Joe Biden is under attack once again from his own side of the aisle – but this time the attack is more carefully targeted and with clear political intent. David Axelrod, the Obama administration strategist and architect of his two successful presidential runs, is advising the incumbent president to take a step back and not run again in the 2024 presidential election, exactly one year from now.
In September, David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist, had written an op-ed full of cold logic with the unequivocal title “President Biden Should Not Run Again in 2024.” The argument focused on Biden’s advanced age – too old – and his obvious mental, physical and cognitive challenges. Ignatius’s call was also joined by a star of TV journalism, Joe Scarborough. The latter revealed that in private conversations, no Democrat failed to mention their fear that Biden was inadequate against an opponent like Trump.
But this time, Axelrod’s tweet and his subsequent statements on CNN carried political weight. They came from the person closest to Obama and were connected to recent polls conducted on behalf of the New York Times in six key battleground states that are expected to be decisive in 2024: in five of them, the expected Democratic candidate is trailing Donald Trump by a significant margin.
The Republican has the upper hand in Pennsylvania by 4 percentage points, in Michigan and Arizona by 5 points, in Georgia by 6 points, and in Nevada by as much as 10 points. Only in Wisconsin is Biden ahead, by 2 points. In addition to the long trend of negative national polls for Biden, which is now showing up in crucial swing states, there is also the issue of timing, which is turning into an important political fact, as the presidential vote is one year from now. That is, all too soon. The time to make a decision is right now, in order to be able to prepare and build up an alternative candidate. Moreover, it can’t be Kamala Harris, who polls even worse than Biden.
In March 1968, just eight months before the presidential election, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run again. It was a shock, because an incumbent president always runs for a second term. The incumbent has a starting advantage over his challenger, since he benefits from more free media exposure and is holding the levers of power, which he can also use for electoral purposes.
Johnson was a president whom history remembers for passing a package of major social and economic reforms – the Great Society – but most of all for the Vietnam War, in full swing under his administration, which ultimately led to his disgraceful exit. Biden seems to be following in the footsteps of his Texan predecessor. His policy of reforms and interventions to fix America’s dilapidated infrastructure network is notable; his efforts on the civil rights front and in support of workers are commendable, as well as his attention to issues such as health care, schools, and social housing. But it’s a very different picture in terms of international politics, with two ongoing wars which broke out during his administration and not without some responsibility on his part – if only that of having underestimated and failed to prevent (if not downright facilitated) the advent of these crises, which arose in two regions from which the U.S. has long been trying to extricate itself in order to focus on Asia and the Pacific.
However, paradoxically, and unlike during Johnson’s tenure, it is on the home front that Biden is most politically vulnerable and accumulating growing hostility among the electorate.
Perhaps even more worrying than the head-to-head polls are those measuring Americans’ expectations about the economy. A large majority of respondents in a CBS poll thought they would be better off financially if Trump were re-elected. Interestingly, this is where the wars come in, but in terms of negative effects on Americans’ pocketbooks. A majority of voters think that Trump, if re-elected president, would pull the U.S. out of ongoing conflicts, while a second Biden term would mean higher chances of being involved in wars.
Regarding Trump himself, his testimony in the New York tax fraud case against his business empire has certainly made a big splash these days, but more for the possible consequences of the court case on his own pocketbook than for any political and electoral ones. The victim complex he exhibited once again on Monday in the Manhattan courtroom – claiming that the trial was “a political witch hunt” – still has strong appeal among his base.
Biden’s tenuous position is not only an electoral handicap, but also dramatically narrows his room for maneuver in the ongoing crises. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister who is more involved than any of his predecessors in the inner workings of American politics, is unscrupulously playing his own games, with existential stakes, in the context of the presidential race already under way. He is a Trump ally and will do everything he can to deal a crippling blow to Joe Biden.
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