Democrats are sounding off: President Biden is being underestimated.
The president’s poor approval numbers, and polling showing him trailing former President Trump, his likely opponent in 2024, have created frustration and anxiety within the party, with some wondering if Biden is heading Democrats into a disastrous election that could cost them the White House and Senate.
But a number of Democrats are criticizing the critics, arguing Biden should get more credit for an improving economy and positing his fortunes are likely to brighten in the months leading up to the election.
“Biden faces challenges going into 2024, but I’m baffled by seemingly smart political people writing his chances off,” said Jim Kessler, co-founder of the centrist thinktank Third Way.
Those defending the president’s chances argue that the choice will be clear once voters are actually faced with Trump on the general election ballot
“I’m very bullish on President Biden’s reelection in 2024. The economy is strong, we’ve recovered from COVID, and we are once again respected in the world. Most importantly, he’s restored a sense of normalcy after four years of President Trump’s chaos,” said David Thomas, a former aide to Vice President Gore.
“Does work remain? You bet,” added Thomas, a partner at Mehlman Consulting. “But if you ask the question in November: ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ I believe a majority of Americans will answer a resounding yes.”
The negative commentary around Biden’s chances has notably come from former President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod, who said this month that new polling showing Biden’s approval rating hitting 37 percent is “very, very dark” for his reelection campaign.
He also recently suggested Biden step aside and that he has a “50-50 shot” of winning in 2024.
Meanwhile, the aggregation of polls kept by Decision Desk HQ and The Hill show Trump with a lead of 1.9 percentage points over Biden.
“Elections are about choices. The American people don’t want a return to Trump’s chaos and aren’t looking for an authoritarian leader who admires dictators like Putin,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told The Hill. “President Biden has a strong record of accomplishments from bringing our economy back from the brink to passing historic legislation to standing up for Americans’ rights, and the difference in choices couldn’t be more clear.”
Former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) called it “unfortunate” that Democrats aren’t all rallying around Biden yet.
“If the shoe was on the other foot, Republicans would not be behind-the-scenes poking needles into the back of their nominee, especially as a presidential incumbent. And that’s unfortunate we see that happening right now with Democrats,” he said. “At the end of the day, people need to come home to Joe Biden and I think they will.”
Although the economy has defied expectations and avoided the recession that experts were predicting a year ago, Biden hasn’t received much credit for it. The U.S. economy is on track to finish 2023 with low unemployment, steady economic growth and significantly slower inflation. But Biden’s attempt to sell his economic agenda and tout it as a success is falling flat with voters.
Allies argue the economy will end up being an asset for him in 2024, even if it doesn’t look like its attracting voters now.
“If projections are correct, he will have an economy that elects incumbents. Inflation is largely in the rearview mirror, GDP is positive, interest rates are falling, and the entire country has a job,” Kessler said.
His approval rating is consistently below 40 percent, and frustration has built around him that he’s still trailing Trump, despite his successes.
Biden’s reelection campaign and the White House have largely dismissed polls as being meaningless this far away from the election while noting pundits have previously counted out Biden only to see him rise to victory.
Allies also point to the fact that Biden has long been underestimated and is known to pull off a comeback.
“I think he’s made a life in politics of being underestimated. Everyone underestimated Joe Biden 2020 and I think things have changed dramatically since then,” Crowley said. “The legislation that was passed — whether it’s the infrastructure bill or the CHIPS Act — bills that haven’t been fully implemented yet and the effects of them haven’t been fully felt yet, we’re going to see more of that in 2024.”
In the 2020 Democratic primary, Biden’s campaign was considered to be over but a win in the South Carolina primary, largely attributed to a key endorsement from Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). turned it around.
In the 2022 midterms, a so-called red wave was predicted and pundits were preparing for a Republican-led Congress. Instead, Democrats had better-than-expected results, held onto the Senate, and kept the GOP-control in the House by very tight margins.
“Biden has been historically underestimated. At this point in the 2020 primary, he was left for dead and the Mike Bloomberg was going to ride to the rescue. He not only won the primary, he mopped the floor with his opponents. Mike Tyson took longer to win half of his fights,” Kessler said.
Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, who wrote about his optimism for Biden’s reelection in a recent MSNBC opinion piece, argued that Democrats’ nervousness about 2024 is misplaced because Biden is a good president and Trump is “the worst candidate.”
“I think Democrats have to be better about not psyching themselves out,” he told The Hill. “We are on a very good run as a party and we need to start from a place of understanding that we are strong and Republicans are weak and that we’re united and they’re divided. Joe Biden has been a good president and Donald Trump is a dangerous political figure.”
Democrats are also quick to note that Trump is entangled in a number of legal troubles, although that hasn’t hurt his lead over the other candidates competing in the GOP primary.
The former president faces a slew of criminal indictments on the federal and state levels involving the potential mishandling of classified documents and election interference.
Rosenberg argued that with time, Trump’s criminal charges will make it difficult for him to actually win an election.
“The negatives that we have on Trump are unlike any negatives [we] have ever had. And the notion that these things aren’t going to degrade him and weaken him once they started getting aired, it’s wishful thinking on the Republican side,” he said.
“This notion that Trump is somehow strong and in a strong position to win the election I think is among the most ridiculous things that I’ve ever heard in all the years I’ve been in politics,” he added.
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