Trump rematch may be Biden’s best bet, polls show

Nancy Cook, Mark Niquette and Gregory Korte
Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden savored the prospect of a rematch with former President Donald Trump when asked a day after officially entering the 2024 race if he was the only Democrat capable of defeating his predecessor.

“I may not be the only one, but I know him well and I know the danger he presents to our democracy,” Biden, sporting his signature sunglasses, said at a news conference Wednesday with South Korea’s visiting president. “And we’ve been down this road before.”

Yet a Biden-Trump contest may be the best that the president and his campaign can hope for. A majority of Americans remain unsure about the president’s accomplishments over the past two years and the economy remains a particular concern, as high inflation persists and recession remains a risk.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump watches a video of President Joe Biden playing during a rally for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) at the Miami-Dade Country Fair and Exposition on Nov. 6, 2022, in Miami.  (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)

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Biden, 80, trailed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, 44, in nine of the dozen most recent polls with hypothetical match-ups in the RealClearPolitics average of surveys. A Wall Street Journal poll conducted April 11-17 showed DeSantis beating Biden 48% to 45% — but it also showed Biden defeating Trump, 76, by the same margin.

Democrats say Trump’s ongoing legal challenges, his chaotic leadership style and his unpopularity with independent voters, suburban women and even many Republicans will give them the boost they need in November 2024. It’s a match-up they’d prefer compared to DeSantis.

That sentiment was reflected in the roughly three-minute video released Tuesday by the Biden campaign taking aim at Trump’s Make America Great Again doctrine and his unsuccessful fight to overturn his 2020 electoral loss. Biden ticked off a list of his accomplishments from corralling support for Ukraine against Russia to the post-COVID-19 economic rebound.

“We know what a Biden versus Trump campaign looks like because we all lived through that in 2020,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns including Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 bid.

Normally when a president runs for reelection, it’s a referendum on the president, Conant said, but if Trump is the Republican nominee, the election is a choice between two presidents.

Biden ran against Trump and his record in 2020 and in the 2022 midterms, when Democrats defeated a number of Trump-backed candidates and the issues of abortion and threats to democracy fired up liberals and allowed Democrats to keep control of the Senate.

Polls show a majority of Americans don’t want to see a 2020 rematch. An NBC poll released on Sunday showed voters said by a 70% to 26% margin that they didn’t want Biden to seek reelection — with almost half who don’t want him to run citing his age as a major reason — while 60% said Trump shouldn’t run compared with 35% who said he should.

Two years into office, Biden lacks widespread appeal among men and independent voters, according to recent data from pollster, Bill McInturff, whose work shows a generic GOP candidate beating Biden 47% to 41%.

How a Biden-DeSantis match-up would unfold is harder to predict because the public still isn’t familiar with the Florida governor. Most polls test Biden against Trump and DeSantis, the two front-runners. Current ones show Trump as the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination.

DeSantis has struggled recently with his statements on the Ukraine war and his attacks on Trump — both of which have given donors pause and seen his popularity decline in polling. Meanwhile, Trump’s effort was supercharged earlier this month after he was indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney.

Trump leads DeSantis by a wide margin and alternatively DeSantis leads the rest of the potential GOP field, including former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, ex-Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Senator Tim Scott by similarly large margins.

The former president has long thrown jabs at Biden for the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, inflation and the influx of migrants at the southern U.S. border — not to mention Biden’s stamina and mental acuity.

“You could take the five worst presidents in American history, and put them together, and they would not have done the damage Joe Biden has done to our nation in just a few short years,” Trump said in a statement on Monday night ahead of Biden’s announcement.

While Trump remains popular with Republicans, he repels suburban and swing voters — especially independent women — on key issues. The Biden team believes that will happen again and help them hold onto key voting blocs they need including Black voters and women.

Biden “has a stronger hand now than he did four years ago because he’s got two of the most powerful issues that have motivated voters in years, and that’s abortion and guns,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist based in Boston.

The Biden reelection video played up the idea of reproductive rights, a galvanizing issue for women voters over the past year, and generally giving Americans control over their health care decisions. Biden allies said Americans will see more of those themes as the Biden campaign kicks off.

“The abortion issue is very salient for Democrats, and we are seeing that in races up and down the ticket,” said Celinda Lake, a longtime Democratic pollster, who worked on Biden’s 2020 campaign and serves as the president of Lake Research. “We used abortion as a major issue in the Chicago mayor’s race, and it’s not like mayors have an enormous amount of power over abortion. The issue speaks to suburban woman, independents and some baby boomer women, who remember when abortion was illegal.”