The Joe Biden Re-election Dilemma

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Joe Biden should be far and away the favorite to win re-election in 2024.

The American economy continues to gather strength. He has a solid string of policy victories. And his main Republican opponent, Donald Trump, is lost in a jungle of legal troubles.

The Democratic Party continues to score electoral victories as voters coalesce on the issue of abortion rights, as we saw in Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky on Tuesday night. But it is not clear at this point whether Biden’s fate is linked to down-ballot candidates or issues.

In Ohio, where abortion access and marijuana legalization won, and in Pennsylvania, where a Democratic State Supreme Court justice won, Trump appears to hold an edge in several polls. Biden is polling ahead in Virginia, where Democrats flipped control of the House of Delegates and maintained control of the Senate, but it’s also a state where Democrats have won the last several presidential elections.

And while abortion has been a winning issue for Democrats, it’s not clear yet if it will be on the ballot next November in any swing states — Arizona is one where it might be — or if Biden will effectively capitalize on the issue.

Taken together, this is why Biden’s continued struggles in the polls are so worrisome. A New York Times/Siena College poll released Sunday found Biden trailing Trump in five of six swing states. We’re a year out from Election Day, but Biden’s relative weakness compared to Trump’s position is still shocking.

The poll would be easier to dismiss if it were the only one showing Biden’s weakness against Trump, but it’s not. Recent polls from CBS News and ABC News/Ipsos also reveal troubling signs for Biden.

David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, posted on social media on Sunday that if Biden continues to run, he will surely be the Democratic nominee in 2024. But, Axelrod said: “What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?” because “the stakes of miscalculation here are too dramatic to ignore.”

Some understandably thought that Axelrod was suggesting that Biden drop out of the race, but Axelrod himself insisted that was not what he was saying.

I don’t view Axelrod’s comments as controversial. They’re not a dig at Biden for his performance. It is ridiculous to ask people to ignore the erosion of Biden’s support among demographic groups that he must secure to win re-election.

The risk of a Biden loss is real, and no amount of political ego or posturing can disguise that.

According to the Times/Siena poll, Biden is losing ground among younger, nonwhite and less engaged voters.

At The Times’s Nate Cohn put it, “Long-festering vulnerabilities on his age, economic stewardship, and appeal to young, Black and Hispanic voters have grown severe enough to imperil his re-election chances.”

The economic piece is a conundrum. The economy is improving, but many people don’t see it or feel it, and they blame Biden. There is a clear disconnect in the data. And it is possible that people are also injecting a more general dissatisfaction with the direction of the country into their feelings about the economy. Either way, this may be fixable.

The age issue, which I view as largely a manufactured one, is one that has calcified. Unlike feelings about the economy, which change as conditions shift, Biden is only getting older.

What is his campaign going to do? Put him in more jeans and rolled-up dress shirts? Have him jog up to the mic at rallies? Make sure that he appears tanned and rested? Every scenario designed to signal youth and virility has the downside potential of looking ridiculous.

I still remember the cringe-worthy moment in 2019 when an Iowa voter raised questions about Biden’s age, and Biden responded by challenging the man to a push-up contest. No more of that, I beg you.

Biden is an elderly man, yes. And he will look and behave in ways that demonstrate that. But he seems to me to be handling his job well now and capable of continuing. The irony is that Trump is also elderly, but the immaturity in his defiance, anger and petulance can read as young.

Lastly, the minority outreach question is also more complicated than it might appear. I sense a growing dissatisfaction with Biden, particularly among young minorities, and the war in Gaza is only making it worse. The passions are so high now that I think this tension will remain even after the war ends.

Also, both parties and all demographics have segments that are less engaged and informed, but those groups are also open to drift, even if in the end they would be voting against their own interests.

Recently, the rising rapper Sexyy Red said in an interview that “the hood” started to love Trump once he started “getting Black people out of jail and giving people that free money” in the form of stimulus checks.

Never mind that Trump and Republicans opposed those stimulus checks and Democrats pushed them — that “free money” is still associated in the minds of many with Trump.

This just underscores how Biden has trouble on both ends of the engagement spectrum among some young voters: Some of the highly engaged ones criticize him for the U.S.’s actions in the war in Gaza, and some of those less engaged mythologize his predecessor.

It is possible that more and better outreach and engagement could change some of these realities, but make no mistake: We are in a very risky situation where the one person likely standing between Trump — and Trump’s destructive impulses — and the White House is a president who is limping into a re-election bid.

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