In March of 2019, I wrote a piece for The Hill on why 2020 might just be Joe Biden’s time. At that point — early in the primary season — many had written him off. Now, as we approach the 2022 elections and polls and pundits are once again writing off Joe Biden, my advice is — be careful, be very careful.
Here are 10 reasons why, once again, I urge the chattering class not to count Biden out, should he decide to run.
Reason #1: Low presidential poll numbers in the off year are notoriously unreliable predictors. Just look at 1982, 1994, 2010. Here is the headline from the New York Times from August 19, 1982: “Approval Rating for Reagan is Lowest Ever in Gallup Poll.” Reagan’s job approval rating was a dismal 41 percent — and yet two years later, Reagan carried 49 states against Walter Mondale.
Bill Clinton was in desperate shape in late August of 1994, when his popularity was at 39 percent. Democrats lost the House for the first time since the 1950s, shedding 54 seats, while losing eight Senate seats. In 1996, Clinton came back to defeat Bob Dole by nearly 10 points.
In August of 2010 this was the headline from Reuters: Obama Poll Slide Mirrors Reagan’s 1982 Midterm Woes. Obama’s job performance number stood at 43 percent, Democrats lost 64 House seats in 2010, and yet Obama dispatched Mitt Romney fairly easily, winning 332 electoral votes two years later.
Thus, projecting the outcome of the 2024 presidential election based on what we are seeing today is risky business indeed.
Reason #2: The likely Republican nominee is Donald Trump. Of course, we said he was the easiest to beat in 2016, but now we really mean it. Yet for Biden, who beat Trump once, he should be able to beat him twice. Trump’s negatives are still through the roof, legal troubles abound, his ego runs wild and now he will have Liz Cheney and others nipping at his heels. Plus, there is also the age factor; he is not much younger than Biden.
Reason #3: Critically important: the economy is improving, inflation is coming down, jobs are plentiful, and salaries are increasing, especially for low- and middle-income Americans. Consumer confidence is likely to rise, and — just as in the case of Reagan, Clinton and Obama — voters are likely to feel “they are better off” as we head into the presidential election year. As Democratic policies improve economic prospects for Hispanic and African American voters, their turnout and support will be crucial in key swing states.
Reason #4: Social issues begin to work for Democrats and Biden. Republicans will increasingly be on the defensive on abortion, gun control, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights. The fear of the far right will motivate and sway not only younger voters, but also many older Americans who can remember life before Roe, even life when interracial marriages were illegal (pre-1968) and when gay marriage was prohibited. Once again, the prospect of turning the clock back will not sit well with suburban and ex-urban voters either.
Reason #5: Biden’s advantage — Debates. Although it is possible that there will not be presidential debates, they do almost always happen. Trump is huffing and puffing, but it is hard to imagine that there will be an empty stage. First, Trump’s ego won’t allow it, and second, his advisors will convince him to agree. Biden will be increasingly confident and in control; Trump will be lucky to have read the morning papers. Watching FOX News won’t cut it. Trump has always been ignorant of policy issues, and this year will be no different. It will remind voters of what an empty suit Trump has always been.
Reason #6: Trump’s MAGA playlist is old and tired; Biden is getting things done. The comparison between Biden as solid, competent, delivering on his promises and Trump’s blowhard rhetoric will be clear and convincing. Who delivered on roads, bridges and broadband? Who brought us out of the pandemic? Who moved us forward on climate change? Who got the economy moving again? Not the carnival barker; rather, the experienced leader with an experienced team.
Reason #7: More and more and more legal troubles for Trump. After all, how many presidents plead the fifth over 400 times, with more to come? How many members of his clown-car legal team end up in courtrooms? How many investigations can they all endure? From personal taxes, to conflicts of interest, to shady pardons, to undermining national security and hoarding documents … the list goes on and on. And why would we think Trump is going to change in the next two years?
Reason #8: The Jan. 6 investigation is a serious problem. When the House Select Committee hearings began, many were not sure where it was headed and how long and in-depth it would be. This is like peeling back the onion. Trump looks worse and worse, and the far-right Republicans can’t ignore it or explain it away. When you have America’s generals opening up to reporters, more close White House aides telling the truth, and revelations taking all this to Trump’s door, it makes Watergate look like child’s play.
Reason #9: Watch the independents and some moderate/conservative Republicans. There is no question that most Americans are pretty locked in to their political preferences; however, there are clearly persuadable voters, less interested voters and those that move, especially with high turnout elections like we had in 2020. Winning by 7 million votes isn’t exactly chump change, and 2024 may see critical states where Biden increases his narrow lead because he gains support from independents and some Republicans who can’t force themselves to back Trump. And, in the case of Republicans, it won’t take that many!Trump may not be able to control the narrative this timeWhat if Gorbachev had been president of the United States?
Reason #10: Finally, there’s the spoiled child syndrome. Let’s face it: Throwing his lunch and ketchup against the wall, really? The constant tantrums? More and more people close to Trump admit they were forced to deal with a man-boy, with a toddler mentality, who constantly needs diversions, cajoling and convincing. Trump defiled the presidency. Do we want to go through all this again?
The contrast between a Joe Biden Presidency and a Donald Trump Presidency could not be more clear. A re-match between these two would bring that to full flood-light. Just like four years ago, don’t count Joe Biden out.
Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. He serves on the board of the Frank Church Institute. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.