The dissonance between the first and second halves of Joe Biden’s landmark speech this week encapsulates a central strategic challenge he’ll face as president.
During his victory speech on Monday, following the Electoral College vote, Biden denounced more forcefully than ever before the Republican Party’s legal maneuvers to overturn his win, arguing that they constituted an effort “to wipe out the votes of more than 20 million Americans … a position so extreme, we’ve never seen it before.” Yet in the speech’s final sections, Biden pivoted to a more familiar message, promising to “turn the page” on these skirmishes and insisting that he’s “convinced we can work together for the good of the nation.”
The big question his remarks raise is whether the Republican Party that Biden described in the speech’s first half is truly open to the kind of cooperation and partnership he promised in the second.
The answer is already dividing centrists—who believe that Biden has no choice but to seek agreements with congressional Republicans—from progressives, who fear that he will sap his momentum and demoralize his coalition if he spends weeks on what could prove to be fruitless negotiations over COVID-19 relief and other subjects. The divide is not only ideological but generational too: Compared with Biden, who came of age in the more collegial Senate of the 1970s and ’80s, younger congressional Democrats forged by the unrelenting partisan warfare of the modern Congress—a group some Democrats think includes Vice President–elect Kamala Harris—are generally less optimistic about finding common cause with Republicans.