Democratic anxiety rises as Trump bid appears more likely
Democrats are worried about another White House bid by former President Trump, something that is appearing increasingly likely on the eve of an Iowa rally by the leading potential GOP candidate.
Democrats say Trump can’t be taken for granted. While some are confident a new Trump candidacy would bring out a wave of Democratic voters to defeat him, others are worried he could return to power. And that’s enough to bring shudders to most in the party.
“There’s not a strategist or insider that I’m hanging out with who would like to see Donald Trump running again,” said Rachel Bitecofer, a Democratic pollster. “Nobody should think he would be a weak nominee.”
Bitecofer and other Democrats still traumatized by Trump’s surprise win in 2016, his four years in office and his near-miss defeat last year say he’s proven time and again that he can be competitive, particularly when the odds are stacked against him.
“He almost re-won the White House in 2020 even after four years of scandal after scandal, and then the pandemic and the mismanagement of that,” she added. “That never affected him. And he almost won and his party picked up seats in the House.”
“No one should underestimate his ability to energize the base with grievance politics,” added Mike Morey, the Democratic strategist who served as an aide to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Democrats would be foolish to think he would be easy to take down.”
Behind the scenes, Trump, 75, has told associates he is eager to announce another White House bid. But advisers have told him to keep a low profile, preferably until after the midterm elections next years.
Trump’s urgency to announce a new bid, GOP strategists say, has been driven by President Biden’s poor polling in recent weeks. Trump frequently sends the media emailed releases touting bad numbers for Biden.
Biden has seen his approval numbers drop following a messy withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and even Democrats have accused him of mishandling the border and immigration issues.
Independents, who helped catapult Biden into the White House last year, have also soured on him and the gridlock on Capitol Hill, where Democrats control both chambers.
And Trump is ready to pounce.
“We’re not supposed to be talking about it yet, from the standpoint of campaign finance laws, which frankly are ridiculous,” Trump said last month during a stop at a police station to commemorate the Sept. 11 attacks, after he was asked if he was going to launch another bid for the White House. “But I think you are going to be happy. Let me put it that way.”
Trump also has sought to keep other Republicans — including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — out of the race, clearing the field for a potential run.
“If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else,” Trump said in an interview last week with Yahoo Finance. “I think most people would drop out. I think he would drop out.”
A Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey out last month showed that 58 percent of the GOP voters surveyed would want Trump to be the Republican nominee in 2024, setting up a potential rematch between Biden and his predecessor.
A Des Moines Register-Mediacom Iowa poll out this week showed Trump’s favorable rating hitting a new high, with 53 percent of Iowans approving of him.
The survey comes as the former president holds a rally in the Hawkeye State this weekend.
Biden, 78, has told associates that he does plan on running again in 2024. “It’s very real,” one ally said.
But some Democrats who acknowledge his age will be a defining factor in a reelection race suspect he won’t. And they worry about what they see as a weak Democratic bench.
“The scariest thing about the next election is that we’ve seen what [Trump] can do and I’m not sure we have a candidate who can be competitive,” said one Democratic donor. “I thought Biden was the only one who could take him out in 2020. And if he doesn’t run, a lot of people wonder if Kamala [Harris] can be effective. So who takes on Trump if not Biden? That’s the issue.”
To make matters worse, the past couple of months “haven’t been good” for Biden, the donor said.
“He’s looked weak, he’s looked defensive,” the fundraiser said. “It’s right where Trump wants him.”
But other Democrats say they would relish another Trump run, pointing to his polarizing nature and his ability to turn off independents and mobilize the Democratic base.
“While there is a little angel over my shoulder reminding me of what I thought in 2016, I’m more confident it would be a disaster for him — and Republicans up and down the ballot — than in 2020,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “Another Trump run isn’t just the over the hill rock star trying to play his greatest hits again, it’s trying to come back on stage for an encore after you’ve been booed off.”
Vale argued that it wouldn’t just be Trump hurting himself.
“This would help to keep pushing independents, suburban voters and even some Republicans away from the party,” he said. “And the 2024 Senate map would be really good for Democrats to have Trump driving turnout.”
But one Democratic strategist described another Trump run as “the world’s biggest nightmare.”
“He’s shown that he’s willing to campaign from the lowest denominator and do anything and everything to win,” the strategist said. “If that doesn’t scare the shit out of every Democrat, we’re in trouble.”