Election Year 2024: "Black is white, the sky is green, up is down and other strange facts".
Why the Trump juggernaut isn’t doing as well as the media keeps telling us and why Biden’s upside down approval rating (the lowest of any President in history) might not really matter in the end.
Once again the media is falling all over itself over the 'powerful’ Trump campaign (aka America’s Popeye). The common storyline is how he decimates his opponents. That's the story his campaign is selling. And that's the story the media is breathlessly repeating ad nausea. Proving that if you say it enough times… There is a certainty within the republican party leaders and the media that he is the 100 lb gorilla but if you look closely at the last two primaries both Iowa and New Hampshire he has an obvious - glaring 100 lb gorilla/Popeye problem that the media and republicans are ignoring. It's being left out of the narrative.
But they better start paying attention because for a former Republican president his showing tonight in New Hampshire and last Monday in Iowa is not great.
Last week in Iowa he won just 3% of registered voters... an unusual Election Day you say, lowest turnout ever because of horrific storms. Perhaps... but then last night in New Hampshire the problem became clear. What problem? Didn’t he break Haley’s momentum. Beat her by a huge 53% to 45.9%. A 7 point margin. Surely bragging rights in that. And naturally he will exercise those bragging rights deserved or not. But hidden in that margin is the big problem he’s facing. To understand it we need to go a bit into the tumble weeds of the actual New Hampshire electorate.
Trump and his surrogates will undoubtedly try to spin his relatively poor showing in New Hampshire by pointing out that many of the voters were independents rather than Republicans. To be sure, according to preliminary exit polls, around half of voters in yesterday’s New Hampshire Republican primary identified themselves as Republicans, while 45 percent said they were independents (and 6 percent identified themselves as Democrats).
But that’s exactly the point. Even if Trump dominated Haley among Republicans, he did terribly among independents. Which portends problems for him in the general election. Trump will of course be the Republican nominee. He is the current leader of the party and had 4 years as President. The powerful story would be if he lost the primary. That would be the real shocker. But he might prove to be a surprisingly weak candidate in the general election, given that almost half the entire U.S. electorate is independent, while only 25 percent are Republican (and 25 percent are Democrats). You can run from the polling machines but you can’t hide from such numbers… Surely… Popeye be damned.
Trump’s base adores him. Most of the rest of America might be just a little afraid of what he might do with a second term.
Then on the reverse side we have the Biden Presidency. While Trump clutches and keeps close (practically stalking?) that core base of his for which he can do no wrong - he has insulated himself within a hard core cult following. Its resulted in a runaway win in the Republican primary. But conversely it could mean real trouble for the general election.
Biden has done just the opposite. A Marist poll last week showed Biden beating Trump in New Hampshire by 7 points, and by 3 points with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. running as a third-party candidate yet the president’s approval in the Granite State is a dismal 38 percent. And that approval rating is no outlier for Biden throughout his Presidency. There ain’t no cult here.
In fact, Biden’s peak approval registered at about 54 percent in the spring of 2021, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls. Since then it's been disastrous. In the spring of 2021, Biden was still in the honeymoon period of a new, young, somewhat caffeinated administration and even bigger America was coming out of the pandemic. He was leading the US out of a once in a lifetime national tragedy and America was grateful and hopeful in the main.
But we live in an age of extreme polarisation and zero-sum politics, in which entrenched partisans despise a president from the opposing party, and the default dourness Americans naturally revert to (see current economic data vs. polling about the economy) means the in-power coalition is also likely to be disappointed.
Those approval ratings only lasted a short time. Since then Biden has consistently had some of the lowest approval ratings of any president ever.
Some polls show Biden’s ratings lower than Hoover’s (President at the start of the Great Depression). So we’re talking unheard of bad. Why? Well, even at the high point of his administration he never had the approval of republicans - that partisan thing, remember? But his approval really tanked when he began losing the support of his own Democrats.
It started when he dropped 10 points after the Build Back Better bill fight (hardcore partisan democrats wanted more) and the bungled Afghanistan withdrawal. I would posit that just thank god he carried out the withdrawal and it was bound to be messy but Biden got no kudos for getting out and lots of grief for the mess. And the approval never recovered. If anything it only got lower as time went by.
The centrist Biden inspires no zeal from his base the way Obama did, let alone the way a cult leader like Trump does. He has no buffer.
Biden polls poorly on nearly all the issues that comprise the umbrella of job approval: inflation/economy, foreign policy, immigration, crime, and his fitness/age. But we can’t know how voters prioritise them (or other issues) when making their choice. And even if Biden manages to stabilise the southern border, help end the war in Gaza, and presides over continuing economic improvements and low inflation, his job approval might not budge.
But that might not matter. You know like it doesn’t matter Democrats have been outperforming all the polling in all special elections by at least 10 points since 2022. Even in elections in extreme partisan conditions that they've lost they've outperformed the polls and outperformed his approval ratings. Go figure.
That suggests voters aren't choosing based on their opinion of Biden and it might be a waste of time for the Democrats to spend too much time boosting his approval ratings. Rather than convincing their rank-and-file that Biden should inspire them, Democrats will have to mobilise every part of the Democratic coalition and try to drive up Trump’s negatives with independents - 50% of the general electorate and the very people Trump lost to Haley in New Hampshire.
Not many Never Trump Republicans who support Biden would tell a pollster they approve of Biden’s job performance, but that isn’t the basis for their votes. New Hampshire and Iowa are proof of that.
Trump seems to be running on a platform of the following points that he’s been battering consistently during the primary. He has proclaimed this is his plan.
He wants to be a dictator from day one (nice if you can get it)
Talks about rounding up into giant camps and deporting 10 million people living in the US currently including US citizens (by removing birthright citizenship)
Talks about staying in power longer than 4 more years - after all, it’s worked for a few others we can think of
Weaponizing the military
Weaponizing the DOJ.
That signalling and outright proclaiming such goals certainly won’t appeal to the “Suburban Mom” or any Republican beyond his base. In fact he is doubling down on his base and so it makes one wonder. Unless he changes his strategy in the general election he appears perfectly happy to stay with his base and not increase his vote share. Why?
Perhaps his real plan is to:
Intimidate voters so they don’t show up. Historically that's what the southern democrats did after the civil war during reconstruction. You know, fill the streets with his proud boys and violent followers and shrink the vote.
Manipulate the electoral system. Using the 14th amendment reasoning he can create such disbelief and mistrust in the actual vote and election process that he gets the states to invalidate their elections and appoint their own electors. Just a repeat of what he tried to do in 2020 but this time he’s stacked the states with new and more biddable people.
That seems a pretty shaky plan but he might have determined that there's no other way to win. And win he must or behind bars he might rust. We might hope that most of America won’t accept his declarations or his methods.
Biden just might win by default. Approval ratings be damned.
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