- The president will be almost 82 by the time of the presidential election, and his predecessor may stand convicted of crimes.
By Gerard Baker
It still seems faintly incredible that the next presidential election could be a rematch of the last one.
For one thing, it happens so rarely in modern American politics. Only once since women gained the right to vote have the same two candidates contested consecutive elections—Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956.
But of all the pairs of candidates in the past century you would have bet against repeating their rivalry four years later, our current twosome would probably have topped your list. Incumbent presidents usually seek re-election, but Joe Biden took office at 78, already looking like a one-term president. On the other side, losing a general election has usually been enough to consign a candidate to history. Among the exceptions, Richard Nixon eked out a victory in 1968, but Thomas Dewey lost again in 1948. In 1956 Stevenson carried seven states, two fewer than in 1952, and trailed Eisenhower in the popular vote by 15 points.
But here we are, the primaries a few months away, the general election in just over a year, and the indications are that Mr. Biden is set to break his own record as the oldest candidate ever to lead a major party’s ticket, and Donald Trump, now under four indictments for 91 criminal counts, is likely to be the first American since Nixon to win a major party’s presidential nomination for a third time.
So much for history.
What makes the rematch especially improbable is how widely unpopular the two men are. In late 1955 Eisenhower had an approval rating of 78%, according to Gallup. I can’t find a similar number for Mr. Stevenson—who is supposed to have quipped, when told by a supporter that every thinking man in America was voting for him, “That won’t be enough. I need a majority.” But even if his approval was low, it is unlikely to have been this low.
Last week’s Wall Street Journal poll found the same proportion of voters—39%—with a favorable opinion of Mr. Biden and of Mr. Trump. Whatever else this may be, it isn’t a rematch by popular acclamation. As sequels go, this is more “Jaws: The Revenge” than “The Godfather Part II.”
Yet things are likely to get even worse. We can reasonably guess what will happen to Mr. Trump’s standing with all but his most ardent supporters in the next year. The endless court appearances, the breathless daily coverage of every piece of evidence, of every hostile witness, maybe even a conviction or two, is unlikely to elevate him in the eyes of independent voters.
But there are several good reasons to think that things could get noticeably harder for Mr. Biden’s standing too.
First, his Hunter problems are metastasizing, despite the best efforts of some in federal law enforcement to minimize them. The more we learn about the son’s lucrative business dealings, the harder it gets to believe that the father had no material connection with them. The worse the stench around the family gets, the more difficult it becomes for the president to claim any high moral ground over his similarly malodorous Republican opponent.
Second, like the rest of us, Mr. Biden isn’t getting any younger. Unlike most of the rest of us, he doesn’t think his advancing age is an impediment to doing his job. Voters disagree. That Journal poll found that 73% of voters think him too old to run for president; 60% say he isn’t mentally capable.
Third, immigration. When Democratic mayors are ululating about how their cities will be “destroyed” by overwhelming pressure from illegal migrants, a Democratic president can no longer ignore the problem. We may be one ugly incident away from immigration becoming more toxic than any other issue to Mr. Biden’s chances.
Fourth, Ukraine. While I continue to believe Kyiv’s cause is just, the chances of this ending in an acceptable victory are falling by the week. With Republicans increasingly skeptical about more assistance, the pressure for results on the ground will grow. Some time in the next year Mr. Biden may face a choice between doubling down and urging a settlement. Either would be politically perilous: The former would embolden critics who say America is immersing itself in a long and messy war; the latter would be a catastrophic setback to American prestige.
Finally, the economy. There is an excess of happy talk to the effect that we’ve had a “soft landing,” with inflation falling and unemployment remaining low. But the effects of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate tightening over the past 18 months haven’t fully passed through yet; the rest of the world is weakening. A premature victory lap could be a disaster for Mr. Biden’s reputation next year if growth dries up.
The prospect of another Biden-Trump match-up has always represented a clash between the highly implausible and the deeply improbable. One of them still has to give.
Gerard Baker is a British writer and columnist. He was Dow Jones’ Managing Editor, and The Wall Street Journal’s Editor-in-Chief from March 2013 until June 2018. Baker stepped down as WSJ Editor-in-Chief and transitioned into the role of Editor-at-Large. Energiesnet.com does not necessarily share these views.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally on the WSJ in the September 12, 2023, print edition as ‘Trump vs. Biden: The Nightmare Can Only Get Worse’. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.
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energiesnet.com 09 13 2023