It usually is American tradition for sitting presidents to serve two electoral terms. Out of 45 former presidents, only 11 had held office a single time, and in the (apparently possible) case of a Trump return to the White House after the 2020 hiatus, that number will be down to 10.
The preference of American voters for continuity and stability plays a pivotal role in this tradition. When an incumbent president has successfully navigated their first term, it is often seen as an endorsement of their performance. Voters tend to lean towards familiarity and proven leadership, which translates into reelection for a second term. The “devil you know” factor can be a powerful motivator for voters.
Another crucial factor is the institutional advantage held by incumbent presidents. They enjoy name recognition, an established track record, and the formidable resources of the presidency. This combination makes it difficult for challengers to mount successful campaigns, as they lack the same level of exposure and resources.
Furthermore, parties generally rally behind an incumbent president’s reelection bid, providing a robust support network and a unified front. This party support can make a significant difference in the outcome of an election.
But is Joe Biden still a beneficiary of the aforementioned party support? It really depends upon whom you ask. The past months have been filled with supporters of the incumbent president declaring their allegiance to a 2024 Biden run, but also with “unnamed sources” or consultants of the Democratic Party hinting at the possibility, or suggesting it out loud, that this would not be the right course of action.
If Democrats do decide to pull the rug from under their incumbent, here are the three major reasons that could exist behind the decision being made:
Trust and Age Concerns
In recent polls, Joe Biden’s approval rating has dipped to a mere 39%. According to a survey conducted by CNN and SSRS between August 25 and 31, two-thirds of registered voters who identify as Democrats or lean Democratic expressed a preference for a candidate other than Biden. Within this group, 18% specifically mentioned an alternative candidate, while the overwhelming majority, constituting 82%, simply desired a different individual in the role of president.
Furthermore, nearly 60% of respondents indicated that they believed Biden’s policy decisions had negatively impacted the state of the economy. An even more substantial portion, specifically 76%, expressed significant concerns regarding the president’s age, noting that at 80 years old, he might not have the physical capacity to fulfill a full term if re-elected.
And who could ultimately blame them? If Joe Biden’s cognitive slips were a seldom (even though significant) happening during the 2020 elections, now they are almost guaranteed during public appearances. The compilations of gaffes, confused rants and moments in which the president’s mind seems stuck in an alternate history (“Putin is losing the war in Iraq”) are becoming viral on social media platforms on a weekly basis.
Even with some Republican figures considering Trump too toxic or risky to be headed towards a re-run, the cognitive difference between the two is stark. The cold hard truth is Trump seems mentally acute, while his opponent doesn’t. It would only take one of Biden’s mental freezes in a televised debate for the former president to activate his predatorial instincts and embarrass the Democrat in front of the nation.
Worsening of the Ukraine Situation
One of the aspects that generated sympathy for Joe Biden among his Eastern European allies was his staunch support to the cause of a besieged Ukraine. From funds to modern weapons, tanks, fighter jets and even prohibited ammunition, the Biden Administration offered Kiev a lot of advantages in face of the Russian aggression.
But as previously stated, Americans are displeased with the way their economy is doing. One of the factors behind this is perceived to be the huge financial aid been sent to Ukraine. It would be a mistake to understate the isolationist tendencies of the American public. Even in the face of the world wars, many Americans were opting for neutrality before their governments decided on military intervention.
Trump took advantage of the isolationist sentiment in 2016, boosted it, and some would say he is now reaping the rewards: polls show 55% of Americans are of the opinion that the U.S. Congress should abstain from granting additional funding to assist Ukraine, while the remaining 45% argue that Congress should indeed allocate such funding. Additionally, 51% of those surveyed believe that the United States has already fulfilled its obligations in aiding Ukraine, while the remaining 48% contend that more should be done in this regard.
It’s worth noting that during a poll conducted in late February 2022, at the outset of the Russian invasion, a significant 62% of respondents expressed the view that the United States should have been more proactive in its support for Ukraine. This is important because Trump is arguing on the campaign trail that Ukraine is not seeing enough of a winning edge, and should therefore sue for peace, while also promising to “end the war in one day”.
The continuation of the Ukraine counteroffensive with little to no results would surely bolster the narrative that it was a mistake for the Biden Administration to throw so much in for Kiev (the last financial package was over 43 billion USD). A Russian advance would be even more devastating, not only for the Ukrainians facing hardship already, but, pragmatically, for a Biden 2024 campaign, that would somehow have to explain to voters why it went “all in” and failed.
At the moment of writing the outcome is still uncertain, but the clouds of pessimism have gathered on the skies of Washington and in the minds of many analysts of the conflict.
While it is no news that Trump is being seen by some actual and former republicans (as well as a part of the general public) as “too far right”, Biden has managed to create a perception inside his own party of being too far on the left. The more centrist Democrats feel alienated by the support he is showing to the radical wing of the party and by some of his policies, such as: pardoning student loans, enacting strong-arm policies to combat “systemic racism”, hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending to increase the use of cleaner energy and to boost welfare while exhibiting minimal concern for the budget shortfall. A disregard toward combating mass immigration, etc.
In the face of this political status quo, actual and former moderates from both parties are threatening to launch their own presidential ticket in 2024 under the banner of “No Labels”, an organization that has encouraged centrist policies since 2010 and even helped finance and elect some Democratic candidates. The move would prove crippling towards a Biden re-election. Some of the names that No Labels could bet on are Joe Manchin, seen as the eternal-moderate of US politics or popular centrist Andrew Yang, who left the DNC two years prior.
A “No Labels” presidential ticket is, however, no guarantee at this point. Senior Democratic officials are trying to persuade the movement into backing off, since most of the votes it would attract would be those of Joe Biden. However, the representatives of the movement have mentioned that a third candidate in the race would be a solution only if they see “no other option”.
Having these facts in mind, it could be considered strategically correct for the Democrats to seek conciliation rather than conflict with No Labels. But there is little doubt here that conciliation means either another candidate than Biden or an open democratic primary, as Andrew Yang suggested on the 17th of September.