biden’s 2024 campaign banks on politics of nostalgia

As the 1996 presidential campaign neared, Bill Clinton faced an uphill battle to win a second term. His biggest legislative proposal, a comprehensive health bill, had failed. His party had lost the House of Representatives to the Republicans, led by a fiery conservative, Newt Gingrich. Clinton’s poll numbers plummeted.

So he turned toward the center. He fought Gingrich to a standstill over the GOP’s plans to cut Medicare spending. He championed modest but popular proposals like the V-Chip, a device that allows parents to control what their children watch on TV. And on Election Day, he defeated Republican candidate Bob Dole by a whopping 8%.

2012 also saw the start of Barack Obama’s campaign for a second term in deep trouble. Voters were unhappy that the economy was far too slow to recover from the Great Recession. The President’s Health Care Act, derisively dubbed “Obamacare,” was deeply unpopular. The House of Representatives was back in Republican hands, and radical Tea Party members were demanding large budget cuts.

Obama sought a bipartisan deal on taxes and spending. But when those efforts collapsed, he went on the offensive, attacking the GOP for demanding cuts in Medicare spending. On election day, he beat Mitt Romney by 4%.

Now, as the 2024 presidential campaign begins, history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Joe Biden is presiding over an economic recovery, but voters are too pressured by rising costs to give him credit.

His 43% approval rating in a recent average of polls is even lower than that of Clinton or Obama when their reelection campaigns began.

Biden faces a struggling majority in the Republican House of Representatives bent on reversing the legislative gains of his first two years by forcing a crisis above the debt ceiling.

Not surprisingly, he borrows strategies that worked for Clinton and Obama, a move that combines nostalgia and practical politics.

He has attacked Republicans for proposing to “suspend” Social Security and Medicare by asking Congress to renew the programs every few years.

“If anyone tries to get rid of Social Security or Medicare, I will veto it,” he said at a union hall in Maryland last week.

That was old-fashioned scaremongering. Republicans are not proposing the abolition of these popular programs.

But Biden was right about one thing: Several GOP lawmakers, including the chair of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, had strongly advocated a sunset rule. After Biden’s attacks took hold, they dropped the idea.

Meanwhile, Biden emulated another Clinton move by proposing a list of modest consumer-friendly measures, including legislation to tackle “garbage fees” like Ticketmaster service fees and hotel resort fees.

Critics deride such ideas as a small ball — small measures beneath the dignity of a president. But they often turn out to be very popular.

When Clinton ran for office in 1996, two of his most popular actions were the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guaranteed workers up to 12 days of unpaid leave, and the V-chip.

Biden won two such consumer-friendly measures for Medicare users in the storm of legislation passed by Congress last year: a $35 cap on insulin prices and a $2,000 cap on drug spending. Republicans will mess with them at their peril.

If the president stops cable and internet providers from stapling junk fees on consumers’ bills, he could drive re-election. And if Republicans oppose the idea, that will just give Biden another issue to fight for.

With a belligerent Republican majority at the helm of the House of Representatives, the chances for ambitious bipartisan legislation are pretty much gone.

“While resort fees may be modest, this is a time that calls for small ball,” wrote business columnist Josh Barro earlier this month.

Another leap into nostalgia: Biden is asking voters to let him “finish the job,” a phrase Obama used in 2012. This is another sign that he is planning to run for office.

On the other hand, nostalgia was one of Biden’s main themes when he ran for president four years ago. He promised voters a return to normal — the quieter, less disruptive politics of the pre-Trump era.

It should come as no surprise that an 80-year-old president is learning the lessons of his life in politics. He sat in the front row of both the 1996 Clinton re-election campaign, when he was running for his fifth Senate term, and the 2012 Obama campaign, when Biden was vice president.

This may be a case where Biden’s age is not a handicap; he comes through his nostalgia honestly.

Also, these tactics worked for Clinton in 1996 and Obama in 2012. Who says they can’t work again? McManus: Biden’s 2024 campaign banks on politics of nostalgia

Alley Einstein

Alley Einstein is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Alley Einstein joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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