Poll after poll has brought bad news for Joe Biden. Whether the incumbent president is trailing his likely 2024 Republican challenger, hitting a new low in approval or seeing the majority of Democrats raise concerns about his age, the numbers should be disconcerting for the Biden camp.
Despite the grim data, so far Democrats are sticking with their man. And rather than confronting just how bleak things look at the moment, many Democrats are finding solace in a cycle of self-soothing spin that explains away the difficult political reality.
Here are some of those rationalizations — and why they might not be so rock-solid.
1. Biden was underestimated in 2020, too.
Many people close to the president like to point back to the 2020 election as proof that Biden can beat the odds. People doubted Biden then, too — and they turned out to be wrong.
“The campaign can either build a campaign that is knee-jerk responsive to the same Washington sources that were wrong in ’20 and ’22, or they can put in the historic time and money they are right now to mobilize their coalition to win a year from now. Personally, I think a strategy centered on voters — not Washington — is the right one,” one pro-Biden source told Playbook.
Sure, there were times during the 2020 race when Biden’s nomination — and his defeat of Donald Trump — seemed far from a sure thing. But this isn’t 2020, when Democratic voters were mobilized by four years of a Trump presidency defined by chaos in the White House and a slow, shoddy response to a deadly pandemic.
2. The polls this far out aren’t predictive.
As bad as the numbers look now, some Democrats like to say, don’t forget they could still change.
“The only thing you can be sure of after today’s NBC poll is that people will short-circuit again. Polls a year out are about as good at predicting election results as a Magic 8 Ball would be,” former Barack Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina pointed out on X (formerly Twitter). “They just don’t show the full picture.”
Well, true — these polls are not a crystal ball. But they show where things stand at this moment in time, and where they stand isn’t great.
3. Trump is much much worse!
One tactic Democrats and liberal commentators use to counter Biden’s vulnerabilities is to highlight Trump’s egregious flaws.
For instance, the writer Michael Tomasky recently countered a wave of coverage of Biden’s age — a key concern for most voters — with a long catalog of Trump’s misdeeds. Tomasky’s list included some of Trump’s most infamous moments (sharpie on the hurricane map, “alternative facts,” suggesting people should inject bleach to prevent Covid-19 infections, and his lies about the 2020 election results, to name a few).
“So, to those voters more repulsed by Biden’s age than Trump’s deeds: Is your memory really that short? Do you seriously want to live through all this again?,” Tomasky writes.
But many of Trump’s serious missteps happened while he was in office. Voters had a chance to vote for Trump when those flaws were still fresh — and nearly half still did. If voters will change their minds when they focus on Trump’s baggage, some of which is new since the last election, it’s unclear why they haven’t yet.
4. There’s no other option.
The Washington Post reported that during a September political panel in Aspen, Colorado, an attendee raised concerns about Biden’s viability as the Democratic nominee, and asked: What’s the backup plan?
According to the Post, former Biden chief of staff Ron Klain had a quick rebuttal: “The president is the party’s nominee, Klain said, and a strong nominee at that. There is no backup plan.”
There is certainly no backup plan that would be as orderly as renominating Biden. But there’s an entire fleet of Democratic up-and-comers biding their time and laying the groundwork for future White House bids — whether it’s by hosting a debate in the first-in-the-nation primary state, or holding a surprise meeting with President Xi Jinping in China.
And there are a few members of the Biden administration whom the president has cast as the party’s political future, including his vice president.
However, pitching Biden as the only option plays into Democrats’ fear of the unknown, particularly when up against Trump.
5. Whatever the polls say, the world needs Biden as president.
This is less of a response to the polls than a plea to ignore them from Democrats who think Biden is uniquely equipped to manage a moment of global tension and war.
Attendees at the Halifax International Security Forum heard a version of this from Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a national co-chair of Biden’s reelection campaign. Coons suggested there’s “absolutely” more concern about America’s future because of the possibility of another Trump presidency, Alex Ward, Lara Seligman and Paul McLeary report from Nova Scotia.
A year ago, Coons said, foreign officials would broach the possibility of a Trump return to office in their fourth or fifth question. “Now they’re saying ‘Oh my God, Trump could be president again!’ I’m going, ‘Uh huh, this is going to be close.’ Even the co-chair of the Biden reelection campaign will tell you this is going to be close,” Coons said.
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