Er … how reassuring could this possibly be?
Joe Biden’s job approval took a southward turn in August during the withdrawal from Afghanistan and never turned back. As I warned after Biden’s disgraceful abandonment of Americans to the Taliban, that event created a catalyst for a confidence-crisis cascade and redefined Biden in the public eye. Instead of an empathetic eminence grise oriented to the center, the botched withdrawal and the lies around it — plus his idiotic decision to turn himself into FDR and LBJ with an evenly split Congress — redefined him as an extremist, incompetent kook.
With job approval numbers like this even with the national media doing its level best to carry Biden’s water, Democrats could be excused for hoping Biden retires in 2024. Instead, the Washington Post reports today that Biden has “reassured allies” that he plans to run for a second term:
President Biden and members of his inner circle have reassured allies in recent days that he plans to run for reelection in 2024, as they take steps to deflect concern about the 79-year-old president’s commitment to another campaign and growing Democratic fears of a coming Republican return to power.
The efforts come as the broader Democratic community has become increasingly anxious after a bruising six-month stretch that has seen Biden’s national approval rating plummet more than a dozen points, into the low 40s, amid growing concerns about inflation, Democratic infighting in Washington and faltering public health efforts to move beyond the covid-19 pandemic.
The message is aimed in part at tamping down the assumption among many Democrats that Biden may not seek reelection given his age and waning popularity, while also effectively freezing the field for Vice President Harris and other potential presidential hopefuls.
Of course, two questions emerge from this. First, just how many “allies” does Biden still have? And second, how “reassured” are Democratic non-allies in hearing that Biden will stumble through another primary season?
For allies, the Post’s reporter quotes Chris Dodd and Ed Rendell, neither of whom have been active in electoral politics for years. On the other side, 28 anonymous Democrats don’t sound “reassured” at all, and don’t even really believe Biden:
Some Democrats take a skeptical view of any public and private signals Biden and his team send about reelection, reasoning that there is an incentive for them to project interest in a second term, regardless of his true intent, to avoid weakening his standing. Another presidential bid, others worry, would involve a much more rigorous schedule than the relatively calm 2020 campaign, which was largely conducted remotely because of the covid-19 pandemic.
Even among those in close touch with Biden’s innermost circle, interpretations about his intentions vary. One Democrat involved in campaigns said they couldn’t think of a single person they had spoken to in the last month who considers the possibility of Biden running again to be a real one.
Bear in mind that Biden has only just completed his tenth month in office … in a 48-month term. What is he supposed to say — that he’s already done? His approval numbers have already tanked, and that makes it difficult enough to get allies to fall in line behind his strategy. If Biden turned himself into a lame-duck president before finishing his first year in office, he could kiss his influence over the next three years good-bye.
Dodd and Rendell aside (where they largely live anyway), the most difficult problem this presents is conceiving what a Biden 2024 campaign would look like. The “relatively calm” schedule Biden ran was enabled by Donald Trump’s incumbency and the chaos he stoked. Biden can’t expect to run another front-porch (or basement) campaign in 2024 as an incumbent, certainly not with the polling floor falling out below his feet. He’d have to hit the campaign trail as an 81-year-old incumbent, one who has lots of problems with his memory and even more with honesty. Even now at the White House, they’re still calling mid-afternoon lids. What will it be like on the 2024 campaign trail?
Or for that matter on the 2023 campaign trail? That leads us to a third question: does a Biden run actually freeze the field? Jimmy Carter’s confidence-crisis cascade prompted a major primary challenge in the 1980 cycle from Ted Kennedy, recall, and that was launched at almost the same time that the Iranian hostage crisis began in early November 1979. Carter had hit his low Gallup polling months earlier than that, in June 1979 with a 28%. Biden’s not that low yet, but he’s heading in that direction and giving no indication that his approval ratings are either hitting a floor or rebounding.
In these circumstances, especially with Biden’s competence issues in play, a primary challenge is not out of the question. In fact, it might be very likely, and not necessarily from Biden’s left. Biden clearly wants to head that off with this claim to be gearing up for a second-term fight, but his incompetence in office can only encourage would-be primary challengers to assume he’d be equally incompetent in a primary campaign, too.
Biden won the last primary more or less by default against a field of unimpressive progressives. If a moderate outside of Washington decided to take Biden on — Steve Bullock of Montana comes to mind — he might make minced meat out of Biden and force the incumbent to become LBJ in a completely different way than Biden anticipated.
The bottom line is that Democrats shouldn’t be “reassured” about anything, least of all their 2024 prospects, if Biden decides to run for a second term. They should be drafting someone now to keep from having to compound their 2020 dishonesty in being forced into yet another “Of course he’s competent despite your lyin’ eyes” campaign in the 2024 general election.