DANIEL VAUGHAN: Biden's Do-Or-Die Campaign Moment Has Arrived

 March 4, 2024

We're still eight months (245 days) from the November elections, so it seems silly to suggest we're already in a do-or-die moment for either the Trump or Biden campaigns. But that's the place we've entered for the Biden campaign. The State Of The Union address is this week, and it is a do-or-die moment for the Biden re-election campaign.

Democrats have been freaking out about Biden's chances of winning re-election going back to last November when reliably liberal outlets started publishing well-sourced but anonymous meltdowns. The special counsel report that brought Biden's age, health, and mental capacity to the forefront constituted a seismic shift in the race.

I wrote a month ago that the operation to remove Biden from the ticket started when the special counsel report was released. Since then, parts of the media have engaged in a soft campaign to pressure Biden to drop out. That soft campaign is getting some hard edges to it.

The New York Times released its poll with Siena College, and Biden is losing in a head-to-head matchup against Trump by five points, which is outside the margin of error. The Times chief data analysis put it this way, "Let's just say it: Joe Biden should be expected to win this election ... And yet President Biden is not winning, at least not now."

The Times poll was only the latest to show Biden losing. In the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Biden is only winning in one out of the eleven currently in the average. On average, Trump has held a consistent lead of varying degrees over Biden since September (except for one brief moment in October).

Here's what this matters. If you're doing some back-of-the-envelope map, to win, Donald Trump doesn't need to win in the national polls, he just needs to be close. In 2016, Clinton's lead over Trump evaporated to around two points. That was close enough. When Biden won in 2020, his lead was around seven points. Trump leading Biden in the averages would be his best electoral position ever.

Think about that for a moment: Donald Trump is in the best position he's ever been in to win the White House. That's not a theory. It's a polling fact. At no point in the near decade that Trump has been in Presidential polls has he ever enjoyed such an advantage as he does now. For years, people have talked about shy Trump voters and more. That's gone and out the window. Trump is flat-out leading.

Given this polling dynamic, we'd expect Trump to win back the midwest states that sent him to the White House in 2016 and be seriously competitive in others. If you want some anecdotal evidence, look at the Senate. John Fetterman, long seen as a far-left progressive, sounds positively conservative on the southern border, energy, Israel, and more. His ideological shift is identical to that of Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, another swing state.

Pennsylvania and Arizona are purple states. They hold the key to what will happen in the fall elections. The Senators there are running to the right. They don't sound like Biden.

When Politico Playbook reached out to various Democratic sources to see their reaction to Biden's polling, they said, "The Level Of Freak-Out Remains High." Another said, "If you're not a bedwetter now, you're not paying attention." Most importantly, the final anonymous quote said, "3/7 speech — State of the Union — is all important."

Buried at the end of Nate Cohn's analysis was this nugget:

Even at this late stage, Democrats are still divided over whether Mr. Biden should be the nominee, with 46 percent saying he should be and 45 percent saying he shouldn't. We didn't ask whether Mr. Biden should drop out of the race. We considered it — in fact, we discussed it for days — but many respondents may not know the complications involved in a contested convention.

The reasoning he gives here is ridiculous in terms of what a respondent may or may not know. That's not the point of asking that question, and the New York Times knows it. The Times knows if they ask that question, and it comes back with a majority of Democrats saying Biden should step down, that result would irrevocably weaken the President.

And if you look at the results of their own poll, they think if they ask that question, they will get that result. The Times doesn't want to be the one to plunge the dagger in Biden's back, at least not yet.

The White House sees the State Of The Union address this week as a chance to turn things around. That's why they flew Biden to the Southern Border for an event. It's why they set Biden up for a softball late-night interview with Seth Meyers. And it's why they're telling everyone to back off. This week, potentially even this month, is about Biden trying to right the ship.

Can he do it? It's possible. He was dead in the water of the 2020 primaries until South Carolina saved his skin. The problem is that the voters who saved Biden in 2020 (Black voters who were more working class) are souring on him now, along with everyone else. Biden is expected to rally his voters by November's arrival, and the race will tighten. Maybe so. But also, maybe not.

In 2020, Biden could run on the idea people had of him being President versus the chaotic daily situation with Trump. Biden won that match. Biden can't do that this time. People have to vote for him because they believe that the last four years have been good or that Trump is worse.

Polling shows the second option may not work. All of Trump's negatives are baked in. And Biden's body of work over the last four years has been abysmal and is current. How long will Democrats risk the chance of losing? We're about to find out. Biden has a lot to prove this week.

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