Wow, big news broke Tuesday – President Biden’s campaign is officially going to be headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware. For months nervous Democrats have wondered why Biden only had four full-time staffers devoted to his reelection effort and why the campaign wasn’t yet located anywhere.
This development will do absolutely nothing, however, to stop the panic within the party that Biden is too old to run for reelection and could easily lose to former President Donald Trump. Sorry, Team Biden, these fears will not be put to rest; they are going to persist and grow.
Though the White House and the Democratic National Committee may be trying to ignore it, there is suddenly a constant stream of stories in the media about doubts that Biden can make it across the finish line 16 months from now. Though Frank Bruni noted it’s probably too late, he encouraged Democrats in a New York Times column to talk about Hunter Biden, and suggested Biden should step aside: “It might be best, for him and for continued Democratic control of the White House, if he let Democrats choose a different 2024 nominee.”
And CNN’s Edward-Isaac Dovere’s reporting last week went there – top Democrats and donors continue to “reach out to those seen as possible replacement presidential candidates. Get ready, they urge…” Democrats, Dovere wrote, worry about Biden’s weak small-dollar fundraising – which shows diminished energy from the grassroots – as well as his light schedule, which they believe will only exacerbate the perception that he is too old to campaign or be president. A Democrat who had a senior role in Biden’s 2020 campaign is quoted saying “If Trump wins next November and everyone says, ‘How did that happen,’ one of the questions will be: what was the Biden campaign doing in the summer of 2023?”
In a recent New York Times report about how impressive Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s polling and campaign war chest is, and what that says about Biden’s weakness as an incumbent, Julian Castro, the former housing secretary, said “It’s clear there is a softness that perhaps is born out of a worry about electability in 2024.”
Biden’s polling is not soft, it’s terrible and has worsened over time. The age liability and concerns about Biden’s mental sharpness loom large across all surveys and voter groups. In some general election surveys, he loses to Trump. It’s hard to imagine next year, when he is older, that his standing will improve.
It’s not just that critical parts of the Democratic coalition are disappointed and apathetic and may not turn out to vote – but data shows some Asian, Hispanic, and black voters are beginning to support Republicans instead. John Della Volpe, polling director at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics and an expert on youth voting, recently wrote that young voters are increasingly identifying as independents, not Democrats, and are becoming disillusioned with politics as a means to create change. “Nearly every sign that made me confident in historic levels of youth participation in 2018, 2020 and 2022 – is now flashing red,” he wrote.
Biden also appears to have forgotten that, in an election he only won by fewer than 44,000 votes in three states, the support of Never Trump Republicans was critical. Recent reporting by NBC News shows the Biden White House has ignored many of those Republicans who stepped up to endorse him (except for Cindy McCain and former Sen. Jeff Flake who both became ambassadors in his administration) and that they aren’t interested in supporting him again next year.
The Biden inner circle seems to be confident his age is a smaller political problem than the many ones Trump has. They also seem to be in denial that some of the Hunter Biden business dealings revelations are really bad, and that his father refusing to acknowledge his love child is terrible.
The campaign will remain focused mostly on the economy – there are plans for the president to embark on an “investing in America” tour this summer to tout the historic investment in manufacturing, infrastructure, and jobs that his administration has secured.
But it may be too late for Biden to toot his horn.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Lt. Gov. Austin Davis was recently quoted by the New York Times, talking about how poorly the administration has communicated its accomplishments to the public. “They’ve done a pretty bad job of telling the American people and Pennsylvanians what they have done,” he said.
No good economic news – there is much of it and more could materialize – seems able to eclipse the sting of inflation and sink in with voters when 74% of Americans believe we are on the wrong track. Voters give Biden poor ratings on the economy despite record job growth and – as David Brooks recently noted in the New York Times – a lower misery index (inflation rate added to unemployment rate) than Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama had when they were reelected.
And it’s clear that Republicans will pummel Biden over his unpopular vice president throughout next year’s campaign. “I think that we can all be very clear and say with a matter of fact that if you vote for Joe Biden you are really counting on a President Harris, because the idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something I think is likely,” Nikki Haley said, which is only the beginning of this refrain.
Dismissing Harris’ abysmally low approval rating, which makes clear she is a liability to an 80-year-old Biden running to be president until he is 86 years old, as racist and misogynistic won’t help make her more popular or help Biden win the electoral college.
The Biden campaign can raise a lot of money and hold lots of ribbon cuttings at factories and try to rehabilitate Harris – but nothing will calm the jitters building in the party about the increasing likelihood of a second Trump term.