The conventional wisdom among much of the political class is that nominating Donald Trump would be pretty close to a surefire disaster for the GOP in 2024. Granted, I’ve written multiple times about why I believe putting Trump at the top of the ticket would be a reckless gamble for Republicans, noting Trump’s drag on the party in multiple consecutive election cycles — in which some of the most notable victories were won by conservatives who successfully differentiated their own political brands from Trump’s. I continue to believe that a general election cycle dominated by the former president’s backward-looking grievances, amid dozens of felony charges, would needlessly jeopardize the GOP’s chances at winning, which should at least theoretically be pretty strong. Most Americans are searching for an alternative to President Biden, but Trump may be one of the few figures on the national stage who is less popular among the key independents and swing voters who decide our elections in a handful of states. A ‘generic Republican’ would likely defeat Biden, perhaps decisively. Donald Trump, for better or worse, is anything but a generic Republican.
Given all Trump’s baggage, egregious favorability numbers, and legal peril, shouldn’t Biden be leading him somewhat comfortably — despite the incumbent’s shortcomings and vulnerabilities? Polling continues to show a tight hypothetical race, with the GOP slightly ahead on the Congressional ballot. Some are dismissing the numbers as overly rosy for Trump, arguing that once his criminal trials are underway, and after he secures the nomination, Democrats are poised to unload an avalanche of devastating and heavily-funded attacks against him. These will be directed like heat-seeking missiles at the very Trump-hostile voters who helped defeat him last time, and who allowed the Democrats to avert a midterm shellacking in 2022. For all his problems, the thinking goes, Biden will once again stand as the only obstacle to another Trump term, and will therefore pull it out. Trump just can’t win, they conclude, pointing at recent polling showing substantial majorities of voters saying they won’t consider voting for him. Perhaps that’s right, and I think Republicans would be wise not to test the proposition.
But I’ve also said repeatedly that Trump is by no means a guaranteed loser in a 2024 general election. I totally disagree with the majority of GOP voters who evidently believe he represents their best shot at victory (bizarre thinking, in my view), but that’s a different question from whether he’s capable of pulling off another upset. I definitely think he could, especially if economic conditions continue to limp along, or deteriorate. People may tell a pollster that they won’t vote for candidate X because they don’t want candidate X to run. But if and when they’re forced into something of a binary choice, some of the ‘no’s’ will find their way to ‘yes,’ which is why the potential race between two unpopular figures in statistically tied at the moment. Many Americans are turned off and burned out by politics, and quite a few may not be able to truly believe that the major parties are about to give them the same two unpalatable options as they did in 2020. But if that’s the eventual choice, nearly all voters will select one or the other.
Many in the media and on the Left are mystified that Trump is even remotely viable, in light of what they see as mortal political wounds and disqualifying conduct. It seems clear that they still would prefer to run against him, but they can’t shake uneasy feelings of confusion and concern. How can the re-match be so close, especially after months of toxic developments and coverage for Trump? The latest Wall Street Journal national poll tells us how:
Voters overwhelmingly think President Biden is too old to run for re-election and give him low marks for handling the economy and other issues important to their vote, according to a new Wall Street Journal poll that offers a stark warning to the 80-year-old incumbent ahead of the 2024 contest. The negative views of Biden’s age and performance in office help explain why only 39% of voters hold a favorable view of the president. In a separate question, some 42% said they approve of how he is handling his job, well below the 57% who disapprove. And Biden is tied with former President Donald Trump in a potential rematch of the 2020 election, with each holding 46% support in a head-to-head test…Although the candidates are only three years apart, 73% of voters said they feel Biden is too old to seek a second term, compared with 47% of voters who said the same of the 77-year-old Trump. Two-thirds of Democrats said Biden was too old to run again…by 10 points, more described Trump as mentally up to the presidency. Some 46% said that is true of Trump, compared with 36% who said so of Biden.
Biden’s approval is below 40 percent on the economy, inflation, immigration, and handling China. To be clear, there’s plenty of awful numbers in this survey for Trump, underscoring his profound weaknesses. But if you want two reasons why he’d have a fighting chance next fall — beyond Biden’s abysmal standing, and despite everything that’s consumed Trump since the 2020 election — it’s these two findings in the survey:
– Asked whether the candidates care ‘about people like you,’ Trump actually has a tiny edge over Biden, who’s built his political brand on empathy and supporting working people. Voters aren’t buying it. Democrats often lead handily on this metric. Biden slightly trailing Trump on it is a major, albeit early, red flag.
– “By an 11-point margin, more voters see Trump rather than Biden as having a record of accomplishments as president—some 40% said Biden has such a record, while 51% said so of Trump. By an eight-point margin, more voters said Trump has a vision for the future.“
A majority of respondents to the poll think Trump has a record of presidential accomplishments, while just 40 percent say the same of Joe Biden. The 45th president is seen as having more of a vision for the future than the current incumbent who replaced him. If Trump can make the election about the “are you better off?” question, and comparing head-to-head records, that’s an obvious path to victory. Biden’s pandemic-eliding spin isn’t selling, especially as he himself clings to pandemic remnants. The Democrats and the media will do everything they can to make the race about Trump’s conduct, the 2020 election, and January 6th (and Trump seems unable to resist the temptation to assist them in this).
Then again, as Marc Thiessen pointed out on my radio show yesterday, Trump notched a historically strong score on the “better off today?” question ahead of the 2020 election, in spite of all the upheaval at the time, and still lost the election. Would this time be different? Might Biden’s worsening infirmity be a game-changer? Another difference could be that Biden didn’t have a widely-disapproved-of presidential record in 2020, only lofty promises about ending the pandemic and healing the nation. That’s all less likely to fly this time. In fact, the ‘record of accomplishment’ results mentioned above reminded me of an interaction I had with a woman in Wisconsin a few weeks ago. Even some Trump opponents have to concede their lives are harder amid the Biden presidency. Tapping into that sentiment will be an essential task for any Republican campaign that emerges from the primary:
I’ll leave you with this: