The White House has been successful in obtaining a political present for Joe Biden’s reelection campaign, despite his hesitation and early gaffes, which looked all but impossible just a few months ago when the holiday season got underway. The West Wing’s propaganda machine may claim that the Inflation Reduction Act and the Democrats’ better-than-expected midterm performance are the well-planned outcomes of legislative achievements. Of course, that just provides a portion of the story.
Politics frequently depends on luck, as Biden has learned over the course of his 50-year career. His administration has undoubtedly benefited from the fallout from the divisive Dobbs ruling, as well as from the Republicans’ inability to stop a group of kooky candidates from undermining their chances of winning, as well as Trump’s unpopular resurgence.
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That’s politics for you, then, I guess. David Axelrod questioned Biden’s viability in the Times on the record a few months ago. The idea that an 80-year-old president will be unsuitable to run for reelection in two years for a term that would finish when he is 86 is now extremely offensive among Democratic circles in Washington. Even Jill Biden, the last arbiter, who I noted over the summer, is reportedly feeling more positive about an above-the-floor campaign, according to CNN’s Kate Bennett. In order to make a campaign tolerable for an elderly politician who needs his sleep, the White House will continue to experiment with different strategies.
So, as they like to say in this town, there is the story. But the truth is much more nuanced. First, outside of Washington, D.C., Biden’s aura as the front-runner is less revered. According to a recent CNBC poll, 57 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Americans believe that Biden should not seek re-election. According to the same survey, 61 percent of Americans believe that Trump, who has long been seen as Biden’s most likely opponent, shouldn’t run either. (At least 37% of respondents from his own party made this suggestion.) Trump’s statement comes as a Quinnipiac survey indicates that his approval rating has dropped to its lowest point in seven years.
As you can expect, this information has spread throughout state capitals and political circles in Washington, D.C. Since Trump is 76 years old, the health issue is moot, and independent voters are more likely to choose the more trustworthy candidate, this makes Biden’s ability to defeat Trump his most compelling electoral asset. What if he decides not to run against Trump? That may present an opportunity for a plethora of Democratic contenders who have their own ambitions but all seem to be waiting for someone else to take the lead.
Any seasoned operative knows that the only certainty in politics is that everything will eventually disappear. Till she wasn’t, Hillary was inescapable. Jeb used to appear unstoppable. In the summer, it almost seemed inevitable that Biden would have to consider his re-election strategy, and a Trump campaign comeback certainly seemed to be in the bag. The Mar-a-Lago search was hailed as a coronation by even establishment Republicans. However, his dismal midterm performance, his underwhelming campaign announcement, his dinners with fascists, his lack of support from allies and advisers (even Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn’t stick her neck out for the guy), his understaffed office, and the absence of any campaign events have potential challengers salivating.
It appears that voters are also clamoring for change. In a fictitious head-to-head primary contest, a recent Wall Street Journal survey put Ron DeSantis in the lead by 14 points over Trump, 52 percent to 38 percent. Democrats’ worst nightmare, I’m told, is the idea of an 80-year-old Biden running against a 44-year-old DeSantis. A consultant for a different “24-in-waiting” contender suggested that Joe Biden’s “personal stamina” is more important than his political stance. What does he have to succeed?
Notably, DeSantis has not officially declared his candidacy for president. Similar to the right, on the left, a phalanx of potential candidates is watching for the time when inevitable might become less certain. However, none have the audacity to publicly donate money to Biden. Another adviser to yet another ’24-in-waiting’ contender stated, “There is no Ted Kennedy in the party right now who is willing to primary a sitting president.”
But Biden is aware of the existence of these impatient opportunists. He is clearly seeking to create a firewall if he moves up Nevada, Georgia, and Michigan in addition to pushing for South Carolina to be the first primary on the calendar. Taking against Biden in the renegade-friendly confines of New Hampshire, where he finished fifth in 2016, would make candidates like J.B. Pritzker, Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, Phil Murphy, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg far more inclined to show their aspirations. Tom McMillen, a former U.S. congressman and administration loyalist, claimed that moving the primaries made it more difficult for an insurgent to seize power. The message is clear: “If you primary us, you have to go through South Carolina, and you will lose,” an advisor for one of those candidates in waiting warned.