The Memo: Get ready for Biden vs. Trump all over again
A nation that saw one of the most divisive elections in its history in 2020 is barreling toward another bitter contest in 2024.
Former President Trump is the dominant figure in the Republican Party despite a sea of troubles and is edging closer to declaring another run for the presidency. Trump held a campaign-style rally on Saturday in South Carolina and will hold another in two weeks in Georgia.
Meanwhile, President Biden has shown no signs of backing away from an attempt to win a second term, even though he would be 82 by the time of his possible second inauguration. Biden has said more than once that he intends to run, dampening speculation he would bow out and make Vice President Harris the early favorite to be the Democratic nominee.
Faced with a Biden-Trump choice, the nation could not be more evenly split, at least according to a new Wall Street Journal poll. The survey finds 45 percent of registered voters favoring Biden and 45 percent favoring Trump in a hypothetical 2024 contest between the two men.
The poll is a startling reminder of Trump’s political resilience.
The former president was impeached twice — once for shady dealings with Ukraine and the second time for his role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. He faces several investigative probes and has repeated his false claims of election fraud ad nauseum. He’s also been banned from the social media platforms where he once seemed omnipresent.
Despite it all, he is in a dead heat to beat the incumbent president.
But even amid encouraging poll numbers, some erstwhile Trump admirers wonder if his divisiveness makes him too flawed a candidate for the GOP to put up in 2024.
“If he is in a dead heat [with Biden], imagine what Mike Pence or Gov. [Ron] DeSantis or Gov. [Greg] Abbott or Mike Pompeo must be doing,” said Barry Bennett, who served as a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Referring to the perception of Trump among Republican voters, Bennett added, “They love the fight in him. Everybody loves the policies he embodied. But they could do without some of the silliness. And he is also going to have to come up with a reason to run that isn’t just ‘I’m pissed that I lost.’”
But is he?
Polls of Republican voters overwhelmingly show Trump as the runaway favorite to win the GOP nomination if he runs. DeSantis, the conservative Florida governor, is usually a distant second.
Other choices barely register so far.
People in Trump’s circle insist that the former president is in a stronger position than he was at this point of the 2016 cycle. Back then, Trump ultimately prevailed despite having been dismissed as a joke at the start of his campaign and being far behind his rivals in fundraising.
By contrast, Trump was sitting on a campaign bank account of around $122 million at the start of this year, according to the latest public financial filings.
Trump World is also steadfast in the belief that the former president is far better attuned to the populist sentiments of today’s GOP base than any other likely candidate.
That said, a Trump run would not be a straightforward coronation. Many in the GOP are alarmed at the idea of a Trump candidacy, believing that too many people among the general public simply will never vote for him.
In an Economist-YouGov poll released this week, Trump was viewed unfavorably by 56 percent of adults and favorably by just 41 percent.
Lucy Caldwell, a political strategist who describes herself as an “ex-Republican,” told this column, “I hope it is Trump in 2024 because I think he will be more beatable than these other Republicans.”
Caldwell added, “It’s the Josh Hawleys of the world that frighten me the most.” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is seeking to fill a similar lane to Trump as 2024 looms.
For Democrats and Trump critics, there is plenty of cause for alarm about Biden’s position — at least right now.
Privately, insiders in both parties think it is nearly certain that Republicans will at least take back control of the House in November’s midterm elections — a shift that would hamstring Biden during the second half of his first term.
The president is also dealing with a nation and a world shaken by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sky-high inflation, supply chain snarls, and the waning but not gone COVID-19 pandemic.
Of course, all of that could change. Biden has been encouraging Democrats in recent days to sell their achievements on topics such as job growth and COVID-19 relief going into the midterms. If inflation and COVID-19 were both to abate, the political landscape could be changed entirely.
Democratic strategist Joe Trippi cautioned against reading anything much into polls this far in advance of an election.
He cited the Ukraine crisis as just one example of how the world could change in a matter of weeks, never mind the eight months until the midterms or the 32 months until the 2024 election.
But he also noted the grim reality that the nation is increasingly cleaved into two unyielding political blocs.
“The polarization and the tribalism of people going into their red and blue camps means any match-up is pretty much 50-50 right now, regardless of who it is,” Trippi said.
In this moment, Biden versus Trump is by far the most likely match-up.
It’s a contest that, if it happens, will deepen the bitter divides even more.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
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