Biden well placed to win a second term


Biden well placed to win a second term

Biden well placed to win a second term
Credit: Asharq
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Now that the 2022 midterm elections are behind us, all of Washington is setting its eyes on the potential rematch of Joe Biden versus Donald Trump in 2024. While there are many open questions about the likelihood of these two men returning to compete against each other, with Trump in particular facing multiple challenges to his candidacy, there is little doubt that, for Democrats, Biden is the clear choice to lead the party in 2024.

The first two years of Biden’s administration have been, for Democrats, a stunning success. From guiding the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic to passing historic, multitrillion-dollar legislation to address climate change, strengthen healthcare and invest in national infrastructure, as well as leading the country in its support of Ukraine and democracy abroad, Biden is riding high.

It is stunning to recall how, as recently as September, this was not the case. At that time, Democrats were downright gloomy about their prospects for the midterm elections. Americans’ confidence in the economy was at rock-bottom. While unemployment was at historic 50-year lows, inflation was at historic 40-year highs. Gas prices also hit record highs with no signs of abatement, and concerns about crime and immigration were dominating the headlines.

To compound Democratic concerns, President Biden’s poll numbers hovered at roughly 40 percent favorability, creating a perfect storm of fear among Democrats that a “red wave” was coming to Washington, with Republicans about to gain 30 to 40 seats in the House of Representatives and retake control of the Senate by a significant margin.

Yet something happened in the fall of 2022, which was the realization, at its core, that a Republican takeover of Congress would undermine democracy, while stymying the Democratic agenda that Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer advanced. This agenda was immensely popular within the Democratic Party — from the progressive wing to the centrist wing — meaning that, in the fall, Democratic voters began to understand that they needed to protect their agenda by turning out to vote. Suddenly, an election that would historically see gains for the party out of power — the Republicans — created a greater sense of urgency among Democratic voters that they needed to show up at the polls to prevent a red wave.

At the same time, Americans were concerned not just about their pocketbooks, but also about the state of American democracy. Casting a shadow over the midterms were a crew of Republican candidates, endorsed by Trump, who embraced his lies about the results of the 2020 presidential election and even expressed support for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrectionist rioters who assaulted the nation’s Capitol to thwart American democracy.

These candidates demonstrated, in their campaigns, a contempt for American democracy in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia. These were the states that determined the winner of the 2020 election (fact check: it really was Biden) and will likely be the decisive states in the 2024 election. Yet the Republican candidates for governor, senator and state-level offices that oversee elections in these states were overwhelmingly antidemocratic, striking fear into the hearts of the electorate. The voters took notice and saw that, in their states, the future of American democracy truly was on the ballot.

The Republicans missed how motivated Democratic voters were to protecting American democracy

Joel Rubin

And that is when Biden struck. In the fall, he made protecting American democracy central to his argument about why Democrats should be reelected in the midterms, including giving a dramatic speech in Pennsylvania just days before the election. The national atmosphere had been ready to hear this argument, pushed into learning more about Trump’s antidemocratic actions through the House’s Jan. 6 commission.

But instead of paying attention to this shifting mood among the electorate, Republicans scoffed, insisting that Americans only cared about crime and inflation, missing key indicators that the future of American democracy truly mattered to swing voters in these swing states. Early vote totals came in decidedly favoring Democrats, but Republicans, like those enjoying the deckchairs on the Titanic, closed their ears and eyes and missed how motivated Democratic voters were to protecting American democracy.

Biden understood this. Democrats understood this. And when these pro-democracy swing voters combined with aggressive turnout of the Democratic base, Democrats held their ground, not only keeping the Senate but growing their majority by one vote (51-49). And Republicans only took the narrowest of majorities in the House, fewer than 10 seats (222-213) — meaning that Republicans can only lose four of their votes to maintain the majority on legislation next year — in a stunning defeat of their aspirations.

The winner after all this: Biden.

Also read: The Republican Party’s challenges and foreseeable positioning

So, where we are now for Democrats is a balancing of policy objectives and political ambitions. The policy dynamics in 2023 will be different for Democrats from the past two years, clearly due to Republicans taking control of one chamber of Congress. And politically, everything that Biden and the Senate Democrats do should be viewed within the context of both positioning Biden for reelection and seeking to strengthen their own electoral position in 2024. Fortunately for Democrats, if Biden runs again, these two agendas will be identical. If Biden were, in the unlikely case, to not run, deep confusion among Senate Democrats would be unleashed, helping Republican prospects. But that is unlikely.

What this means is that Senate Democrats will aggressively defend Biden and push his agenda forward in an attempt to create a clear, visible difference from the Republicans. They will confirm Biden’s judicial nominees aggressively. They will pass legislation to codify a woman’s right to an abortion. They will pass spending bills to combat climate change that the House will not even consider. And they will move forward on legislation to strengthen the economy for hard-working Americans.

It is worth noting that, on judicial nominees, as long as Majority Leader Schumer can keep his caucus together — and on these types of appointments, he was able to do so for the past two years — Democrats will have many successes to point to. This is because Democrats will hold a majority on each committee due to picking up that one seat in the midterms, as opposed to the previous even split due to a 50-50 ratio in the chamber, making it significantly easier for Democrats to get President Biden’s judicial nominees approved.

All these efforts will then be calibrated to create a clear contrast with Republicans, so that Democratic base voters will remain motivated to turn out again in 2024 and so that the swing voters will like what they see, especially when compared to the Republican House.

On the other side of the political equation, House Republicans will seek to chip away at Biden, attacking him for the work of his first two years, especially on the withdrawal from Afghanistan and immigration. They will also likely seek to rewrite the history of the Trump administration and the Jan. 6 insurrection. Importantly, they will delve deep into personal attacks against Biden, particularly against his son Hunter.

So, for Biden, the table has now been set. He has come through a successful midterm election. His agenda in the first two years was largely implemented. His allies in Congress are poised to make the case for his party by creating a clear contract with the opposition. And Trump is lurking, on the cusp of again being nominated by Republicans to run for the White House, striking at the core of Biden’s original rationale in 2019 for seeking the presidency.

Now, the only question that remains is whether or not Biden will take up the challenge of running again, becoming the first person in their 80s to be nominated to be president by a major political party. But if you have watched Biden over the years, one thing is clear: He has an unrivaled passion for public service and is a true patriot. He stayed in the Senate in 1972 after his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident, just before starting his first term, demonstrating deep resolve. He ran for president, five decades later, explicitly to stop Trump, the threats to American democracy and the rising hate in America, all of which are deeply intertwined.

Senate Democrats will aggressively defend Biden in an attempt to create a clear difference from the Republicans

Joel Rubin

So, yes, he will do it again. Because that is just who Biden is. He will run again in 2024 to continue to stand up for American democracy. And he will run again because he can win.

Yet a lot can happen between now and 2024. The Democratic legislative agenda is at deep risk of stagnation because of Republican power in the House. House investigations could motivate their base. And Trump could fall away as the leading Republican candidate for president due to the legal quicksand he finds himself in and the electoral losses his endorsed candidates suffered in 2022. On the latter point, Republican leaders now openly blame Trump directly for their weak showing in the election, meaning they smell his weakness.

And if Trump falters, it could paradoxically become more difficult for Democrats. That is because, if Trump does not maintain his current grip on the Republican base and becomes vulnerable to a challenger, that challenger — with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis leading the pack — could pose a problem for Biden. Not only would it not be the rematch to defend democracy that Biden craves, but it would also put swing voters in the key swing states in play in a manner that they currently are not. Remember, these voters rejected Trump in both 2020 and 2022. It is not clear that they would reject a different Republican in 2024.

But before we get too interested in an alternative to Trump emerging, let us be realistic. No one commands the loyalty of the Republican base like Trump. And in a primary, one only needs the base to win the nomination. The swing voters are not going to the polls. Trump, therefore, still remains the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican nomination for 2024. Only if he chooses to withdraw from the race — which is highly unlikely — will he not take the nomination.

So, get ready for a presidential election rematch in 2024 that will determine the viability of American democracy, because that is what we are likely to get very soon.

Interestingly, Biden will also gain a political advantage through his conduct of foreign affairs as the nation’s commander-in-chief. In this role, he has significant latitude to pursue his own policies with minimal Republican interference, and he will use every opportunity to make the case that he is the right person to lead America in the world, especially when compared to Trump’s four years of chaos and estrangement from our country’s traditional allies and policy positions.

For example, on his current signature foreign policy issue — Ukraine — he will be able to show how his leadership is protecting America’s allies and democracy abroad in support of our national security, a position that Trump abandoned. Biden’s position has been a political winner for him throughout the past year and he will continue to press the case to voters that his steady hand in a time of global turmoil is an asset.

All of this taken together means Washington will be consumed, beginning in 2023, with the race to frame the upcoming 2024 presidential election. And with the likely competitors being Biden and Trump, get ready for all of the nation’s capital’s actors to play their part to get to victory. For Biden, his positioning to return to power in 2025 could not be any better.

Joel Rubin is Democratic Strategist at Washington Strategy Group, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs to the House of Representatives, and a former US Senate National Security Adviser. Twitter: @JoelMartinRubin

This article first appeared in Asharq. It is part of a series titled “2023: A year of difficult questions.”

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