Are Democrats forfeiting the 2024 election?
In the Republican Party, Donald Trump has plenty of critics who say he can’t win next year. To test that hypothesis, a strong slate of candidates is running as an alternative to him.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott, former governors Nikki Haley and Chris Christie and the rest have their chance to convince voters they can do better.
So far, polls show Republicans sticking with Trump—and show Trump with a fair chance of beating Biden. In national surveys where he trails, Trump is often behind by just a point or two, but national polls actually underestimated Trump’s support in 2016 and 2020.
Democrats can’t take any comfort from polls that show Biden with a narrow lead. And not every poll shows Biden leading. A Harvard-Harris survey last month found Trump ahead by six points.
Yet rather than testing Biden’s viability the way Republicans are testing Trump’s, Democrats are letting Biden take the nomination by default.
He has two primary challengers, but few media outlets treat Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or Marianne Williamson seriously, and they have virtually no support from Democratic officeholders.
Biden won’t debate Kennedy or Williamson, so voters won’t find out how well he can do on a stage he doesn’t control until it’s time for him to face his general-election opponent. By then, it’ll be too late for second thoughts.
In April, only 47 percent of Democrats polled by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research said they wanted Biden to seek reelection.
If Democrats themselves aren’t enthusiastic about Biden, how optimistic can they be about getting independents to turn out for him?
Their hope is that “negative partisanship” will do their work for them. Voters don’t have to like Biden as long as they dislike the Republican enough.
Democrats know how to run an anti-Trump campaign, and they’ll adapt that strategy to remake any other Republican into Trump. If DeSantis gets the GOP nod, Democrats will say he’s a younger, more intolerant, more dangerous Trump.
If Pence gets it, Democrats will say he’s a candidate divided against himself, a man who was Trump’s collaborator before turning on him.
The scripts are easy to write—moderate Republican, conservative Republican, Trump or non-Trump, any GOP nominee will be painted in the same colors.
But Donald Trump isn’t in the White House today, and the best political science says presidential elections are referendums on the incumbent and his party.
Biden’s record and fitness to lead the country for another four years will be up for voters’ judgment no matter how they feel about the Republican Party or Trump.
About a third of registered voters polled by CNN/SSRS say they don’t want either Biden or Trump.
Come Election Day, most Americans feel they have to vote against the candidate they dislike more, which is why third-party efforts usually amount to nothing.
Yet even a tiny number of voters choosing a third-party or independent candidate in the battleground states of 2024 could swing the race.
Biden already has a rival on his left, as former Harvard professor Cornel West seeks the Green Party’s nomination.
The Green Party made the ballot in 30 states last time around and 44 in 2016.
It’s set to be on the ballot in the pivotal battlefields of Michigan and Wisconsin next year—states that went to the winner in 2016, when they were critical to Trump’s victory, and in 2020, when they switched to Biden.
Biden won Wisconsin with a little more than 20,000 votes. Even without West, the state’s at best a toss-up for him. Democrats know just how bad the numbers are, to say nothing of the enthusiasm gap.
Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have energetic true believers in the GOP: people for whom these candidates represent no compromise or second choice but the exact direction in which they want the party to move.
How many Democrats feel that way about Joe Biden?
Incumbent presidents who draw serious primary challengers tend to go down to defeat, along with their party.
As weak as Biden is, Democrats calculate he would only be weaker if he had to struggle through a primary, and anyone who beat him would be stuck with Biden’s legacy anyway.
Besides, if Biden loses, that only improves chances for congressional Democrats in the 2026 midterms—because six-year midterms are usually brutal for the incumbent’s party.
Democrats chose Biden as a reassuringly old face in the revolutionary times of 2020, a year of impeachment, COVID-19 and George Floyd riots.
They forfeited the future to run on the past, and it worked—only now the future’s catching up with them.
Democrats don’t want to lose next year, but they have to play the hand they dealt themselves.
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