President Biden has announced he is seeking reelection, exactly four years after he started his successful campaign for the presidential election of 2020.
Viewed through one political lens, his bid for re-election is extremely weak, he is a lackluster candidate, his approval ratings at this time in his presidency are the second lowest of any president in the last 70 years, 70% of Americans including a 51% majority of Democrats do not want him to run for re-election (NBC News poll), the country is still suffering from the tail end of the COVID pandemic and beset by the worse inflation in 40 years with the Federal Reserve continuing to increase interest rates and of course his age, saddling him with the enormous burden of being viewed by a huge majority of Americans as beyond the age they want for a President. Biden himself indicated in 2019 that in view of his age he would serve only one term as President.
What has led him to change his mind, to run again? Of course, I do not know his inner thoughts, but I am personally convinced that there is one single overwhelming reason why he has decided to run: the threat that Donald Trump might win reelection, the enormous danger he believes that represents for the country and the conviction that he is the only Democratic candidate capable of beating Trump, just as he did in 2020. And in this specific conclusion, most Democrats, even if they are not enthusiastic about this candidate, agree with him, and will give him their support in his campaign against Donald Trump.
Is Biden’s assessment correct, that he will run against Trump and that he can beat him?
Biden as the Democratic Candidate
Only once in US history has a first-term President who ran for re-election not been given his Party’s nomination (Franklin Pierce); US political Parties do not turn against incumbents; so long as he stays in good health, Biden will easily win the Democratic presidential nomination for 2024. In earlier articles, I have already stated my opinion that so long as he stays healthy, Trump will be the Republican candidate.
A Biden-Trump Rematch:
This feels like an unwanted serial of a second-rate American movie. About the same 70% of Americans don’t want either Trump or Biden to run again, it is one of the few subjects where Republicans and Democrats agree, yet in my view the rematch is inevitable. We should remember that Biden barely won in 2020, had only 43,000 persons voted for Trump rather than Biden in three crucial states, Trump would have won the election. I think the 2024 election will also be extremely close, very difficult to predict. But there are many differences with 2020. In what ways is Biden a weaker candidate, or a stronger candidate, than in 2020?
According to Gallup, 53% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Biden four years ago with 35% who disapproved. The figures are reversed today, 56% disapprove of the job he is doing, with 40% approving. Of course, approval ratings more than a year and a half before an election are not very meaningful, and it may be that Biden’s approval ratings will improve if inflation fades and he shows forceful leadership, for example in dealing with the impeding debt limit crisis pitting him against Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, an important event that represents both a risk and an opportunity for Biden, but irrespective of these outcomes, he is starting from a very low approval level.
82 years old in 2024
At 80 Biden is already the oldest serving president in US history and he would be 86 years old by the end of his potential second term. In response to criticism about his age, Biden responded in a recent interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper: “Well, they’re concerned about whether or not I can get anything done. Look what I’ve gotten done. Name me a president in recent history that’s gotten done as much as I have in their first two years.” A US presidential campaign is brutal. Will Biden have the energy to face the always-brimming-with-energy Trump, or will the campaign show that he is really too old for the job? Biden’s age is his greatest weakness.
Difficulty with Democratic Base
The coalition that allowed Biden to (barely) win in 2020 included strong Democratic showing among non-white, young and low-income voters, all three categories view Biden less favorably today than they did in 2020. His positions on immigration and crime, similar to those of his predecessor, have frustrated many voters in these groups. Will he be able to regain their trust? We really do not know, much will depend on economic trends and on just how much the fear of a Trump victory will impact them.
Biden has confirmed he will run with Kamala Harris as his Vice-President. In 2020, many Democrats were enthusiastic about Biden’s choice of Vice-President, they hoped she could be a rising star in the Democratic Party. She has been a disappointment, is hardly present on the forefront of the political agenda, and the Republican Party will no doubt take advantage of her lack of popularity, combined with Biden’s age, to attack what they will portray as a major weakness in the Democratic ticket.
Positive Legislative Record
Biden has a successful record he can present, he has accomplished a number of objectives that Trump had proposed but was unable to deliver, for example passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill and lowering prescription drug prices. He has passed four massive spending bills, two with bipartisan support, including introducing a new industrial policy to strengthen domestic production of semiconductors and launching numerous initiatives to combat climate change, with many of these projects expected to create a large number of middle class jobs. Benefitting from the opportunity of mobilizing support for Ukraine, he has also largely repaired the relationship with allies who had been snubbed by Trump. But in spite of these considerable successes, Biden suffers from a historic Democratic weakness to sell their accomplishments, the majority of Americans continue to consider Biden has not done a good job with the economy. Can he change this perception during his campaign? It is far from certain.
Democrats consider the Republican Party is out of touch with majority opinion in the US on many issues of importance to Americans: abortion, gun control, taxing the rich, identity issues, they will no doubt seek political gain from this, as they did successful on the subject of abortion in the 2022 Midterms.
Republican Electoral College Advantage
The structure of the US Electoral College System currently gives an advantage to Republicans. Biden won 4.4% more of the popular vote in 2020, but barely won the Electoral College vote. Biden’s projected lead in national polls does not augur well for his chances to beat his predecessor in the only vote that counts, the Electoral College.
Only one president who lost one election came back to win another, Grover Cleveland, suggesting history is not a favorable indicator for Trump‘s quest to seek reelection, whereas incumbents almost always win reelection, providing a strong favorable bias for Biden. Since the beginning of the 20th Century only two incumbents have not won reelection in US presidential elections.
Trump is also weaker than in 2020
Trump no longer holds the reins of presidential power that he had in 2020 and he has countless judicial problems, having already received one indictment and almost certainly going to receive more. Although the indictments have strengthened Trump’s hold on Republican voters, many believe they will alienate the swing voters he needs to win the presidential election. Numerous Republicans consider Trump has lost the last three elections, they are just as tepid about his candidacy as are Democrats about Biden.
Trump’s threat to US democracy
It is troubling to perceive that the same motivation that led Biden to run against Trump in 2020, the threat the ex-President poses to US democracy, is even more present for the election in 2024. Will Biden’s electoral position as the defender of democracy against an opponent who has rejected election outcomes provide a stronger argument in 2024 than in 2020? It is much too early to tell. We can observe that pollsters, and the Democratic Party, have repeatedly underestimated Trump’s ability to attract voters, any suggestion that Biden will win easily would in my view be a serious mistake. But we can also note that Biden has often been underestimated. In contrast to 2020, the 2024 election may be seen as two candidates who are both disliked.
Fear and hatred of Trump: Is the hatred or fear of Trump sufficient to carry Biden to victory in November 2024? It seems that will remain the central question in 2024.