Denial is neither a river in Egypt nor just a psychological defense mechanism identified by Anna Freud, Sigmund’s daughter. It’s the guiding principle of President Biden’s reelection campaign.
Polls consistently show that the vast majority of Americans, including most Democrats, don’t want Biden to run again because they think he’s too old. This is not new information—Biden and the Democrats knew voters were concerned about his age four years ago, when they signaled his intention to be a one-term, transitional president.
Nevertheless, he decided to run again.
Two weeks after he announced his 2024 campaign, Biden’s approval rating fell to his all-time low, 36 percent in the ABC News/Washington Post poll. No president in the history of modern polling has won reelection with numbers this low at this stage in the cycle.
Yet he remained in the race.
Biden faces two challengers, neither of whom has been taken seriously by the media, run TV campaign ads or held a major rally. Despite being repeatedly ridiculed as a fringe anti-vaxxer and kooky New Age self-help author, respectively, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Marianne Williamson are polling at a total of 25% among Democratic primary voters against an incumbent president. Compare that to Bernie Sanders at this point in the 2016 campaign; he was at 15% yet nearly took the nomination away from Hillary Clinton. RFK and Williamson aren’t as surprisingly strong as Biden is shockingly weak.
In 1968, when LBJ announced he wouldn’t run again—after the Tet Offensive—he was polling better than Biden is doing now.
And Biden persists.
But he refuses to break a sweat. Democrats tell The Hill that “Biden’s circle would like to run a ‘light’ campaign this time around, too,” as he did in 2020 when he used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to campaign from his basement in Delaware. Biden doesn’t want any debates. He’s running on the same policies as 2020. Such deflection reflects Democrats’ refusal to acknowledge how voters perceive the president: feeble, erratic, falling down every other week, possibly senile. A hard-charging 50-state campaign full of big rallies and vigorous debates and town halls could counter that image, but Biden isn’t up to it and/or his aides are in denial. They won’t even work up a fresh issues platform.
This is a not a reelection bid. It’s a slow fade.
Never mind our guy, Democrats are thinking, their guy is in real trouble. Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee and he’s facing multiple criminal charges that could land him in prison for nearly half a millennium! Legal woes may not be hurting him with spite-voting Republican primary voters (quite the opposite), but wait for the general election! Joe Biden will be sitting pretty!
Except that the Hunter Biden laptop stuff could well be at a full merry boil by then. Did Joe “Big Guy” Biden accept $5 million from a Ukrainian energy company as a bribe in return for getting a prosecutor who was looking into that company fired—a company that employed his son in a country in which the U.S. is now involved in a proxy war? Maybe yes, maybe no, but House Republicans might well turn up evidence of Joe’s perfidy big enough to make voters forget about Trump’s penchant for hoarding top-secret memos.
Democrats do not appear concerned about this possibility.
Wildest of all, no one—not the president, not Democratic leaders, not even Democratic voters—seem at all worried about putting Trump on trial during an election campaign.
They endlessly declaimed the yucky incivility of Trump and his supporters chanting “lock her up” about Hillary (mere words), yet are untroubled by the optics of Democratic prosecutors, one of whom won elected office by promising to go after Trump, actually working to put the Republican frontrunner and most recent Republican president, behind bars. Election Day 2024 might find Trump in prison.
Yes, Democrats, this is a problem. Trump is not merely a candidate. He’s an iconic populist, the leader of a movement. You’d have to go back to Huey Long to identify another American political figure as simultaneously beloved and reviled. The January 6th Capitol riot followed Trump’s obviously false claims of election fraud; how will Trump’s followers react to the factual spectacle of his being handcuffed and confined to jail—by Democratic prosecutors conducting politically-motivated prosecutions—during a presidential campaign? How can a two-party system where one party’s candidate is locked away in a prison cell still call itself a democracy? Democrats don’t care. They just want Trump gone, yet they’re not willing to run a viable candidate with a realistic strategy to beat him at the polls.
There is nothing to fear but the pigheaded obliviousness of those who would back their adversaries into a corner with no escape.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)