A year after Biden beat Trump, 2024 looks as worrying as ever

It’s been just over a year since Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump handily in both the Electoral College and the popular vote. But three years out from the re-election campaign he insists he’s going to fight, Biden is in trouble.

His approval ratings are mediocre to poor, his legislative agenda is being obstructed and whittled down, and the macroeconomic mood is glum. On top of that, Covid-19 is once again ascendant. The extent to which he is personally to blame for any of these things is up for debate – but it’s tough to argue that things are going well.

The calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan in August heralded the president’s plunge below 50 per cent in the polls; after that, the Democrats returned to Congress for months of abject fighting over the Biden agenda, a long-haul fight that’s now seen the Build Back Better bill finally all but scuppered by holdout West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. There has been precious little movement on major progressive priorities such as voting rights and policing and criminal justice reform,

The state of play at the end of 2021 has many Democrats briefing anonymously against their party’s congressional leadership and campaigning operation, with different ideological factions warning that the party’s national message is badly muddled and that its interminable rifts on Capitol Hill have squandered the goodwill Biden and his party enjoyed until the summer.

As progressive Congressman Jamaal Bowman recently put it to The Independent, Mr Biden is struggling in particular to retain the trust of Black voters, who played a core role in making him the party’s nominee in 2020.

Complaining of his failure to advance criminal justice reform or voting rights legislation, Mr Bowman accused the president of nothing less than lying to the electorate. “That has been unacceptable. That has been deplorable. And the president needs to do much, much, much more to connect with Black people in this country.”

This sort of dissent in the ranks and other problems have many establishment Democrats concerned about the prospects for a Biden re-election campaign – but for now, the president and his allies insist both on the record and on background that he is still planning to fight it.

Not everyone is convinced either that this is a good idea or that it will actually happen. Biden’s most obvious problem beyond his unpopularity (which he has three years to try and improve) is his advanced age. If re-elected, he will be 82 at his second inauguration, several years older than Ronald Reagan was when he left office. Depending on his health, it may preclude him from running entirely.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

In that case, the natural successor would be Kamala Harris. But between her infamously difficult policy portfolio, a slow-burning narrative of dysfunction in her office and various minor but embarrassing public missteps, her acceptance as the heir apparent is currently far from assured – as evidenced by a recent flurry of reports that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could challenge her if Mr Biden bows out. (Both Harris and Buttigieg have poured cold water on the idea.)

On the other side, meanwhile, there is little doubt that Donald Trump is seriously entertaining the possibility of running again. He has held a number of campaign-style rallies across the country, openly alluded to the possibility of choosing a running mate, and reportedly had to be talked out of announcing a run this summer by party strategists wary he could wreck the 2022 midterms with his fixation on the false 2020 election fraud narrative.

Yet there are still obstacles to a Trump renaissance. However popular or unpopular he and Biden might be, by the time it comes to start a campaign in earnest, Trump may find himself in severe legal trouble that makes a winning campaign politically impossible.

Among other things, he faces possible indictment in New York over his property dealings, a still-rumbling Congressional investigation into his tax returns, a defamation case brought by author E. Jean Carroll, who claims he raped her in a department store in the 1990s, and the looming threat of the 6 January committee’s investigation, which is ensnaring more and more of his inner circle.

And even the former president’s popularity in his own party might not be enough to shore him up. However high his approval ratings among Republicans – which, while impressive, have never been quite as high as he maintained – Trump hardly has broad popular approval for another campaign.

According to a recent Marquette University survey, 73 per cent of Republicans approve of Trump and 60 per cent say he should run again – but on the latter point, only 26 per cent of independents agree. (Unsurprisingly, a full 94 per cent of Democrats are against the idea.)

According to Charles Franklin, a polling expert at Marquette who helped lead the survey, Trump’s numbers show a meaningful degree of “slippage” with a full two years before the primaries begin in earnest.

Donald Trump at a “Save America” rally in Iowa, October 2021

“Trump seems to have little room to expand his support,” he tells The Independent. “Democrats and independents who lean Democratic are nearly universally unfavourable and unwilling to vote for him. Pure independents are 28 per cent Trump and 21 per cent Biden, but 34 per cent someone else and 18 per cent wouldn’t vote. So there is some room there, but most don’t care for either. And on favourability, pure independents are 26 per cent favorable and 67 per cent unfavorable to Trump, so that doesn’t look like a strength.”

Could the president’s sheer heft among Republicans still save him? Possibly, says Franklin – but based on his performance in the last two elections, nothing can be taken for granted.

“Trump could, and probably would, shore up his strength with Republicans of all stripes when pitted against any Democrat given partisan polarization. But don’t ignore that Trump has lost the popular vote twice. His path back to office, as in 2016, is a narrow electoral college win through a handful of very close battleground states such as Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona.”

But according to Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law who studies and writes about political disinformation, Trump’s personal role may not be a decisive factor thanks to the power of the precedent he’s set.

“Trump has shown a path toward potential subversion of election results in the United States,” Hansen tells The Independent. “It would not be easy for someone else to come in and do what Trump did given that he has built a cult of personality, but it is certainly possible that someone could more successfully run his playbook.”

The real question then isn’t whether or not Trump and Biden run again, or who picks up the baton if they don’t. It’s whether the US’s electoral apparatus can still cope with the pressure it’s now under – that is, whether the result of the election, whatever it is, will be legally upheld without violence.

Trump supporters storm the Capitol on 6 January 2021

The 2025 certification is doomed to take place in the shadow of the 2021 insurrection. Assuming that events between 5 November and 6 January do not delay or derail it altogether, the certification will likely be conducted under near-maximum-security conditions. And whether or not Trump or Biden is on the ballot, the conditions will inevitably be ripe for an effort to install a Republican president even if the Democratic candidate legitimately wins.

And provided no intervening event changes her position, it will also be presided over by Kamala Harris, potentially as she awaits her second inauguration as vice president – or her inauguration as the US’s first biracial female president.

It may well be the next two years of Senate, House and downballot races that decide what happens. For Biden and the Democrats, the risk remains not only that the Republicans control the Senate come 6 January 2025, but that the Republican caucus is even further to the right than it was for the 2021 insurrection – when several GOP senators who planned to object to the election results changed their minds after a violent Trumpist mob arrived to attack them and their colleagues.

The state of play in the Senate in 2024 will be clearer after the upcoming midterms, in which the Democrats are not without hope. Already the Republican caucus is in flux; several of the GOP’s less hardcore senators are retiring in 2022, among them Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Ohio’s Rob Portman and possibly South Dakota’s John Thune, but the Ohio and Georgia Senate races in particular have already attracted the kinds of hardcore Trumpists that the Democrats hope could win their Republican primaries before going on to alienate swing voters while galvanising even disillusioned Biden voters to help keep them out.

This, however, is not an outcome over which the Democrats have control. The 2024 map, meanwhile, includes some names whose survival or departure could dramatically shape what happens when the 2024 result reaches Congress.

On the Democratic side are Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the twin bêtes noires of their party’s progressives and the principal obstacles to the Biden agenda. To have both of them out the Senate would suit the rest of the Democratic party perfectly fine, but for them both to be replaced with other Democrats would be an exceptional stroke of luck – and holding the majority under an incumbent president is no easy task.

Among the holdout Republican moderates up for re-election in 2024, meanwhile, is Mitt Romney, the only GOP senator who voted to impeach Donald Trump the first time he was tried in the chamber and one of only seven to do so in 2021. He has not yet confirmed if he will stand again, but it is hard to see him being spared an aggressive challenge from the Trumpist mainstream of the party.

GOP Senators Mitt Romney and Josh Hawley

Then again, two big hard-right Republican names will also be on the ballot that year: Texas’s Ted Cruz and Missouri’s Josh Hawley, both of whom objected to the 2020 result on 6 January this year even after the attack. Cruz in particular will be a top Democratic target, though the last few electoral cycles have seen the party’s chances in Texas hyped up before being met with crushing disappointment.

Overall, though, the nightmare scenario remains clear: a chain of events where the election result is contested and political violence breaks out as a result. After the events of November 2020-January 2021, that is no longer a hypothetical situation.

For his part, Trump intends to give an address on 6 January 2022 claiming that the “real insurrection” was on 3 November 2020, and that the openly violent attack by his supporters was in fact peaceful. But other, more reality-based Republicans are warning that the party has urgent work to be done between now and then to prevent the worst from coming to pass.

Gabe Sterling, one of the Georgia election officials who spoke out against Trump’s claims that Biden’s victory in his state was fraudulent, warns that “it will take talking to folks honestly and respectfully” to bring mainstream Republican voters back from the Trump narrative of the last election – but that it remains incumbent on the party’s leaders to start acting in good faith and try to bring the temperature down.

“They need to tell the truth. They need to stop spreading conspiracy theories. When you talk privately to nearly every Republican lawmaker, they know there is nothing to the ‘stolen election’ claims. Don’t just trust whatever rumours you hear from Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, or your constituents. Giuliani said in court that he just repeated conspiracy theories he read on Facebook without verifying them. That’s nuts,” Sterling tells The Independent.

“Republican leaders are supposed to be more responsible than that. I’m not an elected official, but I am a Republican. I’m going to keep fighting for a Republican Party that actually believes in conservative, Republican ideals, not just election conspiracy theories. Defining the party around the stolen election lie is a recipe for failure. Ask former Senators [David] Perdue and [Kelly] Loeffler how that strategy worked out for them.”

All the while, the question of which Democrat will be the protagonist in this nightmare still lingers. But for now, the current president is not budging. Asked on ABC News whether he still expects to run for a second term, he insisted that if his health remains good, he will. And pressed on whether a Trump candidacy might put him off, he was his usual avuncular self.

“You’re trying to tempt me now,” he smiled. “Sure. Why would I not run against Donald Trump for the nominee? That’ll increase the prospect of running,”

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.

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