AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Camman
Last week, Donald Trump took the lead – albeit by less than one percentage point – over Joe Biden in the RealClearPolitics polling average of a hypothetical rematch between the two next year. While Trump also led in the average for brief periods this spring, this shift feels more significant because of what seems to be driving it.
Trump’s recent surge coincides with other noteworthy developments, including what appears to be a full-court press in the mainstream media to will Joe Biden out of the race. Europe is also seemingly preparing for a second Trump administration.
It is true that polling is only ever part of the story. Trump only led RCP’s polling average for a period of three days in 2016, and failed to get closer than 4.3 percent to Biden at any-point during the 2020-cycle. But part of the significance of what is happening now is not that the polls are close or that Donald Trump is ahead. Rather, it’s that Trump is polling better than he did in 2020, and Joe Biden is doing substantially worse.
Admittedly, Joe Biden’s polling numbers have never been particularly strong, and they have been downright poor ever since the bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.
But the realization that seems to be dawning on both sides of the political aisle is that this is likely as good as it is going to get for Joe Biden and as bad as it is likely to get for Donald Trump. This, more than anything else, is what is shifting perceptions of the election.
Until recently, most political observers and virtually all Democrat strategists were operating under the assumption that dismal polling and other data disguised underlying “fundamentals” more favorable for Joe Biden.
Whether those factors were belief in an abstract power of incumbency or a confidence the economy would improve, the belief persisted that Biden’s numbers were more likely to rise going forward and Donald Trump’s were more likely to fall. Eventually, the results of Biden’s “Inflation Reduction Act,” an economic recovery, and his supposed foreign policy successes would filter down. Conversely, Donald Trump’s legal woes would filter up, reducing his support.
The 2022 midterms, driven to some extent by the impact of the Dobbs decision, disguised how neither of these assumptions ever played out. Democrats outperformed expectations by weaponizing the abortion issue in states where control of the state government, and hence abortion policy, was at stake.
Conversely, they performed as poorly in some of the most pro-choice and anti-Trump states in the country such as California and New York as they did in the Deep South and Mountain West. The states with competitive Senate and gubernatorial races – Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – happened to be states where Republicans were on the verge of taking control of both the governorship and legislature, which could determine the legality of abortion.
The Biden team suddenly seems to have realized this. Politico recently reported on their panic that Trump might be able to neutralize planned attacks on abortion by opposing the prospect of a national six-week ban, inadvertently revealing that their main strategy for 2024 was to run on the prospect he would sign one. At the same time, they revealed they had little else of substance to campaign on.
The Biden campaign’s new panic reveals something that is now becoming evident to wiser observers whether at home or abroad. Rather than marking a turning-point or the start of a Democrat recovery, the 2022 midterms have proven something of a false start for the Biden administration. The loss of the U.S. House denied the administration any sort of legislative agenda, and virtually every major domestic and foreign policy issue is at best in a stalemate, with a very real chance of deterioration.
The Ukraine conflict has slowed to a crawl, leaving Biden vulnerable to charges from all sides: that he failed to support Ukraine enough early when it might have proved decisive; that he missed a chance to negotiate a settlement from a position of strength; and that he is spending too much for no clear objective. Worse, it is unclear what options the administration has to control the situation.
If Ukraine presents a risk, the border presents a disaster. The migrant crisis is no longer an issue for red state politicians. It is bankrupting blue state cities. Biden is estranged from the Democrat mayor of New York, and worse, he is being pulled in two different directions. If he accedes to demands to crack down on illegal migration, he will alienate the left and admit his policies caused the disaster. If he sides with the left, for instance by issuing temporary work permits without the approval of Congress, not only are the courts likely to block the move, but he will be blamed for encouraging a further flow of migrants (not least because that will be the consequence of such a policy).
The migrant crisis feeds into a wider deterioration in quality of life for millions of Americans. Crime, inflation, the collapse of vital infrastructure – none of these issues alone can explain Biden’s nightmare polls. But the fact is Americans feel their lives are getting progressively worse, and the Biden administration has no plans to reverse these trends. In many cases, its policies are seen as making them worse.
The greatest problem, and the reason for the increased pessimism among Democrats, is that unlike with the economy and inflation, there is no reason to believe any of these issues will get better before November 2024. If the migrant crisis, rising crime rates, and the high cost of living are hurting Joe Biden today, they will all be much worse by Election Day 2024.
Then there is Biden’s age – another thing that is impossible to stop. The electorate’s concerns will only become greater as Biden’s capacities deteriorate, and that deterioration becomes even more evident. If Joe Biden isn’t leading in September 2023 due to these issues, how does he expect to be stronger in November 2024?
If expectations that Joe Biden would gain strength over time proved unfounded, so too has the conviction that Donald Trump would become weaker. Certainly, Donald Trump’s favorability numbers are poor. However, they have not become appreciably worse. While Democrats likely assumed there was a chance the indictments would aid Trump among Republican primary voters, they did not expect the same result with the general electorate.
The evidence is not only that the indictments have failed to hurt Trump’s standing. If anything, they have helped it slightly.
In short, Team Biden’s biggest problem isn’t that 2024 polls are close more than one year out from the election. Their biggest problem is that the factors harming Biden are both beyond his control and are only likely to get worse. At the same time, if the indictments have not hurt Donald Trump, or have not hurt him enough to give Biden a lead today, what precisely is supposed to do so?
The Biden administration is running out of gas. The campaign is running out of ammunition. The polls indicate they will need a lot more if they want to take down Donald Trump. That is why Democrats and their allies are panicking.
Andrew Camman is the pseudonym of a regular writer on current affairs who has taught history at the University level for eight years. He has worked on Capitol Hill and is familiar with the historical development of the American and British political systems.