Democrats don’t want Biden, but probably can’t win without him

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Surprising exactly no one, President Joe Biden announced his re-election bid last week, setting up a likely 2024 rematch with former President Donald Trump in a campaign that will…

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Sorry. My head hit my keyboard. I dozed off from the utter predictability of it all.

Apparently, I’m not alone. While Biden is well-positioned to win a second term, Democratic voters, far from relishing a campaign that will pit one aged pol against another, are looking for an alternative – any alternative – to Scranton Joe.

And the alternative is … Go ahead. I’m waiting.

Yes, I know. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the vax-skeptical son of Robert F. Kennedy and the scion of what remains of an American political dynasty, launched his candidacy in Boston last week, promising to be a truth-teller and vowing to “end the division” in Washington.

And then the nation shrugged and went promptly back to wondering who might replace Tucker Carlson on Fox News.

Lest I – or more likely you – forget, author Marianne Williamson, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020, also is running.

And therein lies the Democrats’ problem as the party heads into a hugely consequential presidential campaign cycle where, once again, the future of the country is on the line.

The only current alternatives to Biden, 80, a candidate from the Silent Generation, are Kennedy, 69, and Williamson, 70, Boomers both, who similarly claim membership in a generation whose time on the nation’s political stage is coming to an end. So unless something changes, only the Detroit Tigers will rival the Democrats for the most depleted farm system.

Republicans have the advantage – at least for now – of choosing from at least two hopefuls, who, while they hail from the Island of Misfit Candidates, won’t need their grandkids’ help sending a text message.

But it remains entirely unclear if former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 51, or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 44, whose candidacy seems to continue to shrink even before he declares it, has even a fraction of the loyalty among the GOP faithful that Trump commands.

The answer, based on the latest polling numbers, is a hard “no.”

Two-thirds of respondents to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll said they’d still vote for Trump even if he’s found guilty of a crime. And, given the swirl of legal issues surrounding the former president at the moment, the law of averages suggests that could well end up being the case.

Meanwhile, 44% of Democrats said in late March that they didn’t want Biden to run for re-election, but still have a favorable view of the incumbent president, according to a national Monmouth University poll. And more than half, 51%, said they couldn’t name a replacement.

This raises the question, as the Washington Post’s George Will pointed out last week, of whether the nation might now be open to a third option.

That’s is the hope of the No Labels group, Will noted, which says it wants to “ensure Americans have the choice to vote for a presidential ticket that features strong, effective, and honest leaders who will commit to working closely with both parties to find commonsense solutions to America’s biggest problems.”

Which means, probably, that we’re back to Big Two – who will have to do far, far better than they’re doing now to get key voters off the bench.

Recent research shows that Generation Z voters, who played a key role in helping power Democrats to victory in the 2022 midterms, are tired of business-as-usual politics and politicians. And if candidates want to win them, they’re going to have to do better than the usual tired tropes.

“People in my position, pollsters, think about messages to engage with Gen Z. But for them, it’s about values, not messages, and not transactions,” John Della Volpe, the founder and CEO of SocialSphere, and the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, told the Capital-Star in February. “So there has to be alignment on values. And, honestly, that is the biggest opportunity Democrats have and the biggest challenge that Republicans have.”

Trends also suggest that the Democrats are in the midst of a generational change, but that might be some years away. So that means Democrats will be stuck with Biden – who is still preferable to any Republican alternative.

But that also means they’re going to have to fall back on the same kind of strenuous message discipline on such key issues as reproductive rights, gun violence prevention, and book bans that enabled them to stem an anticipated GOP wave in 2022.

Because sometimes, when you can’t have the glam win, you have to content yourself with winning ugly.

But it’s still a win.

Copyright 2023 John L. Micek, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.