Woe Be Joe
2024 will be decided by fewer than 400,000 votes.
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"When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." — Osama bin Laden.
This is the Biden re-election campaign’s challenge. Whatever else he might be, Biden is now a weak horse. He’s no longer “young old,” as he was when he was vice president. He’s just old. He’s visibly frail and unsteady on his feet. He’s given to occasional “senior moments”. As the week progresses, he seems to become more verbally and physically “uncoordinated”. White House staffers breath a sigh of relief when Marine One whisks him off to Delaware for the weekend and a stress-reducing news blackout ensues.
It is the conceit of Team Biden that he is the Democrat most capable of defeating former president Trump in the 2024 general election. There’s little, if any, evidence for this. Donald Trump defeated Donald Trump in 2020. Biden had little, if anything, to do with it. He was simply the net that caught the jumpers. They weren’t jumping to Biden. They were jumping from Trump.
Once you interpret Trump’s defeat as a Biden victory, as the Biden White House did and still does, perception of political reality goes awry. Team Biden swept into office thinking it had an electoral mandate. It did not. It thought it had permission to do “big things.” It did not. It thought the electorate would reward them for the abandonment of Afghanistan to the Taliban. It could not have been more mistaken. It now declares that Team Transitory (on inflation) was right all along and that voters, nitwits that they are, will (because they must) eventually come to appreciate the bounty of “Bidenomics.”
Voters stand in their kitchens, bewildered.
The result of all these “miscalculations” is that roughly three-quarters (72%) of the electorate would prefer that President Biden not seek re-election. It’s an astonishing number, made more so by the fact that two-thirds of Democrats would prefer someone other than Biden as their party’s 2024 presidential nominee. The Democrat “most capable of beating Trump” is the one most voters (and most Democrats) would like to be rid of.w
Team Biden’s mis-reading of election results precedes November of 2020. They also imagined that Biden “won” the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination, in the sense that Democratic primary voters and caucus attenders wanted Biden as their nominee.
Those primary voters and caucus attenders didn’t want Joe Biden as their nominee. What they wanted was someone who they believed had the best chance of defeating Trump. They looked around and noticed that the other Democratic presidential candidates were well to the left of the general electorate and that the strongest candidate on the left, Bernie Sanders, was an avowed socialist. Democrats were not going to defeat Trump with an avowed socialist as their standard bearer. By the time the primary calendar landed on South Carolina, there was only one “moderate” option left: Joe Biden.
A Gallup Poll published in late 2019 gave Democratic primary voters a choice between nominating “someone who can defeat Trump” or “someone who shares my views”. Sixty percent said “someone who can defeat Trump.” Thirty-six percent said someone who “shares my views”. Those two data points were the reason Joe Biden won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2020. He won on perceived “electability”. The others were perceived as general election losers.
This time around, Biden has no primary opposition, the power of incumbency and an opponent whom a majority of Americans would also prefer to be rid of. Biden himself frames the coming election as follows: “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative”.
If that’s how the electorate “frames” the choice, then Biden’s chances improve, markedly. If the election becomes a referendum on Biden, or his “effectiveness” (code for age), or inflation, or immigration, or all of the above, then Trump’s chances improve, markedly. It’s not yet clear how the choice will be framed by the voters who will decide the election’s outcome.
It’s important to remember which voters we’re talking about here. We are not talking about the 155 million or 165 million people who will vote in next year’s general election. Biden will win the popular vote handily, just as he did in 2020. What we’re talking about is maybe 400,000 voters, at the very most, in six or eight “battleground states,” who will determine the outcome of the election in the Electoral College. Lest anyone forget, in 2020 "just 44,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin separated Biden and Trump from a tie in the Electoral College."
And it’s here that we get to a much-overlooked fact of the 2020 election: Had the Trump campaign embraced early and mail-in voting, and made it a top priority of the then-president’s re-election campaign, Trump would have won the election in the Electoral College. In the event, the Democratic Party’s embrace of early and mail-in voting carried the day (barely).
Turning out the vote is something the Trump campaign did very well on Election Day, in 2020. Early voting is something it will do as well in 2024 and especially well in those “battleground states.” Team Trump will not make the same mistake twice. Or as Trump himself put it back in March: “Republicans must compete using every lawful means to win. That means swamping the left with mail-in votes, early votes and election day votes.”
Billions of dollars will be spent on those 400,000 “persuadable” voters in 6 or 8 states (it will eventually be six: GA, NC, AZ, NV, PA, WI). The outcome will ride on who stays home, who pre-votes and who votes on Election Day. The most important data point to remember about those 400,000 voters is this: Three quarters of them would prefer Joe Biden not seek re-election and roughly the same percentage think he would be too old to be effective if re-elected.
It’s not a subset of voters one would describe as “leaning Biden”.