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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democrats Should Make It Clear America IS Better Off Than It Was Four Years Ago

We started hearing a familiar question from Republicans recently, and figured I’d answer it at New York:

What was the worst year of your life?

The answer will obviously vary, but it’s a good bet the year 2020 will rank pretty high in any list of wretched years. After all, it’s when COVID-19 arrived. The pandemic eventually took over a million lives just in America. Our economy collapsed. Schools and businesses closed, unemployment sky-rocketed, most people were isolated and terrified. As scientists struggled to figure out how the virus spread, how to keep from contracting it, and how to treat it, most Americans were hoarding hand sanitizer, paper towels, and toilet paper; avoiding door knobs, hand rails, and other shared surfaces; and obsessively cleaning their groceries and their mail.

It was indeed a time most of us would prefer to forget. And it seems the Republican Party is counting on that. As Noah Berlatsky of Public Notice points out, Republicans are now regularly trotting out Ronald Reagan’s famous 1980 debate question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?,” as though it’s a slam-dunk winner for them:

“’Are you better off today than you were four years ago?’ Rep. Elise Stefanik asked during a news conference last week. She answered her own question by saying ‘the answer is a resounding no.’ Lara Trump, the new co-chair of the Republican National Committee, said virtually the same thing to Sean Hannity on Tuesday. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott echoed that sentiment on Fox News as well, saying, ‘We have to go back to that future, 2017-2020. We want those four years one more time.’”

Seriously? All of the Trump years?

Despite the many problems with her weird, mendacious response to the State of the Union Address, Republican senator Katie Britt was smart enough not to claim 2020 as the joyous climax of four great years. Instead she asked viewers if they were “better off than they were three years ago,” dating back to Joe Biden’s first address to Congress in 2021. Ah, but that comparison, while it lends itself to the negative case against Biden, does not make the comparative case for Donald Trump’s alleged superiority. So throwing caution to the wind, Republicans will grit their teeth and ask persuadable voters to misremember 2020 as a monument to an American greatness that we have sadly lost once again.

Now it’s true that everything bad about 2020 was not attributable to Trump, and that voters may not necessarily put responsibility on him for the failure to manage a pandemic that baffled us all (though his tardiness in taking it seriously definitely cost lives and should never be forgotten). But nor is Biden responsible for all the ills of the world right now (including some maladies left to him by the Trump administration, like economic volatility and supply-chain problems). Rightly or wrongly, presidents are held responsible for nearly everything that happens on their watch; that’s the big downside to the job of being “leader of the free world,” with all its cool perks like Air Force One and Camp David. If Republicans are going to attack Biden over discontents ranging from gasoline prices to the horrors of war in Ukraine and Gaza, they’ll have to accept that the final year of that magical Trump presidency was quite the bummer. As a matter of fact, 2017 through 2019 weren’t exactly a golden era of good government, but for most Americans conditions of life were better than they became four years ago.

The GOP really needs to rethink its talking points. It takes a special kind of amnesia or insensitivity to look back at 2020 with great fondness. For most of us, the answer to the question “Are you better off than you were four years ago” is “Hell yes.”

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