Wednesday, February 8, 2023

If not Joe, who?

 Recently, there have been a lot of pieces urging Joe Biden not to run for reelection in 2024. I don’t think that anyone other than Donald Trump and his most devout supporters want a rematch of the 2020 Trump versus Biden race. Most Americans shudder at the mere thought of a replay of the year that most want to forget.

By Elvert Barnes -, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Most people don’t want either of the two, even on a separate basis. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 58 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaners want someone other than the incumbent to run in 2024. Only 31 percent want Mr. Biden renominated. On the Republican side, it isn’t much different. Forty-nine percent don’t want Donald Trump to run again compared to 41 percent who do.

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The Republicans do have an advantage in having a deeper bench. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the strongest challenger, but there are other options as well. Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations under Donald Trump and a former governor of South Carolina, has already thrown her hat into the ring, but there are a number of other strong possibilities, many of whom ran against Donald Trump in the 2016 primary. Mike Pence may run and Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are possible candidates as well. Governors like Larry Hogan, Chris Sununu, and Brian Kemp may also test the waters.

On the Democratic side, there are far fewer options. “Saturday Night Live” hit close to home last year when the show ran a faux horror movie trailer in which friends are horrified to hear that Biden is going to run again. The joke is that they become even more horrified as they consider the alternatives. (And this is more evidence that SNL doesn’t just skew the right.)

Kamala Harris is quickly discarded. The woman that Republicans thought was being anointed or who would depose Biden just a few years ago is now someone that most Democrats want nothing to do with. Cory Booker is cast aside with barely a mention. A Beto mailer slides under the door. But the real horror comes from a bloody “Bernie” written on the wall and a man who is seemingly possessed by the Hillary campaign.

None of these candidates seem able to catch the imagination of Democratic voters, let alone general election voters. In fact, most of them have already had at least one crack at a presidential campaign and failed quickly.

Looking back at 2020, there was a plethora of candidates vying for the nomination. If we look back at the polling averages on Real Clear Politics, we see that several candidates surged at various times but were never able to knock Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders out of the top spots.

Kamala Harris was the first to surge in July 2019 but quickly faded due to weak campaign skills and staff infighting. Elizabeth Warren was a strong contender but failed to gain traction outside the progressive wing of the party. Pete Buttigieg enjoyed a brief blip, but no candidate has ever gone directly from mayor to president. Michael Bloomberg also surged toward the end of March, but he is now totally forgotten by the party.

There were other candidates that year as well. Andrew Yang inspired a devoted following and was last seen working with the Forward Party. Tulsi Gabbard left Congress and joined the right, speaking at CPAC and appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show. Amy Klobuchar, still a Minnesota senator, was popular among moderates but never climbed out of single digits.

So let’s go down the list of possible Democrats for 2024 and I’ll explain why they can’t win the nomination.

Kamala Harris - The vice president is usually the heir apparent, but Kamala is not popular in her own party, has little charisma, and hasn’t stood out in her current job. In 2020, this black candidate could not win the support of black Democrats over Joe Biden.

Bernie Sanders - Democrats realize that Bernie is toxic. Last time, they were more united in opposition to Bernie than in favor of Biden. I don’t see any reason to think that will change.

Hillary - Just no. Add to the huge disappointment of 2016 that Hillary will be 77 in 2024. If the object is to find a younger candidate, look elsewhere.

Pete Buttigieg - Mayor Pete led Joe Biden in a University of New Hampshire poll from last July, but Buttigieg has little experience as a national or even statewide campaigner and is short on executive experience. His homosexuality won’t hurt him in the Democratic primary but would be more of an issue in the general election. Buttigieg is a likely option for a vice presidential pick.

Elizabeth Warren - Warren has been out of the limelight for most of the past two years. She’s an intelligent woman who is popular among progressives, but she would have a tough time bringing the various Democratic factions together.

Beto O’Rourke - Beto is a Democratic rockstar, but after two failed attempts at Texas governor, few will trust him in a presidential campaign.

Stacey Abrams - Just reread what I wrote for Beto and substitute “Georgia” for “Texas.”

Gavin Newsom - The governor of California could be a strong candidate, but his association with California radicalism may turn off a lot of swing voters.

AOC - Don’t make me laugh.

Joe Manchin - The West Virginia senator would be a good pick for the general election, but he’d never survive the primary. Progressives would love to run him out of the party and he may face a strong challenge for his reelection to the Senate from the party’s left.

Amy Klobuchar - The Minnesota senator is too moderate for the progressives.

Gretchen Whitmer - The Michigan governor is polarizing and not very well known outside the political stan circles.

Jared Polis - Even fewer people know the Colorado governor.

John Bel Edwards - The Louisiana governor would be another moderate pick, but a pro-life politician isn’t going far in today’s Democratic Party.

The fact is that Joe Biden occupies a unique niche in Democratic politics. He is toward the right side of Democratic personalities, which makes him palatable to moderates and independents but puts him at a disadvantage with his own party’s progressives. Biden is able to offset this with his strong support among black Democrats, who tend to be more conservative.

To put it another way, Democrats think that Biden is too conservative and Republicans think that he’s too liberal. Strangely enough, that puts him pretty close to the center of American politics. And yes, I do think that includes issues such as abortion and guns where I realize my own conservative views are somewhat out of the mainstream.

Neither side will ever admit this though because they both think that they are the American majority. They’re both wrong. The American political landscape is split into rough thirds. At any given time, about a third are liberal, about a third are conservative, and about a third are moderate/unaffiliated/don’t pay attention. Since neither conservatives nor liberals are a majority, elections are typically decided by the middle third (although partisan turnout is also a big factor).

That’s why Joe Biden won in 2020. The Democratic candidate was the sane choice and was even more conservative in many respects than the Republican candidate. While Donald Trump ran a turn-out-the-base campaign, Joe Biden angled for the disaffected middle.

Biden was also aided by Trump’s own incompetence as a campaigner. Republicans made much of the fact that Biden rarely ventured out on the campaign trail. He didn’t have to. As Napoleon reportedly said, “Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.”

My money is on Joe Biden to take the Democratic nomination in 2024. I think a lot of the president’s unpopularity at the moment stems from inflation and economic problems, but those are easing. He has recent successes to point to and his somewhat conciliatory tone in the State of the Union will appeal to moderates (the ones that paid attention anyway).

More to the point, I just don’t see another Democrat on the horizon who can put together a coalition that unites the progressive wing with moderates and black voters. This point extends to the general election where Republicans are likely to be unified against any Democrat (unless Trump runs as an independent, but that’s a topic for another day).

Whether Joe could win a second term is also another question, but I think he would undoubtedly beat Donald Trump again. The Former Guy is just too toxic. Ron DeSantis is another question, but the primary fight between the two is shaping up to be a thermonuclear exchange. Already, Trump supporters are claiming that DeSantis was grooming high school girls.

The Republican Primary is going to be ugly. And the GOP may well split on the way to the general election. If that happens, it will be to the benefit of a Democratic candidate who can stay out of the way and not distract voters from the Republican civil war.

A candidate like Joe Biden.

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SOTU: I didn’t watch the entire State of the Union last night, but I did watch enough to see that President Biden gave a good performance. Whether you agree with the content of his speech or not, after showings like last night it’s hard to claim with a straight face that the president suffers from dementia (but some will undoubtedly do it). What I saw was a president who seemed eloquent, at least in the moment, and had both parties clapping and laughing. at least in the moment.

People who did watch the SOTU might wonder who was yelling at the president during the speech. In most cases, it seems to have been Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Hill reports that Greene heckled the president at several points. She seems not to have been the only one, but she is the one who was identified as doing it.

TWEET OF THE DAY: Speaking of Greene, the Georgia conspiracy nut briefly presided over the House while Speaker McCarthy was absent this week. This probably gives another indication of what McCarthy agreed to get his job and left many viewers troubled about the direction of a GOP that would put EmptyG in charge, no matter how briefly.

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