The 2024 campaign for president started in earnest last week, as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decided not to run, Sen. Tim Scott launched an exploratory committee to run and former President Donald Trump went negative on Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is not yet running.
For whatever reason, Team Trump decided that now would be an optimal moment to launch an attack on Mr. DeSantis for having the temerity to question the underlying economic assumptions about Social Security, Medicare, and the (current) retirement age. For those who may have lost the thread, Medicare is projected to be insolvent in five years; Social Security might make it to 2033 before becoming insolvent.
So, some concern is probably in order.
Let’s leave aside the very real questions of increased government spending under Mr. Trump’s watch, or his own lack of attention to the looming problems in Social Security and other entitlements, or that he started and helped spread the COVID lockdowns which exacerbated both problems.
The larger lesson from the unfortunate and ill-timed attack is that this campaign is likely to be dominated by negativity. The Republican frontrunner is all about his personal grievances with the process, with the opposition, and even with his fellow Republicans who he views as insufficiently supportive of him.
Hence, the attack on Mr. DeSantis.
The Democratic frontrunner is no better. He prefers to emphasize mostly mythical threats to democracy from the right, while ignoring actual threats to democracy posed by the actions of governmental institutions (think the FBI) or by the actions of his own family members.
If money from communist China did filter into the Biden family or its allies — through whatever mechanism, including the Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania — it is safe to say that most Americans would consider that a clear and present danger to our nation.
The general rancor of the two senescent, overripe frontrunners is emblematic of what is likely to be the pervasive problem of this campaign — its relentlessly destructive tone.
Most Americans are aspirational. They want good things for themselves, their families, and their country.
As importantly, they want to do good things, and their families to do good things, and their country to do good things. In short, even at this late date in the Republic, most people want to live consequential, meaningful and happy lives that help improve the lives of others as well.
Most Americans are also optimistic. For good or ill, we are a nation about the future, which means that optimism and confidence are defining national characteristics.
Americans either believe or want to believe what former President Ronald Reagan once said: “I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.”
As recently as 10 years ago, most national politicians understood this fundamental fact about voters. Whether you cared for their particular policies or not, former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Reagan and even George W. Bush understood that they needed to appeal to the aspirational, optimistic nature of Americans.
In this cycle, while Sen. Scott and Vivek Ramaswamy are going to try to capture some of that, the unhappy truth is that every campaign seems to be prepared to list towards the negative.
The candidates, especially the frontrunners, need to do a better job of explaining their positive and optimistic vision for a nation and a people who have been triumphed over much worse than our current moment and whose best days remain ahead.
The voters deserve that vision, and the nation absolutely requires it.
Content created by Michael McKenna
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