joe biden

Biden ’24 Is in Real Trouble Now

The president is not having a very good summer. Photo: Chris Kleponis/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When a New York Times/Siena survey came out earlier this month showing that 64 percent of self-identified Democrats wanted a different presidential nominee than Joe Biden, a frisson of fear could be felt in party circles, especially given the president’s apparent determination to run for another term. But hey, many Democrats probably thought, maybe this poll is an outlier. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Now comes a CNN survey showing that 75 percent of self-identified Democrats want someone other than the 46th president heading up their 2024 ticket. There’s not much ambiguity when you look at the poll’s internals, either. Liberals want a different nominee by a 78-21 margin, but so do moderates by a 72-28 margin. Seventy-eight percent of white Democrats want a new standard-bearer, but so do 73 percent of Democratic people of color. Sure, older folks like Uncle Joe more than younger folks, but even 69 percent of Democrats over the age of 45 want a different 2024 nominee. There’s just no silver lining in the numbers.

Can this Joe Must Go feeling in the rank and file of his party get worse? Sure it can. Envision how Democrats will feel if they do very poorly on November 8, which is 12 days before the president’s 80th birthday. You could very well see the sentiment reflected among rank-and-file Democrats in these recent polls spread to party leaders and elected officials. And once the inhibitions associated with the natural loyalty of partisans to their chieftain begin to fade, it could get very dicey for the president’s renomination hopes.

Defenders of the president will rightly observe that nearly every president in living memory has had a midterm slump or two, and that the two most recent Democrats who reached the White House, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, had calamitous, historic first midterms and still managed to get reelected two years later (Clinton won by a near-landslide). But despite intermittent intra-party grumbling, there was never clear majority opposition to either man’s renomination, and in fact both avoided any sort of primary challenge.

Even sitting presidents who faced organized opposition to their renominations have universally waited for actual voters to weigh in before folding their tents or deciding to fight it out. Harry Truman in 1952 and Lyndon Johnson in 1968 got bad news from the voters of New Hampshire before deciding to retire. Gerald Ford battled Ronald Reagan all the way to the 1976 Republican convention, and then fought Jimmy Carter until November, before grudgingly leaving the White House. And Carter fought off what initially looked like an unbeatable primary challenge from Ted Kennedy before losing the general election to Ronald Reagan. There really isn’t any precedent for an elected president hanging it up as quickly as a lot of Democrats clearly wish Biden would do right now. But then again, there has never been a president as old as Biden, and there has also never been a president elected as a self-described transitional figure between political eras.

Still, it’s important to remember that you cannot beat somebody with nobody. Assuming Biden doesn’t change his mind, a rival — or rivals — will have to emerge in order to push him out of a 2024 race. With that in mind, it’s worth a glance at a University of New Hampshire survey released this week testing Biden against 15 other named Democrats among likely 2024 presidential primary voters. Biden wins just 16 percent, a point behind his Transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg. Worse yet, the president is the second-choice candidate of just 2 percent of these likely Democratic voters. Biden’s supposed heir apparent, Vice-President Kamala Harris, who struggles with popularity issues similar to his, comes in seventh with 8 percent.

There’s one other measurable factor affecting Biden ’24 to keep in mind. As brutal as the Times-Siena poll was, it still showed Biden running narrowly ahead of Donald Trump in a supposed 2024 rematch. And there’s reason to think that if Trump quickly consolidates his own position as the putative Republican nominee, it may help Biden, since after all, he did beat Trump in 2020. But it’s also noteworthy that in the RealClearPolitics averages of Biden-Trump trial heats, the 45th president leads the 46th by a 44.5-42.5 margin. And of equal concern, Biden’s steadily worsening job-approval ratio is now regularly worse than Trump’s at the same point of his presidency.

Putting all this information together, if the president stays on his current course toward running for a second term, you might want to circle November 20 on your calendar. If Democrats are then licking their midterm wounds; if we see big-time Democratic elected officials beginning to hedge their bets about Biden’s renomination or even exploring challenges of their own; and if Biden doesn’t benefit from some Fear of Trump factor pretty decisively, then among the best wishes being sent to the president by his erstwhile supporters on his 80th birthday will be a clear implicit message of Happy Retirement, Joe!

Biden ’24 Is in Real Trouble Now