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A.B. Stoddard: Biden and Trump Star in Our Wretched Groundhog Day

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The dreaded rematch of Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump now seems like it will only be halted by some unforeseen drama – and not by Ron DeSantis.

President Biden has finally announced that he is running for a second term, and DeSantis’ mistakes have solidified Trump’s frontrunner status. Just weeks ago it seemed Biden could be stalling for time, that perhaps our oldest-ever president had accepted he could not convince the electorate he can lead us until January 2029. Trump, dogged by his chronic liabilities and potential criminality, seemed he would face a serious threat from a popular and aggressive 44-year-old governor who carried the fervent hopes of the donor class and the party elites.

Nope.

Biden did not pass the torch to the next generation of Democratic leaders and is setting his party, if not the country, up for a potential crisis should his health fail him in the hardest job on the planet. Meanwhile, a juggernaut couldn’t carry a tone-deaf DeSantis to a commanding position before the momentum shifted back to Trump. The former president is now set to plow toward the early state contests next winter with a burgeoning list of endorsements, strong polling, and regular appearances on Fox News once again – all against the backdrop of at least one other state and/or federal indictment.

As Trump promises “retribution” and dispenses more lies about the 2020 election while potentially facing additional criminal charges, the Republican Party will likely march right beside him.

Trump has even received the support of Sen. Steve Daines, who is leading the National Republican Senatorial Committee. After Trump’s disastrous record in 2022, Daines and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell started this election cycle prepared to intervene wherever extremist candidates were seeking Trump’s help. They desperately want the party to avoid a repeat of last November when they lost races in every battle ground except Wisconsin and didn’t pick up a single seat. But Daines’ backing shows Trump will break the rest of the establishment down in short order.

It’s looking grim for those Republicans still trying to wish DeSantis into viability. The Florida governor may have a feel for culture wars, but he’s not prepared for a presidential campaign, let alone going up against Trump. Not only has Trump secured more endorsements – most notably from members of Congress from Florida – but Republicans are offering on-the-record statements to the media about how much Trump reaches out and DeSantis snubs everyone.

The worst poll result for DeSantis is in NBC’s latest survey and shows 68 percent of GOP primary voters agreed with the statement – on the investigations into Trump – “they are a politically motivated attempt to stop Trump. No other candidate is like him, we must support him.” Only 26% felt the statement “it is important to nominate a candidate who will not be distracted and can beat Joe Biden” came closer to their view.

Biden does not represent a danger to the country as Trump does – he did not attempt a coup or incite insurrection, has not called for the Constitution to be suspended, and has not chosen to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence director. But that doesn’t mean he will win.

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The NBC poll found 70% of all Americans, and 51 percent of Democrats, believe Biden shouldn’t run again. That number was larger than the 60 percent in the poll that said Trump should not run.

Biden had higher approval in the poll than Trump, at 38 percent compared to 34 percent for Trump. And Democrats will assume that double-haters (who chose Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016) will end up voting for Biden. Yet the number of registered voters who reported they would probably or definitely vote for Biden in the poll was only 41 percent compared to 47 percent for Trump.

Biden’s support within his own party is historically weak. The Washington Post reported: “Across eight national polls in 2022 and 2023, an average of 38 percent of Democrats want Biden to be the party’s presidential nominee in 2024 – while a 57 percent majority want to nominate someone else. During Trump’s first term, an average of 73 percent of Republicans wanted the GOP to renominate him. An average of 75 percent of Democrats wanted to renominate Barack Obama during his first presidential term.”

The NBC poll showed Biden’s job approval is only 30 percent with independents, 22 percent of whom would probably or definitely vote for him again. Biden won independent voters by nine points over Trump in 2020.

Democrats are clinging to the fact that some first-term presidents with as weak standing as Biden at this point in his presidency found their footing and got reelected. But Biden’s approval isn’t likely to grow to a comfortable level as concerns about his age – among Democrats as well – are also likely to grow.

Biden is most certainly an accomplished president, but polls reveal that strong majorities of the public can’t name what Biden’s administration has accomplished. They have no idea what the CHIPS, BIF, and PACT laws are. They don’t know Democrats codified same sex marriage, passed gun reform, or amended the Electoral Count Act. Many swing voters could easily decide Trump is the less old man in whose administration gasoline and groceries cost less.

Biden will be even older next summer when Trump is telling Americans that “Sleepy Joe could end up in the hospital soon and we’ll all be stuck with Kamala.” This will be a problem for Democrats – Harris is less popular than Biden.

But what Democrats are counting on, which may save them, is that Trump is a turnout engine for their side. Many Republican officials and donors agree. After defeats the party suffered in the 2018, 2020, 2021, and 2022 elections, they don’t need to be told a fifth time that – unless fate intervenes – Trump is likely a far riskier bet for them than Biden is for Democrats.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics and a guest host on Sirius XM’s POTUS Channel. This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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