Do Democrats really seem focused on reassuring America’s cul-de-sacs?
NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE
ow badly does Joe Biden want to win the suburbs?
Despite the perception that Donald Trump is toxic among suburbanites, the 2016 exit polls showed the president narrowly won suburban voters, 49 percent to 45 percent. But it did not take long for Trump’s style to alienate suburban white-collar voters, particularly women, and suburban districts formed the backbone of the Democratic gains in the 2018 midterms.
Up until very recently, it appeared that Biden was on course to crush President Trump among suburban voters. CNN noted that Biden was earning record support for a Democrat among self-identified suburban voters. An assessment by Third Way concluded that Democratic candidates were on track to win suburban voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and were close to a majority in Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
But there are a few ominous signs. For starters, the suburbs may be growing much more skeptical about the Black Lives Matter movement and protests. The Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin residents found,
in June approval of protests was widespread, with 61 percent approving of the protests and 36 percent disapproving. Approval declined in August with 48 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving. . . . Suburban areas, which were substantially net positive in June, became net negative on approval in August, though not as negative as exurban, small towns or rural areas.
Just days after Biden’s running-mate choice and convention received mostly positive reviews, critics of Trump are publicly worrying that Biden could blow it. New York Times correspondents in Kenosha “spotlighted some voters who were less sure of their choice said the chaos in their city and the inability of elected leaders to stop it were currently nudging them toward the Republicans. And some Democrats, nervous about condemning the looting because they said they understood the rage behind it, worried that what was happening in their town might backfire and aid the president’s re-election prospects.” (Trump narrowly won Kenosha County in 2016, 47.2 percent to 46.9 percent.)
It’s not just the riots in cities that should have the Biden campaign checking how solid their support in the suburbs is. Lots of young families move to the suburbs for better public schools. For parents across the country, the questions of when and how children should return to classrooms are a preeminent concern. Just about everyone across the political spectrum recognizes that large chunks of the American workforce can’t return to anything resembling pre-pandemic work schedules until the kids are out of the home and back in a classroom environment.
The Biden “plan” to reopen schools — which cannot take effect until after he would take office on January 20 — are all proposals for funding programs, a process that never runs quickly or smoothly. “Scale-up National Institutes of Health-funded COVID-19 pediatric research partnerships.” “Build a Safer Schools Best Practices Clearinghouse.” “Provide funds for child care providers and schools — particularly Title I schools — to cover costs, including personal protective equipment and enhanced sanitation efforts.”
Maybe a Biden administration could enact these funding proposals with a friendly Congress by February or March, and maybe, best case scenario, the funding could start arriving in schools in April or May. In other words, Biden’s plan to “reopen schools and child-care programs” would start to take effect near the end of the school year — and, God willing, on the tail end of when Americans are receiving a coronavirus vaccine. Biden also wants to help cover the costs of altering classrooms; the federal funding is likely to arrive right after the schools need it.
Meanwhile, any parent with eyes can see that teachers’ unions, a stalwart Democratic Party ally, are among the loudest and most influential opponents of opening schools. As a New York Times headline earlier this summer summarized, “Unions are threatening to strike if classrooms reopen, but are also pushing to limit live remote teaching” — leaving the question of just what form of teaching the unions are willing to do. Most American parents love their children’s teachers — but they’re increasingly infuriated by school districts that have effectively forced them into homeschooling, often along with haphazard, confusing distance learning programs. Confusion in March, with the pandemic striking like a lightning bolt, is one thing. Confusion in September, many months into the pandemic, is less forgivable. Joe Biden isn’t responsible for the decisions of local boards of education — but he may not seem like much of a force to alleviate the stresses on working parents.
Maybe Biden impressed some suburbanites when he declared on August 23, in an interview with ABC News, that if both the flu and the coronavirus were spreading rapidly, he would be willing to shut down the country again like in spring: “I would be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives. We cannot get the country moving until we control the virus.” Still, it’s hard to imagine any Americans are particularly enthusiastic about this prospect. The “two weeks to bend the curve” in the spring turned into six weeks of fairly stringent lockdowns across the country, whether a county had many cases or only a few cases. The economic consequences were the worst since the Great Depression. And the lockdown had its own health consequences — missed immunizations, delayed cancer treatments and other “elective” procedures, spiking rates of depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and reports of suicidal thoughts. The Biden camp’s best argument is that their man is willing to make a painful call to serve the greater good. But some voters may not get past the word “painful.”
Biden’s signature response on the pandemic, a national mandate requiring the wearing of masks everywhere, including outside, sounds bold, but is effectively toothless. Kamala Harris clarified, “It’s really a standard. I mean, nobody’s gonna be punished.” Suburbanites might look at the prospect of a President Biden urging governors to mandate the wearing of masks everywhere with dread. We’ve been fighting about masks since March. Many people have encountered either some guy who refuses to wear a mask, convinced he knows better than every medical authority on the planet because of what he read on Facebook, or some nattering nag who relishes the prospect of public confronting someone because that person’s mask doesn’t meet her ideal specifications. The prospect of a Biden administration declaring the mask policy for every corner of America sounds like pouring gasoline on another cultural brushfire that seems to bring out the worst in people.
Will this be enough to get suburbanites to vote for Trump? Who knows, it’s a heavy lift. Trump finds his own ways to alienate the minivan-driving soccer moms in the cul-de-sacs who just want the federal government to run smoothly and for everyone to be nice. But Biden cruised through the Democratic primaries as the embodiment of a return to normalcy. He needs the rest of the Democratic Party and its traditional allies to not botch his sales pitch, and leave the impression that a Biden presidency would represent trading one form of chaos for another.