Mark Hillman’s Capitol Review: What if Biden bows out?
For all the talk about President Biden’s determination to seek a second term, the case against him doing so is building. Numerous polls now show him decisively trailing former President Trump, both nationwide and in key battleground states.
Overwhelmingly Americans realize Biden is too old and no longer competent to be President. By only slightly smaller margins they feel the same about Trump.
In a recent story which attempted to portray a viable strategy for Biden’s re-election, Politico’s Jonathan Martin acknowledged: “The oldest president in history when he first took the oath, Biden will not be able to govern in the manner of previous incumbents. He simply does not have the capacity to do it, and his staff doesn’t trust him to even try, as they make clear by blocking him from the press.”
Biden doesn’t have a strong suit left to play. Americans’ disapproval of his job performance is at an all-time high (56%), in the same dubious territory as Trump’s rating during his third year in office. Disapproval of his economic policy (64%) and immigration policy (62%) are even worse.
His policy on Israel and Ukraine produce modestly better support but not within his own party where a small but highly-motivated pro-Palestinian faction makes 2024 resemble the 1968 infighting over Vietnam which drove Lyndon Johnson to abandon his re-election bid.
Biden’s ineptitude in governing and in simply playing the role of President has caused some voters who preferred him in 2020 over Trump to reconsider. Others now look more favorably on Trump’s term – by comparison to Biden’s – than they did immediately after Trump’s chaotic, ungracious, self-immolating final three months in office.
At 81, Biden’s diminished stamina and cognitive abilities will only diminish further, so it’s hard to imagine any strategy that could resuscitate his political fortunes, much less reassure Americans that he’s capable or competent. Biden’s only hope is that voters will choose frailty over Trump’s relentless narcissism.
Will Biden and his handlers soldier on toward a rematch with Donald Trump which the public would rather avoid? Those around him surely want to keep their cushy jobs and others want to preserve the gravy-train of dubious payments from foreign influencers to members of the Biden family.
However, Democrat strategists want to win.
Whether Biden’s inner-circle seeks to spare him the humiliation of losing to Trump, or party powerbrokers tell him to stand down (much as they cleared the field for him in 2020), or his frailty becomes too obvious for even the media to ignore, much can happen before the Democratic National Convention next August.
If Biden steps aside late in the process after Trump has outlasted his challengers, Democrats could pivot to a fresh face leaving Republicans flat-footed, stuck with a backward-looking vengeance campaign. By re-nominating Trump, Republicans leave themselves vulnerable to just such a maneuver and would suffer accordingly.
Voters want to avoid another Grumpy Old Men election as fiercely as they want to avoid a root canal. Neither Biden nor Trump compare well to others. Yet our political parties are slouching toward institutional failure, plunging us toward a third consecutive election in which voters must choose whom they hate less.
One of our tone-deaf parties backs the incumbent because they desperately want to hold on to power. The other tone-deaf party backs the former incumbent out of some misshapen sense of loyalty to a man who shows loyalty to no one else.
Winners of such elections are doomed to fail. To persuadable voters, Trump looked better than Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Biden looked better than Trump in 2020. But voters expect more from their President than simply being the lesser of evils. They expect a President to govern responsibly so America will be stronger and safer, not just in four years but also in forty.
Mark Hillman served as Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer.