WASHINGTON — Before Joe Biden opted out of running for president in 2016, one of his closest advisers laid out what a run would have looked like: rooted in “his ardent conviction that we need to fundamentally shift the balance in our economy and the political fabric to restore the ability of the middle class to get ahead”.

“An optimistic campaign. A campaign from the heart. A campaign consistent with your values, our values, and the values ​​of the American people.» Ted Kaufman wrote in 2015 about the possible candidacy of the then vice president.

After Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to win the White House, in part by eliminating disgruntled Democrats in the so-called blue wall of industrial battleground states, Biden explained to this reporter Why had I seen it coming?

He was careful not to blame Clinton, but rather the Democratic Party as a whole, saying there was an «elitism that has crept in» into his thinking that neglected what he had long seen as the Democrats’ support base, especially union voters from middle class.

“I thought we were constantly making a mistake by not talking about the fears, aspirations, concerns of middle-class people,” Biden said then. “You didn’t hear a word about that husband and wife working, making $100,000 a year, two kids, struggling and scared to death. They used to be our constituency.»

Joe Biden at the White House on October 26, 2022. File Patrick Semansky / AP

Biden set out to correct that «mistake» with his 2020 candidacy, vowing to improve the lives of «the backbone of the country, the middle class» over and over again in campaign speeches. But the election was dominated by Trump and Covid and the intersection. of the two, even as advisers credit Biden’s economic message in his rebuilding of that blue wall, having recaptured Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Interviews with more than half a dozen close advisers and aides ahead of his re-election announcement Tuesday offer insight into how Biden, now 80, sees what is likely to be his last campaign: a chance to see through a vision for the country and his party that guided his first bid for public office half a century ago.

“It’s always been important to him,” Ron Klain, Biden’s former chief of staff and longtime adviser, said in an interview about Biden’s focus on the middle class. «It was important to him in 1988. It was important to him when he ran in 2008. It was important when he was thinking about 2016. It was important to his campaign in 2020… And it’s important to him as president, most important. And it will be important for him in a second term».

Biden plans to run the campaign that Kaufman outlined in 2016 and the one that was eclipsed in 2020, those top aides and advisers said in interviews. But the video of Tuesday’s announcement made it clear that some of the other forces displacing that economic message in 2020 remain foremost, if not Trump himself, then Trumpism. Scenes from the January 6 insurrection are set against Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as Biden says «MAGA extremists» in the GOP seek to undermine the social safety net and «fundamental freedoms.»

“The question we face is whether in the coming years we will have more or less freedom. More rights or less, ”says Biden.

Unlike Biden’s 2020 pitch video, Trump is not named and only shown briefly, standing next to his main potential rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Even if 2024 isn’t a rematch of the last election, advisers have long argued that any Republican who beats Trump for the nomination will have done so by adhering to a Trump-style approach, particularly when it comes to institutions. democracies of the nation.

“I think it’s fair to say that he saved democracy,” a Biden adviser said of his 2020 victory. “In ’22, he was really put to the test, he was put to the test more than people thought at the time. And I think ’24 will be put to the test again. And the important thing is that you have to win every round.”

Biden, in the video, declares that it is time to «finish the job,» a reference to the national agenda that advisers see as key to winning the next round and for the party as a whole. For someone who has always considered himself a loyal Democrat, Biden has enjoyed challenging his party when he sees fit and challenging conventional labels such as progressive, moderate or centrist. Four years ago, when asked where he fit on the ideological spectrum, he replied that he is an «Obama-Biden Democrat.» Now, what it means to simply be a Biden Democrat is coming into sharper focus.

Aides and advisers suggest that for Biden, the 2024 race is an opportunity to show that, despite his age, his vision of the future of the Democratic Party, which is based less on ideology than on the middle-class mentality with which who grew up, is a win one for the long haul.

As he prepares for his announcement this year, Biden has sought to contrast the policies he has championed with what he portrays as the outdated approach of «limo liberals» who he said have lost touch with the concerns of people like the ones that grew up with. Too many Americans “have been left behind and treated as if they were invisible,” as she said in her State of the Union address this year, arguing that she has begun to change that with a media-oriented agenda.

“He is leading a revitalization of American manufacturing that not many people saw coming. And that’s happening everywhere,” Mike Donilon, one of his closest advisers for decades, said of Biden’s approach to government in an interview before his announcement. “A lot of that is happening [in] places that have been on hard times for a long time… and he thinks they deserve a chance.»

Incumbents, especially those with as many ominous poll numbers as Biden, are generally willing to frame the election as a bipartisan election rather than a referendum on his record. But Biden’s team believes his record only makes the partisan choice more stark, and frames his record broadly as the beginning of a reversal of the economic model Ronald Reagan ushered in four decades ago, which was still taking root the first time. time Biden ran for president. , in 1988.

«We are in a fundamental shift for what has been roughly 40+ years of economic policy in the United States. And he is leading it,» Donilon said. to an economy that helped a shrinking portion of the country and left more and more people out. And when you leave people out, leave them out for a long time, and they feel like they don’t have much of a chance, you start to lose them. And he thinks you have to convey this feeling that everyone’s in on the deal.»

Biden has already been touring the country touting that record, especially key items on his economic agenda: the CHIPS Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, and the Reducing Inflation Act, which aimed to lower prescription drug costs and allocate money to fight climate change.

“It’s a choice between a president who kept a lot of overdue promises in American life — restore life to the middle class, restore manufacturing — and probably a former president who promised a lot of those things and didn’t deliver. Klain said. “A president who did things in Washington versus a former president who brought chaos to Washington. So I think it’s a choice. I think the accomplishments validate what President Biden brings to that election.»

This may be his last campaign, but aides say Biden has never seen it that way. In any case, Kaufman said, his approach now is the same as it was in his first Senate campaign in 1972.

“One of the things we learned early on is that if you want to do something, you better do it. He has never approached a campaign any other way than what do I want to do if I get elected,” Kaufman said.

That’s why aides say Biden is likely to campaign on, among other things, parts of the Build Back Better agenda that had to be shelved to secure passage of the Cut Inflation Act, including a permanent credit extension. tax for children, a plan to provide two years of free community college and universal pre-kindergarten.

“When he ran in 2020, he thought he was putting it all on the field,” another Biden aide said. “So I don’t get the feeling that I’m looking at this as ‘my end.’ I think he sees it differently, that is, I think he thinks there are some things in motion. And he wants to see them through them.»