The prevailing narrative in the 2024 election is that each of the two highly unpopular leading candidates has their own issues: for Donald Trump, it is his mendacity, general lunacy, criminal activity, and overall existential threat to our democracy if reelected. For Joe Biden, it is “merely” his age, including his mental and physical condition. I view this comparison as virtually a Democratic talking point, even though there is virtually no criticism that one could offer of Donald Trump with which I would disagree, especially based on his behavior since the 2020 election. The implication of this contrast is that but for Biden’s age, any other Democrat would be hugely favored over Trump in the polls and would easily trounce him in the general election. The further implication of this contrast is that Biden’s policies–and the policies of the Democratic Party as a whole–are not the problem.
I reject this framing of the issue. Even if Biden were 20 years younger, and even if Kamala Harris was not his running mate (and rest assured, the thought of President Kamala Harris is not a lot less scary than the thought of a reelected President Trump), I believe that the polls would not look much different than they do now. The reason for this is that while most independent voters may justifiably dread the prospect of a Trump reelection, they dread the prospect of a continuation of Democratic policies every bit as much, if not more. Moreover, as discussed below, ironically, President Biden probably represents the best chance for a Democratic victory in 2024, and no other potential Democrat is as well-positioned to win, regardless of issues relating to age and mental and physical condition.
The Democrats have a quadfecta of unpopular policies and priorities. We start with inflation. This roared back to life in 2021 as a result of the overstimulation of the economy by the Democrats and has never really died down since. Americans feel this in their pocketbook, especially every time interest rates rise (read: increase in mortgage rates) and every time they go to the supermarket. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 60% of voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy, while only 35% approve.
As noted by Gerard Baker in the Wall Street Journal, citing recent data gathering of consumer confidence by the University of Michigan, “the 5-point increase in the federal-funds rate in the past 18 months, and its consequences, has overwhelmed all other factors in the eyes of Americans. The clear-cut, data-backed . . . reason Biden is unpopular is that Jerome Powell is making people’s mortgage rates go up.”
Moreover, the blame for the economy lies squarely with Biden and the Democrats because they unilaterally pushed through the wild spending policies that have put us in today’s predicament. Part of this is because Biden and his team did not want to repeat what they deemed as the mistakes of the Obama administration in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. As David Brooks wrote in the New York Times, Biden’s team overlearned the lessons of the Obama years. If Barack Obama didn’t stimulate the economy enough during the Great Recession, Biden stimulated it too much, contributing to inflation and the sticker shock people feel.
Another Democratic failure that hits Americans where they live is rising crime rates. Violent crimes remain well above levels seen when Trump was president. Moreover, with the decriminalization of shoplifting in Democratic-led jurisdictions, major retail establishments such as Target, Macy’s, Walgreens, Wawa, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and numerous others have either closed their downtown stores and/or reported sharply lower profits as a result of shoplifting, or, as it is euphemistically called in the industry “shrinkage.”
Because of fears of alienating its liberal base, whose primary concern is social justice, the Democrats are left with no coherent policy on crime at all in their choice, which is a message “that steers between being electorally disastrous and morally monstrous.”
When it comes to our porous borders, Biden decided, immediately after becoming president, that he wanted to go the opposite direction of President Trump and to have a kinder, gentler policy towards attempting to cross the border, whether legally or illegally. The result has been record levels of illegal crossings, even up to the present. The fact that migrants crossing the border are now being shipped off to blue states has created even more of a headache for the Biden administration.
Finally, there is the issue of identity politics and the fact that Democrats are seen as viewing our entire lives through the spectrum of racial and sexual identity, and the perception that a person’s skin color is ofttimes the most important thing about them, rather than their actual views on the issues and whether there is diversity of thought. This perception is especially reinforced when Democrats pre-announce that they will place African Americans– and specifically African-American females–in positions of power rather than considering all qualified applicants. This would include Kamala Harris, Supreme Court Justice Katanje Brown Jackson, and the recent appointment of a 44-year-old African-American lesbian woman who is not from California to fill Diane Feinstein’s recently vacated Senate seat.
As self-described “old-school Marxist” Frederic Deboer wrote in the Boston Globe, “dividing us into an endless number of minority groups and putting them on a hierarchy of suffering is no way to create the solidarity required for real change. Most people want to come together across differences for the good of all, rather than to be divided into smaller and smaller slices based on identity categories they don’t control.”
Even if Joe Biden was 20 years younger or far more sprightly and hale than he now appears, and even if Kamala Harris was not his running mate and an anchor weighing him down, I submit that the dynamics and polling in this election cycle would not change at all. In fact, the irony is that age and mental and physical condition notwithstanding, President Biden still likely represents the best chance for the Democrats to retain the White House in 2024, and the primary reason for this is that he is almost surely more moderate than any potential alternate candidate. Virtually any alternative would not only lack his name recognition but would also be perceived as even farther to the left on all political and social issues. As David Brooks stated: “Biden is not the sole or even primary problem here. To the extent that these things are separable, it’s the Democratic Party as a whole that’s ailing. But, as things stand, he is the Democrats’ best shot at curing what ails the party.”
All of the polls are too consistent to allow Democrats to ignore the reality of Biden’s unpopularity, regardless of Trump’s own deserved unpopularity. Therefore, if I were a Democratic strategist, I would do the exact same thing they are doing, which is to pretend that the only weakness on the Democrat side is Biden’s age and condition, thereby cleverly shifting attention away from the unpopularity of Democratic policies themselves, and pretending that those policies themselves are popular. However, at the end of the day, this is simply a misdirection, and American voters should not fall for it, and the media should not obsess over it either. Democrats themselves would do well to actually try to address the core issues that are making them unpopular and not allow themselves to be dragged around by the more extreme wings of their party, even though the Republicans are guilty of the same thing.
Peter Meltzer is a lawyer in Philadelphia, specializing in commercial litigation, real estate and creditors’ rights. He is also an author about both legal and nonlegal topics, and has been a frequent guest on the Michael Smerconish program. His nonlegal books include: “The Thinker’s Thesaurus,” which has sold over 150,000 copies, “So You Think You Know Baseball? A Fan’s Guide to the Rules”, named one of the top baseball books of the year by ESPN, and books about the presidents of the United States and about rock and roll music from 1965-1975. His legal articles have been cited by courts from around the United States.