Juan Williams: Things are looking great for Biden in the SOTU and beyond
Tuesday’s State of the Union address will kick off President Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign. And Biden starts his bid in the strongest position of any incumbent Democratic president in nearly a hundred years, since President Roosevelt.
First, he has a lock on the Democratic nomination.
The strongest possible challengers to Biden’s run for a second term would include Govs. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). Also on that list are Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). They’re all standing back — in fact, Newsom has said he is “all-in” on Biden 2024.
Second, Biden has gained strength as a national candidate since defeating former President Trump in 2020.
“Biden reminds me of Ronald Reagan in 1983,” Jim Kessler, executive vice president of policy for the Third Way, a moderate think tank in Washington, told me recently. “Reagan suffered through a turbulent economy his first two years and was underwater with voters. … But an improving economy, one like what Biden is now experiencing, allowed him to say it was ‘Morning in America.’ And Reagan went on to win 49 states.”
That fits with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s assessment. In an essay after the midterms, Gingrich, a Republican, was the first to compare Biden to Reagan. He also compared Biden to former President Eisenhower. All three, Gingrich said, ran for second terms as presidents who “preferred to be underestimated.”
And, in a later NPR interview, Gingrich said that “being anti-Biden will not get anyone elected president in ’24.” He added that he assumed Biden and Democrats are “going into 2024 with a pretty powerful machine, running a juggernaut.”
A third reason Biden’s political fortunes look good as he speaks to the nation is declining inflation. His stewardship of the economy has so far defied predictions of a coming recession. He can also take credit for low unemployment.
Fourth, he already has legislative victories on the books.
He can go around the country pointing to jobs produced by the bridges, highways and tunnels funded in his first term. He can also remind seniors that he passed legislation to lower the price of prescription drugs.
Fifth, he can announce at the State of the Union that the worst of the pandemic has passed. He will be cheered when he declares an end to three years of a federal COVID-19 emergency.
That is quite a list of reasons that Biden is well positioned entering the 2024 election season.
But there is more. He also has a record of success to date in halting Russia’s expansion into Ukraine.
In other words, as Biden speaks to the largest television audience he is likely to face all year, the political landscape is a lot more favorable than his 47 percent approval rating in the latest Fox News poll.
In a politically polarized nation, Biden’s approval rating is never likely to soar. But approval for his Republican opponents is not likely to shoot past him, either.
Even with Biden’s mediocre approval ratings, independent and moderate voters favored Democrats in the midterms, increasing the Democrats’ majority in the Senate and limiting losses in the House.
Writing after the midterms, Gingrich said Biden and the Democrats had “one of the best first-term off-year elections is history.”
Biden need only point over his shoulder tomorrow night to the Republican leader in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), to remind those independent and moderate voters of the continuing bitter GOP dysfunction revealed in McCarthy’s painful climb to be speaker.
Biden’s political future is also brighter because the odds are that he will be facing Trump as the GOP nominee.
Numerous polls show the twice-impeached Trump remains the favorite of many Republican primary voters for the nomination, although other polls show he is losing GOP support. Trump still leads his nearest rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), by double digits and has started turning his rabid MAGA supporters against DeSantis by calling him “disloyal” and a “RINO globalist.”
But DeSantis is as deep into Trump’s extremist culture-war political strategy as Trump. His record on attacking educators for exposing students to troubling aspects of the nation’s racial history for fear of upsetting them is right out of Trump’s playbook.
Some Republicans believe DeSantis can run on Trump’s hard-right politics without carrying the weight of Trump’s past political and legal problems. But Biden can easily stamp DeSantis as a Trump clone.
And if DeSantis beats Trump for the nomination, there is a good chance Trump might run as an independent candidate and split votes away from DeSantis.
The problem for Republicans is that, no matter who wins the nomination, Trump remains the face of the party. And his supporters remain locked into disturbingly radical positions, including election denial and excusing the violent attack on the Capitol.
Paul Ryan, the former Republican Speaker of the House, said it plainly in November: “We get past Trump, we start winning elections. We stick with Trump, we keep losing elections. That’s just how I see it.”
To sew up reelection, Biden needs only to conjure up alarming images of another President Trump delivering the State of the Union address in 2025 — perhaps flanked by his vice president, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), and a new Speaker of the House in the person of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.
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