As the holiday season takes hold, the White House has succeeded in procuring a political gift that seemed all but impossible as recently as the spring: despite his dithering and early foibles, they’ve created an aura of inevitability surrounding Joe Biden’s run for re-election. The West Wing communications apparatus might suggest that this is all the well-plotted result of legislative successes, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Democrats’ stronger-than-anticipated results in the midterms. Of course, that’s only part of the picture.
As Biden knows from his half-century of experience, politics often comes down to luck, and his administration has obviously benefitted from the blowback to the unpopular Dobbs decision, not to mention the Republicans’ inability to prevent a slate of whackadoo candidates from undermining their electoral ambitions, plus Trump’s unpopular reemergence. Anyway, that’s politics for you. A few months ago, David Axelrod was questioning Biden’s viability on the record in the Times. Now it’s grossly impolite in Washington Democratic circles to suggest that an 80-year-old president will be unfit to seek re-election in two years for a term that would end when he’s 86. CNN’s Kate Bennett is even reporting that Jill Biden, the ultimate decider, as I noted over the summer, is feeling more optimistic about an above-the-basement campaign. And so the White House will continue to game out how to make a campaign manageable for an octogenarian candidate who needs his sleep.
So, that’s the narrative, as they like to say in this town. The reality, though, is far more complex. First, Biden’s front-runner aura isn’t as sanctified outside D.C. A recent CNBC poll shows that 70 percent of Americans think that Biden should not run for re-election, including 57 percent of Democrats. The same poll found that 61 percent of Americans think that Trump, long considered Biden’s likely ’24 nemesis, shouldn’t run, either. (At least 37 percent of respondents in his own party suggested as much.) The Trump news comes as a Quinnipiac poll suggests he’s hit his lowest approval rating in 7 years.