The Memo: Democrats divided on Biden’s vulnerabilities for 2024

The Memo: Democrats divided on Biden's vulnerabilities for 2024

New polling reveals just how vulnerable President Biden is roughly a year out from the 2024 election.

Biden has persistently low approval ratings. There are widespread concerns about his age. And, in head-to-head polls against four-times-indicted former President Trump, Biden is in a dead-heat at best. 

Now, polls in battleground states are flashing warning signs as well.

Democrats are divided as to what it all means, and how bleak the situation has become.

Some blast Biden’s circle for what they see as complacency, while others insist that he needs to do more to rev up his base. Other Democrats hew to a more optimistic view, contending that Trump is near-unelectable in a general election, in part because of the legacy of Jan. 6, 2021.

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Among the Biden skeptics is one Democratic strategist who asked for anonymity to speak candidly. 

“What the White House has not come to terms with is, next year’s election is going to be a referendum on the president — and right now he is losing that vote,” the strategist said.

“The fact that he is tied with a former president who faces 91 charges — and yet the White House does not seem to grasp that they have a fundamental reelection problem — is unbelievable,” the frustrated strategist added.

Trump would be a slight favorite in a 2020 rematch if the election were held tomorrow, based on national polling and the vagaries of the electoral college.

In the RealClearPolitics (RCP) national polling average, Trump has led for the last month, having lagged Biden for much of the summer.

An Emerson College poll released Friday gave Trump a two-point advantage nationwide.

Several polls in key states from Bloomberg/Morning Consult this week showed Biden behind, albeit by relatively narrow margins, in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The president carried all four states in 2020.

Not every poll predicts doom. Some recent polls give Biden a narrow edge nationwide — by one point in an Economist/YouGov poll and by three points in an NPR/PBS/Marist survey earlier this month.

But the tightness of the numbers churns up concerns that have been commonplace in Democratic circles for some time. 

Biden is the oldest president ever, and several polls have indicated that upwards of 70 percent of the public have concerns about his capabilities to serve a second term. 

His overall approval rating as measured by data site FiveThirtyEight was just 41 percent on Friday, with 54 percent disapproving. 

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Vice President Harris fares roughly the same in terms of approval rating, a reality which is made more electorally relevant because of Biden’s age. Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has repeatedly said that voters should view a vote for Biden in 2024 as a vote that would make Harris president.

Some on the left contend that, with election polls looking so tight, it is of crucial importance for Biden to enthuse the Democratic base, including Black and Latino voters, and younger voters.

But that could be easier said than done. 

Advances on issues of particular relevance to the Black community, including voting rights, has been modest at best. Immigration is a vexing topic and one of the issues on which Biden fares worst. And young progressives are several notches to the left of the president in terms of their policy agenda.

“I don’t think it’s enough to say ‘the lesser of two evils.’ I think the Democratic Party and Biden have relied on talking about what the other option is,” said Michele Weindling, the political director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-oriented progressive group.

President Joe Biden listens as he meets with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Weindling argued that Biden’s age is not in itself a barrier to firing up younger voters, noting the enthusiasm many youthful progressives feel for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who at 82 is more than a year older then the president.

But she also noted wide political gulfs between members of her group and the president — not only on Sunrise’s signature issue of climate change but also on other topics such as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Weindling said that her members mourned the loss of life on both sides following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and the Israeli reprisals that came afterward.

But she added that, with Israel widely seen to be on the brink of a ground invasion of Gaza, “we need the U.S. to fight against this impending genocide that is happening right now” by calling for a ceasefire and deescalation of the conflict.

Biden has pushed Israel to obey “the laws of war,” but there is little evidence that he will bring real pressure to bear for a ceasefire anytime soon.

The complexities of the Middle East aside, some Democrats are much more hopeful about Biden’s overall electoral chances in 2024. 

They note that the last two Democratic presidents — former Presidents Obama and Clinton — both came back from bleak polling periods in their first terms to win reelection handily.

The sunny view also highlights Biden’s robust record of job creation, the broadly downward trajectory of inflation and the belief that some of the benefits of the president’s legislative achievements will be more apparent a year from now.

The president’s boosters also note that his experience and measured demeanor may win over many voters.

Biden went to Israel on Wednesday, delivered a primetime address linking Israel with Ukraine upon his return to Washington Thursday, and announced the release of two America hostages who had been held by Hamas on Friday.

“You look at the Middle East and the war in Ukraine, and Biden is at the pinnacle of both of those struggles. He is not a bit player in these things. He went to Israel when the bombs were flying,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine.

The single biggest factor fueling guarded Democratic optimism, however, is the state of the Republican Party.

Trump, the overwhelming favorite to become the GOP nominee, is currently enmeshed in a civil trial in New York. 

Four separate criminal matters — regarding Jan. 6, alleged election interference in Georgia, alleged business malfeasance in New York, and the retention of sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago —are hanging over his head.

Meanwhile, the Republican House has been without a Speaker for more than two weeks since a group of hardliners ousted Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from the position. 

On Friday, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was dumped as the GOP’s nominee for the Speakership having thrice tried and failed to get the required votes.

“It all contributes to the sense that Republicans can’t govern, whether it’s Donald Trump, who was not able to govern during COVID or Jan. 6, or his acolytes who are incapable of governing despite having a majority in the House of Representatives,” said Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky.

Roginsky added: “Nobody should rest on their laurels and it’s always worrying when every poll is close. But I would still much rather be President Biden than former President Trump heading into the 2024 election.”

For now, it looks like a fine line separating either man’s 2024 chances.

That’s too close for comfort for a lot of Democrats.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

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