Unsinkable Don, Unfloatable Joe:  The Democrats’ Dilemma

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Donald Trump is rising in the public opinion polls.  Joe Biden is falling.  Will the next President of the United States be California Governor Gavin Newsom?  Not as long as Biden stays in the race, and maybe not even if Biden withdraws.  The 2024 presidential election is shaping up as Trump’s to lose.

According to the latest poll conducted by NBC News, 46% of Republicans want Trump to be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, while 31% favor Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.  Former Vice President Mike Pence has the support of 6% of those polled.  South Carolina Tim Scott and former governors Nikki Haley and Asa Hutchinson of South Carolina and Arkansas, respectively, each attract 3% of those polled.

And Trump’s popularity seems, at the very least, to be unaffected by news of his recent indictment and other legal entanglements, and may even be strengthened.  According to the poll, 68% of Republicans believe the various investigations of Trump “are a politically motivated attempt to stop” him and believe him innocent of any wrongdoing.

Biden’s numbers are much worse.  The poll reported that 41% of respondents said Biden was “honest and trustworthy,” while only 33% said the same about Trump.  In fact, about 55% said Trump should face criminal charges over his handling of classified documents and the events of 1/6.

But 54% said Trump had the “mental sharpness to serve effectively as president” while only 32% said the same about Biden, and 54% said Trump was “in good enough physical health to serve effectively as president” while only 33% said Biden was too.  And what should probably be of greatest concern to Biden are the poll’s findings that:

  • Only 36% approve of Biden’s handling of the presidency while 56% disapprove;
  • 54% believe Trump handled the economy better than Biden, while only 36% believe Biden was the better economic manager; and
  • If the election were held today, 45% would definitely or probably vote for Trump, while only 38% would vote for Biden.

To date, only two candidates have announced they will challenge Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination in the primaries:  Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Marianne Williamson.  Biden should be able to win every primary and thus the nomination, but perhaps at a cost that will weaken him in the general election.  Together they poll 28% of the likely Democratic primary vote, with Kennedy at 19% and Williamson at 9%.  

No president since Chester Allan Arthur in 1880 has been defeated for renomination.  But no president who has encountered the opposition in the double digits of members of his own party has been able to win renomination and then go on to win the general election.  William Howard Taft in 1912, Gerald R. Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H. W. Bush in 1992 all overcame formidable opposition in their primaries, but in doing so they became too weak to win re-election following their renominations.  The support Kennedy and Williamson have initially attracted, without even beginning their campaigns, indicates that despite their obvious lack of qualifications they could embroil Biden in a long struggle that will end with him winning his party’s nomination but in too weakened a condition to win the general election against Trump or whomever else the GOP may nominate.  What could a more qualified and formidable challenger to Biden do?

To date, Biden shows no sign of changing his mind about running for re-election, and no challenger with credible qualifications and credentials has announced he or she will mount a challenge.  But it is quite possible that party leaders and strategists may, given Biden’s dismal poll numbers, begin to cast about for a replacement, and a candidate more qualified than either Kennedy or Williamson may jump into the race. The most obvious possibility would be Gavin Newsom.  As the Governor of America’s largest state, he certainly has the experience and qualifications and would probably be the most formidable candidate the Democrats could put up against either Trump or DeSantis or anyone else the Republicans run.  Other candidates, such as Senators Warren or Sanders, could easily be portrayed as too radical, and Vice President Harris could be depicted as too frivolous.  

If Newsom were to challenge Biden in the primaries, history suggests Biden would win the primaries but lose the general election.  And in the unlikely event, Newsom were to win the primaries over Biden, he might nevertheless be too weakened by the effort to unseat an incumbent president to be able to win the general election either.  Of course, Biden could step aside and give Newsom a free shot at the nomination.  But Newsom would still have to contend with the voters’ unhappiness over the economy during a Democratic administration.  Voter dissatisfaction with the Democrats, in general, could then produce a Republican victory.

Given the current state of public opinion, whoever wins the GOP presidential nomination will probably enter the fall general election contest with a decided advantage over the Democratic nominee.  Advantage:  Trump.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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