After months of speculation and anticipation, U.S. President Joe Biden made it official. At 80 years of age, he is officially the oldest incumbent candidate for president of the United States.
If re-elected, he will take the oath of office as the oldest Commander-in-Chief in U.S. history. Biden’s age becomes an immediate challenge confronting the campaign as it looks ahead to re-election.
A recent NBC News poll shows 70 per cent of all Americans — including 51 per cent of Democrats — believe President Biden should not run for a second term with his age being the overarching factor.
Still, as Biden faces a weary and skeptical electorate, nagging questions of his physical viability, and anemic enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy, his re-election chances against Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner for the Republican nomination, appear promising.
Flashback to 2020 when then-candidate Joe Biden and incumbent president Trump waged an epic battle for the White House.
Even amidst a once-in-a-generation pandemic that took the lives of millions of Americans, voters braved an uncertain political landscape to push the final vote tally to unprecedented heights.
In the end, Biden, the twice-failed presidential contender, had received more votes than any other presidential candidate in U.S. history. Surpassing the final numbers of his previous running mate, Barack Obama.
Fast forward three years and even with a long list of record accomplishments and a groundbreaking running mate as the first woman (and first woman of colour) to serve as vice-president, an overwhelming majority of voters are less than enthusiastic about a rematch between the two geriatric pols now vying for the presidency.
Nevertheless, while President Biden has battled a steady drumbeat of less-than-stellar approval ratings, when matched up against Donald Trump, like 2020 all over again, Biden comes out ahead.
BESET BY LEGAL CHALLENGES
Donald Trump remains a deeply polarizing political figure. He is beset by legal challenges that continue to escalate at every turn.
Now, his once thinly veiled autocratic tendencies have been unleashed for all the electorate to see and it is turning off key demographics the twice-impeached ex-President will desperately need to be competitive against the current White House occupant.
Nevertheless, a hard turn towards autocracy and mounting legal problems have not diminished Trump’s march to the Republican nomination. In fact, just the opposite has occurred; the far-right base of support for the indicted ex-Commander-in-Chief has hardened. The GOP electorate has coalesced around Trump’s candidacy, showering him with copious amounts of campaign cash; key congressional endorsements; and a massive boost in the polls.
NO CLEAR PATH BACK TO THE WHITE HOUSE
In fact, in that same NBC News poll, an astounding 70 per cent of Republican primary voters stand behind Trump, despite the many ongoing investigations he is facing. All of this, despite no clear path back to the White House. For all of Trump’s apparent invincibility as the potential Republican standard bearer, President Biden remains the former reality television star’s kryptonite.
The political strengths that endear Trump to red meat conservatives: especially and including incessant name-calling and tracking in misinformation and disinformation do not transfer well with independent voters, suburban women, and moderate-to-conservative-leaning Democrats.
In fact, they act as a repellent to these key voter blocs, underscoring recent gains made by Democrats in key battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. These are states that once again, will likely determine the winner in 2024 just as in 2016 and 2020.
Biden’s net rating of negative 10 is nearly double Trump’s net rating of negative 19 favouring the incumbent in a head-to-head matchup. President Biden is embarking on a re-election effort facing strong headwinds given his low approval rating.
A Gallup survey showed presidents that were unable to increase their approval rating to near or above 50 per cent before Election Day failed to get re-elected.
Donald Trump’s approval rating just after the 2020 election registered at 43 per cent. President Biden’s approval rating currently is hovering between 39 – 43 per cent.
Numbers that typically spell disaster for re-election. Clearly, the Biden campaign is counting on facing the one challenger with approval ratings even worse than his: Trump. The former real estate magnate’s current approval rating stands at 34 per cent.
THIS RACE WILL FOCUS ON THE ALTERNATIVE
In fact, Biden himself recognizes that in his weakened state he is still in a much stronger position than Trump with voters. Hence Biden’s famous line, “Don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.”
President Biden’s accomplishments in his first term are plentiful. However, rather than touting these successes and making his candidacy a referendum on his many victories, legislatively and electorally, like 2020, this race will focus on the alternative.
The alternative that despite tremendous strength with the party is weaker than an already weak incumbent. Biden, the no-drama president. Biden, the president that still travels every weekend to his home in Delaware. Biden, the president that fiercely eschews palace intrigue.
Biden, the president that is steely focused on governing. Biden, the normal and boring president compared to the alternative that is Trump. Biden is steadfastly shaping a campaign narrative that places great emphasis on what a return to a MAGA presidency means versus a “sleepy Joe” mantra characterized by a relatively drama-free White House replete with endless scandals, never-ending firings, and criminal indictments.
Just a few short months ago, Trump’s political obituary was being written. The GOP had moved on without him. An heir apparent was awaiting coronation.
Yet, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Trump has charged back, vanquishing all challengers and tightening his hold on the Republican Party. Now, the man many thought politically dead is readying a challenge for the White House. All that is standing in his way is a man that has already defeated him and will surely do so again.
Eric Ham is a bestselling author and former congressional staffer in the U.S. Congress. He served as a contributor to TheHill.com and The Washington Diplomat. He resides in Washington, DC.