The same week President Biden announced he would run for re-election, polls showed Trump establishing a solid lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination. So the country is geared up, amidst a fair amount of complaining, for a Biden-Trump rematch.
In that scenario Biden probably wins. The biggest complaint about him is his age. It factors into a wide variety of questions about him. And yet, in the two most recent elections, 2020 and 2022, we saw that age didn’t matter much — people can think Biden is too old, they can think someone else should run and yet, when push comes to shove, they voted for Biden and Democrats anyways. That’s because, in a Biden-Trump race many people simply don’t want Trump.
Trump continues to rely, as he did throughout his presidency, on the care and feeding of his base which was just big enough in 2016 to elect him and just small enough in 2020 to defeat him. At no point in his short political career has he tried to expand his base — as most politicians do. In fact, he has continuously doubled down on his base.
This would be a wise strategy if his base was young, or if it was composed of a cross section of the electorate. But neither is the case. Trump’s base is old. Most young people didn’t vote for him in 2020 — he lost voters under 45 years of age by substantial margins, and they didn’t vote for Republican candidates in 2022.
Trump remains unpopular among young Republicans; they are nine points more likely to report “cold” feelings towards Trump than are their elders.
And as issues like abortion and guns continue to be in the forefront of public debate, they are likely to keep young voters away from Republican candidates.
Therefore, barring any spectacular screw ups, the promise and deliverance of steady leadership Biden won on in 2020 should bring him a second term.
“The term ‘normal’ Republicans has become common among Republicans who differentiate between the old-fashioned Republicans, who cut taxes and regulations, from the newer MAGA Republicans who support Trump no matter what.”
However, there are three ways Biden can lose. The first is the emergence of a “normal” Republican who manages to emerge from the early primaries and coalesce the non-Trump candidates around someone else. As I’ve written before, although Trump might be able to win the Republican nomination in a two-way race, a multi-candidate field practically ensures that he wins the nomination.
The term “normal” Republicans has become common among Republicans who differentiate between the old-fashioned Republicans, who cut taxes and regulations, from the newer MAGA Republicans who support Trump no matter what. As we saw in 2020, the “normals” do well in general elections but have trouble in primaries.
The second way Biden can lose is if there is a third-party candidate. Although Biden’s national vote over Trump was substantial, the problem Democrats have in presidential elections is that their vote is lumped, by and large, in big states. Thus, in a state-by-state race (which the electoral college is) Republicans have an advantage in rural states with small populations but more electoral votes. Biden’s margins in some key swing states in 2020 were very narrow — especially in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Which is why a recent effort to gain ballot access for the 2024 election by a group called No Labels has many Democrats worried. As has been pointed out by Third-Way (a centrist Democratic group) and others, the states targeted include those states where Biden’s electoral college victories were very narrow.
By painting Biden as a radical on the left akin to Trump’s radicalism on the right (an equation that many people find disingenuous to say the least) — No Labels’ actions are posing a potentially big problem for Biden.
The third way Biden could lose is if the Federal Reserve Board gets it wrong and leads us into a deep recession with growing unemployment just as the election year gets going. We know that elections turn on the reality of the economy but also on the perception that the economy is getting worse not better. Growing unemployment or unemployment tied to high inflation (as it was under President Carter) could throw Biden’s second term hopes off course.
There will be, no doubt, other bumps in the road to 2024, but right now, a Biden-Trump rematch, dreary as it may be for a country that loves change, is likely to have the same outcome it did before.