From the Center
A Labor Day check-in:
Large majorities of the American public have made it clear that they don’t want another election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. But more than ever, it looks like that is what we are going to get. If either of these men does not win their respective party nominations at this point, it is less likely to be a result of political events than judicial or actuarial disruption. But barring that type of external interference, a campaign between these two men will leave the country sullen and resentful toward its political leaders, suspicious and vengeful toward the opposition, and more convinced than ever of our need for a fresh start.
On the heels of a new Wall Street Journal poll released last Friday, Trump now has a massive 46 point lead for the GOP nomination over his closest competitor. While polling in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire show a more competitive race, Trump’s biggest obstacle appears to be a guilty verdict in one or more of the trials he will be facing over the next several months.
Biden’s advantage in head-to-head matchups within the Democratic Party is just as considerable, although while Republicans appear to be coming together behind Trump, doubts among party progressives toward Biden are growing. The likelihood of the president facing a plausible primary challenger are slim: the much greater likelihood is an age or health-related matter forcing him to step aside.
What we’re left with is a general election faceoff between two candidates about whom most Americans have profound reservations. Swing voters are skeptical of both men on the issues: they give Biden low marks on inflation and immigration policy: Trump is operating at a big disadvantage on issues relating to abortion and climate change. But their biggest doubts are much more personal: they think Biden is too old to be president and that Trump can not be trusted with the job.
To put it most simply and uncharitably, most voters are not particularly excited about being led by either fossil or a felon. But while the two men’s defenders might take issue one or the other of those two descriptors, this is the frame through which a major portion of the electorate will view the general election ballot when they receive it next fall. The American public is aching for a new chapter in our nation’s politics to begin, but it appears that their wait will continue for another four years.
The leaders of both parties recognize this impatience, but the imperatives of next year’s election prevent either side from doing anything to derail the upcoming rematch. Many Democrats remember that Biden had pledged four years ago to be a “transitional president”, But the recognition that he is the best equipped member of their party to defeat Trump, coupled with their ongoing qualms about Kamala Harris’ performance as vice president and their unfamiliarity with the next generation of rising potential candidates, keeps them committed to the incumbent even given their growing concerns about his age and health.
Trump’s situation is even more unusual, as many GOP strategists and elected officials quietly worry about Trump’s ability to win a general election taking place at the same time as his numerous court proceedings are taking place. But those same legal challenges have rallied GOP voters to his side, and although an upset in an early primary state could delay his progress long enough for a guilty verdict to give pause to party regulars, the likelihood of such an unprecedented series of events occurring makes his nomination look more probable than at any other time since January 6, 2021.
Both Biden and Trump are deeply flawed candidates who, in more conventional times, would be fighting for their political lives. But populist anger on the right and fear of the alternative on the left should provide enough protection for both men to proceed to the general election next fall. Barring an unexpected surprise from a courtroom or a hospital, both parties will be willing to wait until 2028 before moving on to the type of political reboot that Americans crave. Right now, that seems like a long, long time away.
Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, Pepperdine University, and the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in politics, communications and leadership. Dan is a No Party Preference voter, but previously worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns, serving as the national Director of Communications for the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain and the chief media spokesman for California Governor Pete Wilson. He has a Center bias.
This piece was reviewed and edited by Isaiah Anthony, Deputy Blog Editor (Center bias).