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Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

Biden v Trump: The sequel few Americans want to see

Biden v Trump: The sequel few Americans want to see

Sequels are rarely as good as the original. We can all think of a few movie follow ups that should never have been made.
American voters may have similar misgivings about the next US presidential election which looks increasingly likely to be a rerun of the 2020 contest, with the same characters in the leading roles.

Joe Biden has now confirmed he’s signed up to star for the Democrats, while Donald Trump remains the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

It’s a story we have seen before and only very few people seem eager to watch again. A recent poll found that only 5% of Americans want both President Biden and former President Trump to run again and 38% want neither to run.

One of the reasons Biden is so determined to try to retain the White House is because he is convinced he is the only one who can beat Trump. We will see. What is true is that he is the only one who has beaten him.

Elections which feature an incumbent president are often seen as a referendum on the last four years. The Biden administration does have policy achievements it can point to, and its campaign slogan will be “let’s finish the job”.

But it was striking that his official launch instead attempted to frame the election as a choice — a choice between moderate and extreme, between competent and crazy. The same “battle for the soul of the nation” that was central to Biden’s pitch last time.

Donald Trump does not feature in the campaign video, but we do see scenes from the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol as Biden warns of MAGA (Make America Great Again) extremism and the threat he says it poses to American democracy.

Over the past two years, we have heard Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. If he becomes the Republican nominee in 2024, he will keep banging that drum.

Yet, repeating lies about election fraud was clearly not a winning formula last year. Most of the high-profile election-denying candidates whom Trump backed in the 2022 midterm elections fared pretty badly.

In contrast, the Democrats enjoyed much better than expected results in those Congressional elections — even keeping control of the US Senate. That performance helped to guarantee that President Biden won’t face a major challenge from within his own party.

The biggest issue that played in the Democrats’ favor was abortion. There has been a major voter backlash against the overturning of the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Two-thirds of Americans consistently tell pollsters that they think abortion care should be legal and accessible.

President Biden will return to it again and again in the 18 months before election day. In the launch video, Biden accused Republican extremists of “dictating what healthcare decisions women can make” over footage of an abortion rights protestor outside the Supreme Court.

Republicans look like the dog that finally caught up with the car it’s been chasing. After decades when they could advance anti-abortion positions without having to offer too much detail, now candidates backing abortion bans are seeing that it could hurt them electorally.

Republican-controlled state legislatures are pushing ahead with restrictive laws, but party strategists are worried about the impact at the national level.

But President Biden remains vulnerable. His approval numbers remain historically low — 42% approve of his performance, while 52 % disapprove. The only other president since Ronald Reagan to be as unpopular at this point in his first term was Donald Trump.

Whichever Republican ends up challenging Biden, it’s obvious they will portray the 80-year-old president as a doddery old man (even if Trump is only four years younger).

They will hope that a strenuous cross-country campaign leaves the president looking exhausted. He will not be able to campaign from his basement in Delaware as he did through the COVID election of 2020.

Today’s video features plenty of shots of the president looking deliberately vital and energetic — even running in one shot. But he cannot keep that up until polling day.

His opponents will also point to inflation (even if it is falling, that still means prices are rising) and to record numbers of migrants crossing the US’s southern border. Two issues guaranteed to get the Republican base riled up.

The president does not excite Democrats in the way Trump — and his main rival, Florida governor Ron DeSantis — fire up the Republican base. But they have largely accepted that Biden may be their best bet in 2024.

And the Biden campaign seems to think that the prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House is still the most effective way to drive up turnout among Democrats and independents. After all, it worked last time, and they will hope the result in a potential sequel is the same.
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