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Matthew Continetti

Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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Biden’s lukewarm campaign rollout is sign of problems ahead

Jun 01, 2023

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After months of speculation, President Joe Biden confirmed what most everyone predicted: he’s running for president in 2024. In his video announcement, Biden warned voters that their fundamental rights could be threatened by another Trump presidency. But Biden faces his own obstacles to a presidential win, starting with his age.

Straight Arrow News contributor Matthew Continetti takes a look at what Joe Biden is up against in what will surely be a tight race to the finish.

Voters not only disapprove of Biden’s job performance, they also have serious doubts about him personally. He is, at 80, the oldest president in American history. He will be 86 years old at the conclusion of a second term. This is a problem because voters see Biden as absent-minded and frail. A public that harbors doubts about Biden’s capacities won’t be making a simple choice between him and the Republican alternative next year. They instead will be choosing between Biden and his potential successor on one hand, and the Republican ticket on the other.

Making up lost ground ahead of Election Day is hard enough for an incumbent president. It’s twice as hard for an incumbent saddled with a running mate who’s become a liability. Still, Biden is considered the favorite. The reason is Trump, whose presence on the ballot in November 2024, would mobilize millions of voters who do not want to see him in the Oval Office again. Even here, though, there is cause for concern on the part of the White House. Trump has upended the world before. He could do so again.

Biden led Trump throughout the 2020 election. That is not the case today. The race is tight and it may grow tighter. Economic troubles, such as a banking crisis or recession, a Joe Manchin independent candidacy for president, legal problems for Hunter Biden, a health scare, or some other event could add to the incumbent’s burden.

Joe Biden may seem like a safe bet for reelection if you ignore his campaign rollout, lack of a message, job performance, approval ratings, running mate, and the horse race. And pay no attention when he fumbles over words and forgets where he is.

Joe Biden’s reelection campaign is fumbling. His announcement landed with a thud. His approval ratings are low, and he’s trailing Republicans, including Donald Trump. And he could face a recession as well as serious primary and third-party challengers in the months ahead. Biden doesn’t want the election to be a referendum on his job performance. He wants to present voters a choice between himself and an out-of-the-mainstream MAGA Republican, preferably Donald Trump. The strategy of drawing contrasts benefited Democrats in 2018, 2020, and 2022. It also carries risks. Recent elections have not been as clear cut as progressives imagined. A  campaign that relies on America’s Trump allergy may work once more, but if history is a guide, such a campaign will be close and unpredictable. 

 

Biden’s diminished stature complicates matters further. When he ran in 2020, Biden was a likable former vice president challenging a polarizing and unpopular incumbent. The Coronavirus pandemic allowed him to campaign from his basement in Delaware. He was sheltered from public scrutiny and had cover for his limited schedule and infrequent meetings with the press. The low profile didn’t bother him. Biden wanted Trump on center stage, driving independents, college-educated white voters and suburbanites toward the democrats waiting in the wings. Trump was happy to oblige. Biden won and Trump’s behavior during the presidential transition added to the incoming President’s political capital. Biden, however, put that capital behind some terrible investments, a broken southern border, inflationary fiscal and trade policy and withdrawal from the Middle East. His job approval rating sank underwater during the botched retreat from Afghanistan in August 2021. He hasn’t recovered. 

 

Biden starts the 2024 campaign with some of his worst approval ratings to date, nor do his ratings compare favorably with those of his predecessors. Biden might take solace in the precedent set by Ronald Reagan, who had about the same numbers as Biden at this point in his term and won reelection. Biden is no Reagan however. His average job approval rating at this point in his presidency, according to fivethirtyeight.com, is closer to Jimmy Carter’s and to Donald Trump’s than Bill Clinton’s, George W. Bush’s, and Barack Obama’s. Voters not only disapprove of Biden’s job performance, they also have serious doubts about him personally. He is at 80, the oldest president in American history. He will be 86 years old at the conclusion of a second term. This is a problem because voters see Biden as absent-minded and frail. A public that harbors doubts about Biden’s capacities won’t be making a simple choice between him and the Republican alternative next year. They instead will be choosing between Biden and his potential successor on the one hand, and the Republican ticket on the other. Making up lost ground ahead of Election Day is hard enough for an incumbent president. It’s twice as hard for an incumbent saddled with a running mate who’s become a liability. Still, Biden is considered the favorite. The reason is Trump whose presence on the ballot in November 2024 would mobilize millions of voters who do not want to see him in the Oval Office again. Even here, though, there is cause for concern on the part of the White House. Trump has upended the world before. He could do so again. Biden led Trump throughout the 2020 election. That is not the case today. The race is tight and it may grow tighter. Economic troubles such as a banking crisis or recession, a Joe Manchin independent candidacy for president, legal problems for Hunter Biden, a health scare, or some other event could add to the incumbent’s burden. Joe Biden may seem like a safe bet for reelection if you ignore his campaign rollout, lack of a message, job performance, approval ratings, running mate, and the horse race. And pay no attention when he fumbles over words and forgets where he is.

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