The video, in other words, was another take on an ongoing war over which party will be defined as the most normal in 2024. Republicans delighted with the line in the new governor’s GOP response. ‘Arkansas Sarah Huckabee Sanders at State of the Union address that ‘The choice is normal or crazy.’ That’s a great frame – as long as the Republicans aren’t the ones looking crazy, which is what Joe Biden and the Democrats are counting on.
Both sides, naturally, describe their respective positions at different places on the normal-insane spectrum.
For Democrats, their support for trans rights is the logical next step in expanding civil rights and is about inclusion; for Republicans, it’s an irrational fad that tramples on parents’ rights and threatens women’s sports.
For Democrats, the increased focus on race in education simply teaches the country’s history about racism; for Republicans, it represents an ideological agenda that does not belong in the schools.
For Democrats, efforts in Florida and elsewhere to remove books with offensive content from public schools amount to a book ban; for the Republicans, it is about ensuring that children are not exposed to inappropriate material in schools whose approach must be resolutely publicized.
And so on. Parties will continue to wage war on these issues, but the top of the bills in 2024 will have an outsized role in establishing which party can claim the mantle of normalcy.
Biden and his team think a rematch with Trump is no contest, and for good reason.
Trump takes on the “crazy people” on the other side and presents himself as a defender of common sense. He’s still fundamentally a disrupter, though. He has no interest in politics as usual, while he thinks such unusual politics is what it takes (and is far more compelling and entertaining).
For MAGA, the normal policy is corrupted. Normalcy is useless. The normal is a sham. Normal is for cupping. Only their man sees through it all, tells the truth, and will wield the hammer against the establishment like the woman in the famous “1984” Apple ad.
In 2016, Trump broke all the rules to shake up policy and pushed new positions on immigration, trade and China; now he wants to break all the rules to get revenge on everyone who supposedly stole the election victory that was rightfully his.
This all suits Biden perfectly. In fact, he couldn’t script a better opponent with a better message and effect for his goals.
Now, with inflation having eroded real wages in recent years and possibly a looming recession, Biden cannot be complacent. He could lose to anyone.
Yet Trump’s attempt to get his vice president to overturn the 2020 electoral vote count, his defense of the Jan. 6 rioters, his call for the suspension of the Constitution, his bodyguard of bizarre loyalist-led Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, her erratic statements and stances (attacking the state of Florida and threatening to sit out Republican debates in recent days alone) all make Biden normal by default.
If Biden’s theory on the case against Trump is correct (circumstances and execution will, of course, matter), it falls apart if someone else is the Republican nominee.
First, a match against Trump effectively removes age from the table. Another Republican takes center stage.
Trying to push an 80-year-old man through a national election and another term is not normal. Indeed, it is unprecedented and deeply disconcerting, which is why so many voters believe Biden should not run again. By contrast, directing a 44-year-old (Ron DeSantis) or 57-year-old (Tim Scott) is what you’d expect.
The Biden team believes that if DeSantis is the GOP nominee, he too, like Trump, can be called a MAGA extremist. In this scenario, however, DeSantis will have taken down Trump in an incredibly brutal primary campaign. Trump will likely expose him as a liar and a cheat for the offense of winning against him. It’s going to be hard to paint DeSantis as a tool of the man who tried to destroy him, failed and probably still tries.
Then there is the bottom. With a few exceptions (perhaps the most prominent fight with Disney), DeSantis’ record is firmly within the range of normal Republican politics. Sure, there will be targets the Democrats can shoot at, but those are also defenses that DeSantis is well prepared to make.
People describe DeSantis as representing Trumpism without Trump, but the last part of that formulation is very important. DeSantis is more combative with the media and has leaned more into the culture war than he would have before Trump, but, ultimately, he has nothing to do with the former president.
He delivers conventional political speeches, not off-the-cuff, digressive rants to adoring fans. He lives, as far as anyone knows, the life of a good family man, with no affairs with pornstars or Playboy Playmates that need to be covered up. He will not be charged for anything. He did not deliver a vitriolic speech to a crowd that stormed into the US Capitol or any other government building as he watched from the sidelines doing nothing to stop him.
The main personal accusation against DeSantis is that he is aloof, has made few friends in Congress and may have once eaten pudding with his fingers, an allegation he denies.
That’s not a lot of material to work with. Even if DeSantis isn’t a backslapper and hits people too hard, as a general election candidate he’d be a recognizable guy – an ambitious young governor looking to make the jump to the White House like George W. Bush , Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter before him. They are all different men, with different policies, strengths and weaknesses, but there is nothing unprecedented about moving from the State House to the White House.
DeSantis or another non-Trump Republican would be in a good position to race the incumbent rather than himself. For all that Biden promised to bring normality back to the White House, his Afghan withdrawal and negligence on the border shattered any reputation for competence he had; spending levels have been off the charts; he accommodated the left flank of his party, removing positions that would have been considered extremely radical several years ago; and it is increasingly governed by legally dubious executive orders.
In short, Biden can argue that Trump is not normal, while another Republican can see and elevate him, and offer the prospect of moving on from the drama and weirdness of the Trump-Biden years.