The ‘Blood Bath’ Battle and the Electric Car War

If you believe President Biden’s aides and allies, he intends to fight the 2024 election primarily on the threat that Donald Trump poses to American democracy. In their view, this worked in 2020, when Biden promised to protect the “soul of the nation” from Trump’s depredations, and again in the 2022 midterms, when Biden made the threat to democracy his closing argument and Democrats then overperformed. So there’s no reason it can’t work just one more time.

By the time November rolls around, Biden’s longtime adviser Mike Donilon told The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos recently, “the focus will become overwhelming on democracy. I think the biggest images in people’s minds are going to be of Jan. 6.”

I have been unsure how seriously we should take this kind of talk. Biden’s argument about democratic norms did seem to pay off in some key races in 2022, but I’m less convinced that it made the difference in 2020, at least relative to Biden’s promise to be a steady hand and his reputation for ideological moderation. And either way, 2024 is a different context still, in which Biden appears to be struggling most with disaffected working-class voters, a constituency that you would expect to respond more strongly to material appeals than to high-minded arguments about civics.

To the extent that the White House knows this, we should probably take quotes like Donilon’s with a grain of salt. Maybe he was just dispatched to manage Biden’s liberal base, to preach the gospel of anti-Trumpism to a liberal publication’s readers while someone else gets to work on the more traditional economic appeals to swing voters.

But the past week has given us a good illustration of what it would look like if the White House fully believed in Donilon’s argument, and regarded its invocations of Jan. 6 as a potent alternative to the usual forms of outreach and moderation.

First you had the zeal with which the president’s campaign latched onto Trump’s comments, at an Ohio rally, about the “blood bath” that would supposedly follow Biden’s re-election. In context, the term “blood bath” definitely referred to a predicted collapse of the U.S. auto industry if Biden gets another term, and arguably predicted some form of general chaos or disaster. But it was immediately elevated and interpreted by Biden (or his social media ghostwriter) as proof that Trump “wants another Jan. 6.”

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