Behind the Scenes, Democrats Are Freaking Out About Joe Biden

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

No one wants to be on the record stating the obvious but Democrats are truly worried that Joe Biden is doomed. Nothing they have tried to turn him into a winner in time for this election has worked. It's starting to dawn on them that they aren't going to turn this one around with a clever new ad campaign. But again, no one wants to say it out loud.

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All year, Democrats had been on a joyless and exhausting grind through the 2024 election. But now, nearly five months from the election, anxiety has morphed into palpable trepidation, according to more than a dozen party leaders and operatives. And the gap between what Democrats will say on TV or in print, and what they’ll text their friends, has only grown as worries have surged about Biden’s prospects.

“You don’t want to be that guy who is on the record saying we’re doomed, or the campaign’s bad or Biden’s making mistakes. Nobody wants to be that guy,” said a Democratic operative in close touch with the White House and granted anonymity to speak freely.

But Biden’s stubbornly poor polling and the stakes of the election “are creating the freakout,” he said.

One thing freaking Democrats out is that, for the first time this year, even Biden's edge on fundraising has failed. As I pointed out here last week, Trump's fundraising went up to $76 million in April while Biden's dropped and came in at $50 million. Of course there were reasons for this. Trump had one huge event that brought in a lot of money and Biden was coming off a huge fundraising month in March. But excuses aside, it was the first time Trump had outraised Biden.

Today's story suggests that part of the reason Biden struggled with fundraising last month is that the people who advise the big donors about where to put their money are starting to think Biden is a bad bet.

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One adviser to major Democratic Party donors provided a running list that has been shared with funders of nearly two dozen reasons why Biden could lose, ranging from immigration and high inflation to the president’s age, the unpopularity of Vice President Kamala Harris and the presence of third-party candidates like Robert F. Kennedy Jr...

The adviser added, “The list of why we ‘could’ win is so small I don’t even need to keep the list on my phone.”

There are still a lot of Democrats counting on the Dobbs decision to keep this race competitive. No doubt there are a lot of progressive women for whom that ranks as a top issue, but as I've pointed out before abortion is still legal in the blue states where most of those voters live. In New York or California the motivations to make this a central issue is either about other states or about the threat of a national ban which is mostly theoretical at this point. The beauty of Dobbs is that abortion just isn't the national issue that it was. It's a state issue now. 

Meanwhile, the cost of groceries are still up in most places thanks to inflation. That's an actual problem for a lot of people as opposed to a theoretical one. Analysis of where prices are up the most suggests the progressive west coast is getting hit harder than the battleground states. Still, when you combine that with California also having the highest cost per gallon of gasoline, the golden state feels like an object lesson in how not to do it rather than a shining city on a hill.

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And on top of the inflation fallout, Biden is also dealing with a lot of younger voters who seem completely turned off by him. Whether that's solely because of his age or also because of his policy toward Israel is unclear but he can't count on the youth vote at this point. Even more striking, he may not be able to count on the minority vote. Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine told Politico "The number of people in New York, including people of color that I come across who are saying positive things about Trump, is alarming."

So we're at the stage now where there may be some perfect combination of appeals to these various constituencies which will bring them home but if so the Biden administration hasn't found it with just 5 months to go before the election.

“There’s still a path to win this, but they don’t look like a campaign that’s embarking on that path right now,” said Pete Giangreco, a longtime Democratic strategist who’s worked on multiple presidential campaigns. “If the frame of this race is, ‘What was better, the 3.5 years under Biden or four years under Trump,’ we lose that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”

There's an old saying that it's always darkest before the dawn. I don't know if the Biden camp is going to see the sun rise on their efforts but I wouldn't assume this is over. Five months is a really long time in politics. Things could get better for team Biden at any moment for reasons that aren't exactly clear. It could happen though nothing I've seen so far this year suggests it will.

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A lot of people seem to have made up their mind about Biden, about his age and about his running mate. In short it's probably too late to change the things that have put his polling in the dumpster.

But that doesn't mean things can't get worse for him. We may be looking at the ceiling of his support not the floor. There could be protests at the convention that turn it into a sideshow. There could be some other issue which makes the Biden administration look ill prepared on the world stage (again). However much the Democrats are panicking behind the scenes right now, they probably aren't panicking enough.

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John Stossel 1:00 PM | June 15, 2024
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