Monday, Jun 10, 2024

Understanding Biden’s Surprise Debate Agreement



Last week, the Biden campaign, in a desperate effort to reverse the consistently pro-Trump momentum of the opinion polls in the presidential race, abandoned the tradition of deferring to the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates by challenging Trump to two debates, including one under the auspices of CCN, to take place on June 27, before either major party formally nominates its 2024 presidential candidate at their national candidate, and the second debate to be hosted by the ABC network, scheduled for September 10, almost two full months before Election Day.

The Biden camp is clearly hoping that the president will be able to take advantage of the low expectations for his performance. That is what he did with the State of the Union address, which he managed to deliver competently before a joint session of Congress on March 7, earning him a brief bump in the opinion polls but which dissipated within a few weeks, enabling Trump to re-establish his narrow but consistent lead.

Democrat strategists are also hoping that Biden will be able to perform well enough in the debates to reverse his disastrous 38.7% job approval numbers for the first quarter of 2024. According to the Gallup organization, this is the lowest number during the period for any first-term president going back to the Eisenhower administration in 1956. Historically, Biden’s current job approval is even lower than that of the three first-term presidents since 1956 who failed to gain re-election, including Jimmy Carter in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1992, and Donald Trump in 2020.


In the video which he used to announce his debate proposal, Biden was full of bluster. He declared, “Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020. Since then, he hasn’t shown up for a debate. Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day, pal. I’ll even do it twice.”

While Biden tried to make it seem that he was calling Trump’s bluff, he was actually cutting back on the original proposal by the debate commission, which called for three debates in September and October. Biden also flatly rejected the Trump campaign’s subsequent call for four debates.

According to New York Times columnist Ezra Klein, Biden’s decision to reduce the number of debates “is bad precedent and questionable politics. . . A lot of voters have concluded that Biden isn’t up to the job. . .

[Because] Biden is behind, he needs [more] opportunities [before Election Day] to prove to voters that they are wrong about him, [not less, and] to persuade them to ditch their nostalgia for Trump.”

“[While] Democrats have been telling them they’re wrong [about Biden],” Klein notes that, “telling voters they’re wrong is a good way to lose an election.”


Klein argues that it would have been more to Biden’s political advantage to have agreed to all four debates. That would have given him more opportunities to demonstrate to the voters, by direct observation, that he is physically and mentally fit to serve a second term in the White House. Instead, Biden has limited himself to only two chances to make his case to the voters by debating Trump in real-time. Furthermore, only one of those debate opportunities will come after Labor Day, which is when, by tradition, many casual voters first start to pay serious attention to their presidential election choices.

By limiting his exposure to the risks of a debate, Biden is acting like an overconfident candidate trying to sit on a lead, when the fact is that Biden has been steadily losing the support of the same voter groups who were largely responsible for his narrow 2020 victory over Trump.

The result has been evident in the polls published over the past six months by the New York Times and more than a dozen other respected sources. They have shown Trump consistently holding a small (2% or less) lead on the national level over Biden according to the RealClearPolitics average. At the same time, among the seven battleground states that experts agree are likely to determine the outcome in the Electoral College, Trump is also leading Biden by substantial percentages (4.6% or greater) in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, and by narrower margins (0.6%-2%) in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

While Trump’s lead in the national polls and the battleground states has been relatively small, its remarkable consistency over such a long period has convinced even the most skeptical of Democrat pundits that the Biden campaign is now in serious trouble.

According to Klein, Biden and his fellow Democrats are ignoring one of the most basic rules of electoral politics, which is that “the first step toward winning is changing course when you’re losing,” or, putting it more colloquially, “when you find yourself in a deep political hole, it is time to stop digging.”

Because they refuse to take seriously the polls showing Trump consistently in the lead in both the national vote and the battleground states that will determine the winner in the Electoral College, Biden and the Democrats are in real danger once again of being caught by surprise this November, by a Trump victory, for the same reasons that they were shocked by Hillary Clinton’s defeat the morning after the 2016 election.


By calling for a June debate, the Biden campaign is taking a calculated risk. It is betting that Biden’s performance will be good enough to persuade voters that he is more capable than Trump and give him back the momentum in the race. But if Biden performs poorly in the June debate, causing Biden’s polling numbers to deteriorate further, it could lead to a crisis at the Democrat National Convention in Chicago in August, especially if it becomes clear by that time that the Biden-Harris ticket is likely to lose to Trump on Election Day.

Biden’s agreement to debate Trump also came with strict conditions, including the absence of a studio audience and an automatic cutoff of the microphone of the candidate who is not supposed to be speaking, to avoid the chaotic back and forth between Trump and Biden which badly marred their 2020 presidential debates.

For his part, Trump had been calling for Biden to debate him for months. Trump and his campaign believe that, aside from whatever is said during the debates, he will benefit from appearing side by side with Biden on a debate stage, enabling voters to directly compare their physical vigor and cognitive abilities. Trump also wants the opportunity to remind voters watching the debate about the relative strength of the American economy that he created before the Covid-19 pandemic created an artificial recession in 2020, and to compare that to the inflation and high interest rates which have resulted from Biden’s liberal tax and spend policies.

According to Brian Karem writing in the liberal online publication, Salon, the fact that “people are not getting Biden’s message [is] his [own] fault. . .

“Less than three months into [his] administration, it was easy to discern that Biden simply wasn’t going to communicate with the press or anyone else in public except under his very specific and controlled terms.”

Since becoming president, Biden has never visited the White House briefing room to talk with reporters. Over the past three years, he has held only two White House press conferences.

That is why, Karem notes, “Democrats often complain that Biden doesn’t speak often enough about his accomplishments. . . [or the] things he’s done to make life better for the rest of us.”


“The arrogance and ignorance of [Biden] and the people around him are very reminiscent of Jimmy Carter [another Democrat president who had trouble selling his message to the American people.]”

Karem suggests that “Politics today is a constant battle between appearance and reality. Donald Trump is a con artist. . . who can sell an appearance [whereas] Joe Biden is a politician who can’t sell reality. . .

“Because Biden has severely limited his public interaction, Donald Trump’s narratives have taken over. They’ve cast Biden as the crook. They’ve cast Biden as a doddering fool who hasn’t accomplished anything as president. Trump has also been masterful at selling the idea that Biden is incompetent, decrepit, and demented.”

As it was during his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden’s core 2024 political strategy has been to make the 2024 election into a referendum on Trump rather than Biden’s policies since he became president, which have, with few exceptions, been highly unpopular with the voters.

Trump’s advantage over Biden in communicating his message to voters is also reflected in the finding of a recent CNN survey that Americans have a much more positive view of Trump’s performance during his first term as president than they do of Biden’s current term. Some 55% of those polled in a mid-April poll said they view Trump’s first term as president as a success, up from 41% when he left office in 2021, and well above the 39% who rate Biden’s term as a success today.

While the Biden strategy of continuing to attack Trump may appear to be sound, it ignores the fact that after almost a decade in the headlines every day, most voters believe that they already know what Trump is all about, and don’t need Biden to help them make up their minds about him. That is why some Democrats have criticized Biden for mentioning Donald Trump too much while on the campaign trail, which risks giving some voters the impression that Biden is running for re-election more on Trump’s record in office than his own.


On the other hand, the Trump campaign has been effectively exploiting the voter discontent with Biden’s policies, while holding up Trump’s successful record when he was president as proof that he can lead this country back to peace, prosperity, secure borders, and stable prices.

Furthermore, Biden and his campaign team have refused to take responsibility for his crucial loss of voter support. Instead, they insist on placing the blame for his increasingly alarming poll numbers on the shortcomings of the polls themselves.

“The polling data has been wrong all along,” Biden told CNN in a May 8 interview. The Axios news service also reports that polling denial is pervasive in Biden’s campaign. However, during the last two presidential elections, poll results have consistently over-represented the strength of Democrats, while Trump received more votes in both 2016 and 2020 than the polls predicted he would.

Biden and his campaign officials also tend to blame his low job approval ratings on the mainstream media, for failing to properly portray Biden’s first-term accomplishments to their national audience. In his speech to the journalists attending the annual White House Correspondents Dinner on April 27, Biden said, “I’m sincerely not asking of you to take sides [in the election campaign] but asking you to rise to the seriousness of the moment; move past the horse-race numbers and the gotcha moments and the distractions, the sideshows that have come to dominate and sensationalize our politics; and focus on what’s actually at stake.”

But once again, serious research into how the mainstream media reports on Biden’s performance does not support his criticism.


In April, NBC News released a national poll breaking down the presidential race by where voters got their news. Biden was found to lead by 49 points among voters who relied on newspapers and by 20 points among those who follow the national broadcast network news reporting, which indicates that the mainstream media outlets have been portraying the president in a positive light after all.

But the same survey finds that Biden is behind Trump by four points among voters who get their news primarily from social media, by eight votes among voters who rely on cable news, and by 16 points among voters who get their news from YouTube and Google websites. Furthermore, those voters who say that they don’t follow political news say that they favor Trump over Biden by 26 points.

In addition to refusing to accept their responsibility for the defection of so many traditional Democrat voters to Trump, Biden and his supporters continue to falsely assume that the rest of the country sees Trump’s flaws as they see them.


In fact, Klein writes, the “Never Biden” vote now looks to be even larger than the “Never Trump” vote ever was, as several groups of former Biden voters have angrily turned against Biden for a variety of very specific reasons.

The latest polls show that, with regard to the issues, the largest group of disaffected voters are angry about the impact of rising prices and high interest rates. In the latest New York Times-Siena poll, 21 percent of voters say the economy will drive their vote, while 7 percent said that inflation is their top issue.

Also, by large margins, voters hold Biden responsible for igniting the inflation spike with his excessive Covid relief spending program when he first took office, and then for waiting too long before recognizing the problem his free-spending policies created.

While the rate of inflation is now down to about 3 and a half percent from its peak last year of more than 9%, serious damage to the budget of tens of millions of working-class families, has already been done, leaving those consumers to struggle with sharply higher prices across the board for essentials such as food, shelter and energy and other routine purchases which have far outstripped their wage gains during the same period.

If the presidential election were to be held tomorrow, current polling makes it clear that Biden’s mishandling of the economy and the sharp spike in inflation that it unleashed would still be the top issue in the minds of most voters, particularly among members of the working class.

By contrast, immigration is the top issue for just 12 percent of voters, the overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision is the top issue for 11 percent, the war between Israelis and Palestinians is the top issue for just 2 percent and the increase in violent crime is the top issue for fewer than 1 percent.


Then, of course, there is Biden’s age issue, which has been “the political elephant in the room” ever since Biden formally announced last year that he was running for re-election. Since that time, the polls have shown that 70-80 percent of all voters, including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats believe that Biden, now at age 81, is too old to serve a second term and would have preferred to see a younger and more vigorous Democrat candidate run for president. The point was raised again in February in special counsel Robert Hur’s report on Biden’s mishandling of classified government documents. It described Biden as a sympathetic old man who is not fit to stand trial because of his faulty memory.

Since that time, Biden has had his better days, such as his strong presentation of the State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress in March, which silenced the latest flurry of public calls from some Democrats that he step aside, and his worse days, including the lapses during his recent interview on CNN announcing that he had suspended an arms delivery to Israel.

While the public debate over Biden’s fitness for a second term may have subsided, the issue has not gone away. Polling shows that it is still weighing heavily on the minds of many voters, including Biden’s most enthusiastic supporters. Their concerns continue to be driven by an endless stream of video clips spread on social media, which tend to focus on the most recent troubling examples of Biden’s “senior moments.”


Biden’s fitness for a second term will be tested for all to see on the presidential debate stages in June and September, and on the nationwide presidential campaign trail from now until Election Day in November. Unlike the 2020 campaign, Biden will not be able to use the excuse of the Covid pandemic health emergency to hide from close public scrutiny in the basement of his Delaware home. Especially after the current presidential campaign moves into high gear after Labor Day, Biden’s stamina will be tested and the extent of his remaining cognitive and physical abilities will quickly become clear to all.

Some political analysts prefer to identify Biden’s problems with maintaining the traditional components of the Democrat voter base to his policies on specific issues, such as inflation, open borders, climate change, and racial equity. But political demographer Ruy Teixeira, the co-author of the influential 2002 book, The Emerging Democrat Majority, has been warning that it is Biden’s adoption of the entire extreme liberal progressive agenda, driven by the Democrat party’s college-educated elite activists, that is now squandering the demographically driven permanent national Democrat majority that his book predicted.

According to Teixeira, Biden’s whole-hearted adoption of that liberal agenda since entering the White House has alienated the much larger nationwide segments of white and non-white working-class voters who were essential to Biden’s ability to put together a winning majority in the 2020 presidential election.

Teixeira notes that only once over the past 100 years “has a Democrat entered the White House without winning a majority of the working-class vote, defined conventionally as those voters with a high school degree but no college degree. The exception was Joe Biden in 2020, under “[the] highly unusual circumstances [of the] Covid pandemic,” which influenced the election’s outcome. Teixeira argues in his online newsletter, “The Liberal Patriot,” that “it’s unlikely in the extreme that Biden can manage that trick a second time,” and argues that to win re-election, Biden “must win the working-class vote [which]. . . will likely determine the outcome of the 2024 election.”

That is because, as Teixeira points out, the working class makes up around two-thirds of all eligible voters nationwide, and an even larger percentage of voters “in all six key swing states —Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where current polling shows “Biden in a very deep hole” and “Trump in a dominant position” with the working-class segment of the vote.


Many who voted for Biden during the 2020 Democrat primaries, when he ran for the presidential nomination as a moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders, and in the 2020 general election, when he promised to re-unite a bitterly divided nation, now feel that Biden deceived them because since taking office, his administration has been consistently promoting the extreme liberal-progressive agenda.

Tacking to the center is a classic move in American electoral politics, and it is a tactic that Biden often used during his long career in the U.S. Senate. But given the harsh criticism Biden has already received from the extreme left wing of his party over his administration’s support for Israel in the war in Gaza, he is now very reluctant to risk alienating the extreme left any further by trying to gently move away from his other non-Israel related leftist positions, to regain some of his lost working-class voter support.

However, according to the latest New York Times-Sienna poll, Biden’s support for Israel has cost him the support of only 2 percent of his “very liberal” voters from 2020, compared to already having lost to Trump 16 percent of his 2020 supporters who described themselves as moderate and conservative. It would therefore appear that Biden would probably lose more of his moderate to conservative supporters by continuing to try to appease the left by stepping up his criticism of Israel and denying the support it needs to win the war in Gaza.

Teixeira argues that while “the Biden campaign would rather think about this election as ‘the democracy election,’ or ‘the Roe v. Wade election,’ or ‘the climate election’ or ‘the student loans election’ or ‘the Palestinian rights election’ or the ‘racial justice election,’ in the end, the outcome will be determined by how the working class assesses the choice between Trump and Biden and casts their vote.”

Teixeira’s analysis takes a very detailed look at the numbers generated by the latest New York Times-Sienna survey about the preferences of the working class and how they have changed since a version of the same poll was published last October.


“Across the battleground [states], Biden is losing to Trump among working-class registered voters by 16 points. That compares to Biden’s national working-class deficit of just 4 points in 2020. It’s also slightly worse than Biden’s performance in last October’s Times poll which covered the same [battleground] states, when [Biden] was behind among these voters by 15 points.”

Teixeira also notes that “the deterioration [in Biden’s support] is also worse among nonwhite working-class voters. Biden was ahead among these voters in the battleground states by 16 points last October. . . [and] his advantage [over Trump] among nonwhite working-class voters has fallen to single digits — 9 points — in the new data.”

More specifically, “In Arizona, Biden [now] trails Trump by 9 points among working-class voters. In 2020, when Biden barely won the state by three-tenths of a percentage point, his deficit among these voters was only 4 points.

“In Georgia, Biden is losing to Trump by a daunting 21 points among working-class voters. That compares to Biden’s modest 6-point gap in 2020. Biden won Georgia in 2020 by a slender two-tenths of a percentage point.

“In Michigan, Biden’s working-class deficit against Trump is 24 points. In 2020, that deficit was just 6 points.”

Teixeira notes that Biden’s support among that key segment of voters has fallen most drastically since the 2020 election in Nevada, where Biden now “trails Trump by 21 points among working-class voters. But in 2020, Biden and Trump were tied among these voters.”

Teixeira also cites the analysis that the New York Times published to explain the findings of its survey, which observed that, “Nevada is a state where Biden’s stewardship of the economy is viewed especially negatively. Among working-class Nevada voters, Trump is deemed better than Biden for handling the economy by 40 points (66 to 26 percent),” with the results almost identical for both white and non-white working-class voters.

“In Pennsylvania,” Teixeira observes, “it’s Trump over Biden by 19 points among working-class voters. That’s a sharp drop from Biden’s 9-point deficit among these voters in 2020. This is a state that Biden won by only a single point last election.

“In Wisconsin, Biden is behind Trump by 6 points among working-class voters. That doesn’t sound so great but is actually 6 points better than Biden did in 2020 when he lost these voters by 12 points.” According to Teixeira, that is why Wisconsin is the only one of the six battleground states in the latest Times survey “where Biden is running better among these voters today than in 2020.”


Meanwhile, the Trump campaign appears to be confident enough of its strong support in the battleground states to expand its efforts into certain “blue” states where they believe that the level of support for Biden has been weakening. The most vivid example was an enthusiastic weekend rally in the New Jersey southern shore town of Wildwood, New Jersey in which an enthusiastic crowd of 100,000 people turned out to demonstrate their support for Trump.

The Trump rally served as an unpleasant reminder for New Jersey Democrats of the 2022 gubernatorial election, in which the Democrat incumbent, Phil Murphy, was nearly defeated by a largely unknown former Republican General Assembly member, Jack Ciattarelli, who came within 3 points of scoring a historic upset.

The last time a Republican presidential candidate carried New Jersey was more than three decades ago, and in 2020, Trump lost the state to Biden by 16 points. Nevertheless, in light of the huge and enthusiastic turnout at the Wildwood rally, Trump confidently assured the crowd,

“We’re going to win New Jersey!”

Another increasingly “blue” state which has been won by Democrats in recent presidential elections, but which may be in play this November, is Virginia, where popular Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin has been challenging the Democrats-controlled state legislature to overturn its liberal policies. Youngkin was able to win the 2021 gubernatorial election, upsetting Virginia’s former Democrat governor, Terry McAullife, by supporting the right of parents to have a meaningful say in the kind of education their public school children are receiving.

Yet another “blue” state that may also be in play this November is Minnesota, which was last won by a GOP presidential candidate over half a century ago. But Trump lost Minnesota to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by just 1.5 points, and although Biden beat him there in 2020 by more than 7 points, Trump emphasized in a recent interview with a local Minneapolis-Saint Paul TV station, “We think we have a really good shot at Minnesota. We have great friendships up there,” Trump said, referring in particular to the Republican House Majority Whip, Tom Emmer, who is chairing the Trump campaign in Minnesota.

When asked by reporters about recent polling which suggests that Trump could become competitive in both Minnesota and Virginia, Dan Kanninen, the battleground states director for the Biden campaign, scoffed at their significance, and declared confidently, “We feel strongly the Biden-Harris coalition in both Minnesota and Virginia, which has been strong in the midterms and off-year elections, will continue to be strong for us in the fall of 2024.”


But Minnesota’s Democrat Congressman Dean Phillips, who launched an unsuccessful primary challenge against Biden last year, insisted in a recent Fox News interview that “Minnesota is in play. . . like a lot of [other] states. . .

“I think what many of my fellow Democrats don’t want to confess is the reality…

“I’m telling my Democratic colleagues who are supporting President Biden, myself included, that there’s a lot of work to do [to keep Trump from winning the election].”

Current polling also indicates that while Biden is still ahead of Trump in both Virginia and Minnesota, his low single-digit leads in both states, 4.3% in Virginia and 2.3% in Minnesota, would indicate that Biden is vulnerable and cannot afford to take either state for granted.

Trump also fired a shot across the bow of the Biden campaign last week by announcing that he will be attending a campaign event in the minority-dominated South Bronx, openly courting the black and Hispanic votes that the Democrats have taken for granted for so long.

Not to be outdone, the Biden campaign has also been talking about staging an upset in November by defeating Trump in the battleground state of North Carolina. The claim is credible because of the surge in recent years of young, college-educated liberals moving in to participate in the state’s booming high-tech economy.

However, the Biden campaign’s claim that Florida may also be in play seems more like wishful thinking, based upon the huge recent re-election victories by GOP Governor Ron DeSantis and GOP Senator Marco Rubio, as well as the most recent polling predicting that Trump will carry the state in November by a relatively comfortable margin of 9 points, compared to Trump’s 2020 margin of victory of just 3.3 points.

Meanwhile, the race for future control of the narrowly divided U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control by a slender 1-vote majority is now coming into clearer focus. That one-vote Democrat majority has already been effectively erased by the decision of West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin to step down, and his virtually certain replacement by West Virginia’s former Republican Governor Jim Justice.


Democrats are also facing a far more challenging Senate electoral map than Republicans this November by being forced to defend 23 of their incumbents out of a total of 34 Senate seats which will be in play.

According to the RealClearPolitics polling averages, the race for control of the Senate now begins in earnest with 49 seats (not counting West Virginia), just two short of a 51-seat majority, considered safe for Republicans, 42 seats considered safe for Democrats, 4 other states, divided 2-2, where either the Republican or the Democrat senate candidate has a clear but not yet decisive lead, and 9 states where the senate races are close enough to be rated as toss-ups.

In other words, Republicans start with a virtual guarantee of winning 50 Senate seats in November and needing to defeat just one of the 23 Democrat incumbents while re-electing all 11 of their own incumbents, to regain formal majority control over the Senate.

Furthermore, if Trump wins the presidential election, Republicans will already be in effective control of the Senate, even if they do not defeat any of the Democrat incumbents. That is because Trump’s vice president will then be able to cast their vote to break the Senate’s 50-50 tie.

The most vulnerable of the Democrat senatorial incumbents are Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana because their states were carried easily by Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.

In addition, two of the senatorial tossup states now in the Democrat column, Nevada and Arizona, currently look like they will vote for Trump in November, potentially providing coattails for the GOP senatorial candidates in those states. Also, the open senate seat in Maryland, which has long been Democrat, could be won by the state’s popular former GOP governor, Larry Hogan.


Taken altogether, in addition to West Virginia, which has already been virtually conceded to the Republicans as a senatorial seat pickup, there are as many as five Democrat senate seats in play this November. Republicans need an additional net pickup of just one to oust Chuck Schumer as Senate Majority Leader for the next two years, while Democrats cannot afford a single loss if they hope to maintain control of the Senate.

Surprisingly, the vulnerable Democrat incumbents all currently have modest polling leads, but unlike the presidential elections, many of those races are just getting started, and are likely to change in the months ahead. Furthermore, it is considered unlikely that Democrats will be able to turn the tables by upsetting any one of the GOP senatorial incumbents.

If any Senate Democrat candidate stumbles anywhere, Chuck Schumer will become the Senate Minority Leader in January, which would present problems for a reelected Joe Biden and a big advantage for a newly elected President Trump.

This November’s race for control of the Senate will be a white-knuckle experience for all concerned, and something else to watch closely, especially for the significant percentage of voters who say they are already disgusted with the Trump vs. Biden presidential rematch.


Meanwhile, the scheduling of the first presidential debate in June means that this race is beginning earlier than any other in modern times, even before the major parties have formally chosen their candidates. It is also clear that Biden and his campaign are on the defensive, having been forced to take the initiative in calling for debates, albeit on his terms. He is also belatedly struggling to shore up his flagging support among black voters, who have long been the foundation of his voter base.

While there are still four months to go before Election Day, Trump’s across-the-board polling gains and steady lead have forced even some Democrats to reluctantly concede that this election is now Donald Trump’s to win or lose.



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