July 19, 2024

President Joe Biden is vulnerable.

This isn’t really that much of a revelation. The polling data we’ve seen so far shows that Biden’s best bet in 2024 is against Donald Trump, who despite being indicted on nearly 100 charges is nonetheless now tied with him in the polls, if not ahead – but within most margins of error – of the current president. To reiterate, that’s Biden’s best-case scenario.

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There’s still the question of whether or not inflation gets worse, if Biden will continue to crush us under energy costs, if he’ll ever actually pay attention to the border, and if the Republicans can convince voters through impeachment inquiry hearings that he absolutely is corrupt. That’s a lot he has to contend with, and that’s also just domestically. Globally, he is also trying to maintain support for defending Ukraine and pretending to be tough on China – which isn’t working.

In 2020, Biden ran as the Great Unifier. He excoriated Trump for being vile and divisive, only to come in and give fealty to the great progressive causes of trans ideology and climate. Instead of unifying, he embraced the stupid “Dark Brandon” meme and attacked Republicans and their voters. Instead of fixing what he says Trump broke, he broke what Trump fixed.

It is no wonder, then, that his polling is sideways and that people in his orbit think there’s a major threat coming from third-party groups.

In a new national NBC News poll, Biden is tied with former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, at 46% in a head-to-head matchup. But when third-party options are included, Trump leads Biden 39% to 36%.

Whether it’s the academic Cornel West, a yet-to-be-named standard-bearer for the group “No Labels” or nominees of the more established Green and Libertarian parties, the third-party hopefuls have become the chief internal worry in Biden world, according to more than a half-dozen people who are in regular contact with the White House.

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Apparently, the worries have gotten so bad that Hillary Clinton pulled Biden aside and told him to take the third-party stuff seriously. It should be noted that many on Team Hillary blame third-party candidates like Jill Stein for siphoning off Democratic voters and costing her the election. That may have had some impact, but considering the Clinton campaign focused on urban turnout and ignored flyover country, as well as thinking they could get young voters actually out to vote, it’s not clear how reliable her advice could be considered.

The Biden team’s current strategy for the third-party threat, by the way, is also focusing on younger, less reliable voters.

In recent weeks, the White House has given particular attention to the possibility that Biden is vulnerable with younger voters, many of whom lean more toward Democrats but are dissatisfied with government and do not have deep ties to the party. Gen Z voters have lived through a financial crisis, two wars, climate-intensified natural disasters, school shootings and a pandemic that all exposed weaknesses in the political system’s ability to respond to crises.

On Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, a move that tracks with the nearly two-thirds of younger Americans who support stricter gun laws.

“We are doing this work in large part because of the activism, the organizing, the marching, the voting of all of you leaders — be it students, parents, teachers, community leaders — who understand that living free from gun violence should be a right,” Harris said in a video on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter.

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Of course, we know how great that strategy has worked out in the last few cycles. Younger voters did show up in higher numbers in 2020, but Trump’s campaign messaging was inconsistent at best, the pandemic hurt his image, and many Republicans were not confident in the party’s chosen leader.

There is also the undeniable fact that Democrats took advantage of lax election security in the various pandemic-era rules changes.

But the problem for the Biden team is that young voters look at his record as president and simply don’t feel all that satisfied. That’s why the messaging right now is being geared towards Gen Z voters, but Gen Z voters 1) don’t vote as regularly as other voters and 2) can’t afford basic living necessities, much less concert tickets.

It’s not clear that a third-party push is actually Biden’s biggest threat. Almost every negative Biden has is his own fault. The only negative that isn’t his fault is his age – he couldn’t help when he was born. But he could make a responsible choice and back out of re-election. Come out saying he did everything he wanted to. He put a stop to Trump. He helped re-focus America on the climate crisis. Whatever he wants. He can walk away.

But he’s too stubborn to do so. And because of that, all of these other awful things we have to contend will be placed on his shoulders. Sure, Trump is under investigation and indictment, but the economy was better under him (prior to a pandemic he couldn’t control). Voters will remember that and compare it with Biden’s economy. 

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That’s all it will take for a lot of people.

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