Last week, President Joe Biden went deep on Donald Trump. “The greatest threat he poses is to our democracy, because if we lose that, we lose everything.” To laughter and applause, he then said, “He didn’t show up at my inauguration. Can’t say I was disappointed. I guess he won’t show up for the second inauguration.”
Behind the laughter, Democrats are panicked there will not be a second Biden inauguration. It is reported that President Barack Obama “feels that Democrats very well could lose” the 2024 election. The polls are terrible. Biden’s approval is under 40 per cent. In key swing states Trump is leading. Of people who say they voted for Biden in 2020, only 87 per cent are saying they will do so today.
Trump has the enthusiastic support of 90 per cent of Republican voters. Biden has just 78 per cent of Democrats. And Biden may well be impeached by Republicans in the House of Representatives over his son’s activities.
Yes, the economy is performing strongly. GDP growth is higher than the unemployment rate. But prices and cost of living pressures are up dramatically and, just like in Australia, interest rate cuts may be months away. This is why Biden, along with Prime Minister Albanese, have taken hits to their approval ratings.
Congress is balking at urgent military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine and Israel. The foreign policy establishment is reeling from the prospect that Washington may fail to stand by these allies — the first time a president is so threatened by such a political setback since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The politics on these issues are invidious. On the aid package, there is this kicker from the Republicans: “Mr President, you want to protect Ukraine’s border? Well, our southern border with Mexico is out of control, and if you want the Ukraine aid we demand you keep asylum seekers out.”
The temperature on this is even hotter than the bitter debate in Canberra over detention orders following the High Court decision in November.
This issue is treacherous for Democrats. For Latino politicians and voters, a harsh Trump-style immigration law will fracture the party and Hispanic support for Biden.
The war and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza are also undercutting Biden’s support, especially among younger voters who are deeply alienated by Israel’s campaign.
Arab Americans are intensely angry over Gaza and Biden’s strong stand with Israel. In each of Michigan, Arizona, and Georgia, there are more Arab American voters than Biden’s 2020 margins of victory in those states. Most will not vote for Trump given his raw hostility to Muslims, but Biden is imperiled if they choose not to vote for him. If Biden loses those three states, and Trump keeps all the states he won in 2020, Biden will lose the election.
Despairing Democrats ask: can anyone take Biden’s place on the ticket? No, not unless he steps down voluntarily. Democratic leaders view Biden as a good president with solid achievements. Not one member of his cabinet, or any senators or governors have stepped up to take Biden down.
But what if Biden, after securing re-nomination, has a freeze moment, and cannot speak for 15 seconds, or has a life-threatening illness and stands down from his campaign? What happens then?
The Democratic delegates, elected as Biden supporters of his policies, will gather in Chicago in August. What will they do? Go with Vice President Kamala Harris? Seek Biden’s divination of his successor?
In 2020, Democrats landed on Biden for one overriding reason: he was judged as the one with the best chance to beat Trump. If Biden retires in 2024 Democrats will choose the one they are most confident will beat Trump again. The field is likely to include Harris, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and California Governor Gavin Newsom, among others.
Will Biden or his successor face Trump given all his legal trials? The first four Republican primaries, in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, will be done by the end of February. If Trump sweeps those contests, the nomination race is over.
In rejecting Nikki Haley, Republicans will lose their best chance of beating Biden. She would attract a swath of independent voters, like the teals do in Australia. Women would be energised to vote for the first woman president. Haley is the perfect new vintage: Reagan values with Trumpist notes. She is not scary like Trump. No way would she Nazi-talk like Trump about immigrants “poisoning the blood” of America or quote Putin as Trump has on the “rottenness” of America’s political system.
But it is virtually impossible for Haley to get there. Trump’s base is a movement. “When they indict me, they are indicting you,” he tells them. Trump says that if he is taken out, nothing will stop the radical Democrats and the “deep state” from killing their future. So when Haley attacks Trump, she is attacking his voters. That is why she cannot win against him.
By the Republican convention in July, Trump may be a convicted felon. If so, there will be an avalanche of calls for the party to remove Trump from the ticket. But like the Democratic convention delegates, the Trump troops are loyal to their general: no way they nail Trump’s political crucifixion.
Many across America and in Australia cannot understand how we have Biden and Trump when most voters do not want either of them or that choice. But here we are.