How Biden Can Win: Learn from Reagan

21 Jul 2020  

I recently posted an article explaining how Trump might win in November. The key move would be to portray Joe Biden as sympathetic to rioters and looters and hostile to the police. A law and order campaign would likely resonate with voters and give Trump critical momentum.

Joe Biden needs to take a different approach. In some ways he has an easier task; Biden can win by simply copying Ronald Reagan.

Reagan’s Decisive Line

In the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan challenged President Jimmy Carter. The race was close in the final days.

The candidates held just one debate, a week before the election. Reagan wrapped up his pitch with a simple and now famous question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” He developed the line of thinking with more specific questions. “Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four year ago?” He continued, “Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?” You can watch it here.

Reagan than explained that if people thought they were indeed better off, then the choice was clear. He continued, “If you don’t think this course that we’ve been on for that last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four than I suggest another choice.”

In the election a week later, Reagan captured an enormous victory.

Biden’s Opportunity

Joe Biden can take the same tack this year. It certainly looks like things will not be in great shape in November. Schools may be closed, the economy will probably be staggering along fueled by government subsidies, and while the virus may be checked (hopefully!) many people will still be fearful.

All Biden has to do is used Reagan’s exact words, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

He can then expand on the question, as Reagan did. He can ask, “Do you feel safer? Are there more jobs? Is the U.S. more respected in the world? Are our enemies in check? Is the environment better? Is crime down? Are people healthier? Is drug use down? Is life expectancy up?”

The beauty of this approach is that Biden can rise above the details. He doesn’t have to explain how exactly he would reform healthcare, or deal with racial injustice, or reopen schools. He simply has to note that the country is in terrible shape and Trump has nothing dramatically new to offer.

He also doesn’t have to attack Trump. I suspect it is tempting to go after Trump’s character, style and approach, but this is not a winning path. In the last election, people elected Trump knowing he was crude, brash and objectionable. Biden won’t win with commentary on Trump’s style.

Biden simply has to ask a question.


If the approach is clear, the execution plan isn’t. When should Biden deploy the key line? If he rolls it out too early, it will lose its impact. Repeating the same thing again and again won’t capture people’s interest.

One approach would be to introduce the idea during the convention, and then develop the concept in creative ways throughout the fall. Perhaps there is a social media angle. Perhaps Biden can leverage celebrities.

Another approach would be to try to replicate Reagan’s complete approach and roll out the line at the closing of a debate. If Biden wanted to completely copy Reagan, he would schedule a debate for a week or so before the election. And the closing, the final words, would echo Reagan. He could mention Reagan by name, reaching across the aisle.

I think this is the way to go.

The idea that a Democratic candidate would use the name and words of one of the great Republican presidents to win an election is striking. And it would be hopeful, too. Perhaps we can come together after all to get the country on the right track.

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