December 5, 2023

Biden Looks Doomed — But Is He?

The 2024 election will be an interesting test.

Gavin Newsom is so eager to run for president that he even campaigns to insist he’s not running.

That’s what he did last week, when the California governor went on Fox News to debate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is officially in the race.

Why does a Democratic governor appear on a Republican-leaning cable channel to debate a candidate, if he’s not a candidate himself?

The devil’s in the detail: “Neither of us will be our party’s nominee in 2024,” said Newsom — with an eye peering over the horizon to 2028.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris aren’t an obstacle to Newsom’s ambitions; they’re a stepping stone.

If they lose their reelection bid next year, as polls increasingly suggest they will, Newsom’s eventual path to the White House will seem clear.

Would Democrats in 2028 choose a failed vice president like Harris as their next nominee?


And would voters want another Republican after four more years of Donald Trump?

Any Democrat would bet not.

Newsom isn’t patient; he’s shrewd. He can loyally support Biden-Harris and then reap the rewards when they fail.

So as filing deadlines for the early primaries fly by, Democrats are stuck with Biden this cycle.

Newsom’s calculations are those of other Democratic hopefuls as well.

But are they wrong?

Is there still life left in the Biden-Harris ticket?

Biden’s job-approval numbers are mired in the low 40s.

But then, so were Barack Obama’s in December 2011.

Midterm voters in 1994 and 2010 passed a harsher verdict on Presidents Clinton and Obama than voters in last year’s congressional elections did on Biden: Clinton’s Democrats lost 54 seats in the House of Representatives; Obama’s lost 63.

Under Biden, Democrats beat expectations in 2022, holding Republican gains in the House to just nine seats, even amid soaring crime and inflation.

Americans today are unhappy about the economy.

Yet inflation is coming down — even if prices aren’t — and the U.S. has weathered the post-COVID global economic environment better than almost anyone else.

Eleven months from now voters might feel much better about the economy and the president who takes credit for it.

It’s harder to imagine Biden’s liabilities in foreign policy going away.

He turned the withdrawal from Afghanistan into a national humiliation, and the course of the Ukraine war inspires no confidence in anyone.

Hawks and doves both fault Biden for his gradual extension of support for Kyiv, a strategy that’s leading to stalemate or worse.

Yet Biden follows much the same strategy in the Middle East, infuriating the left wing of his party by supporting Israel, even as he endlessly lectures the Israelis on their conduct of the war with Hamas, with the result that America seems hypocritical and impotent.

But nobody votes on foreign policy, or so the conventional wisdom says.

And if polls paint a darkening picture of Biden’s prospects against Trump, the record of the last time the two went head-to-head gives Democrats hope.

If Biden could beat Trump in 2020, what’s to stop him from doing it again?

Democrats reassure themselves that all Biden has to do is stick with what worked.

And next year they’ll have an advantage they didn’t have in 2020: momentum acquired from the abortion issue since the overturning of Roe.

Meanwhile, even if Donald Trump can avoid conviction in the countless criminal cases he’s facing, it seems he can’t suppress the urge to make his trials and travails central to his presidential campaign.

In 2016, voters could see Trump as a break from the stale orthodoxies of Washington, D.C.

In 2024, there will be no break from the relentless drama of Trump’s personal version of Court TV.

At least, that’s what Biden’s team is counting on.

The trouble with all this is that Joe Biden himself is barely a factor in these scenarios.

Biden’s campaign, and its best hopes for victory, depends on everything but the candidate’s own strengths and charm.

And that’s not simply because the other forces in play are overwhelming; it’s because Biden really is deficient in his abilities and appeal.

The 2024 election will therefore be an interesting test.

Will Americans vote about the economy, abortion and Donald Trump’s court battles — or will they vote about the merits of President Biden?

Political scientists say presidential elections are referendums on the incumbent.

If that’s the case next year, none of the Biden team’s grounds for optimism will matter.

Instead the race will already be on for 2028 — and for Gavin Newsom, it clearly is.


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