Discover more from Truth and Consequences
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
Who Is favored to win in 2024? Let's take a look at the arguments for both Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality. If you were sent this email or are a free subscriber and would like to become a paid subscriber, you can sign up here.
If money is tight or you’re already up to eyeballs in subscriptions, here’s another idea — share this article. Email it to a friend (or even an enemy). Post it on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter (better the first two than the latter since Twitter is one of the least helpful social media sites for increasing traffic). Text or email it to your wife, husband, mother, father, brother, sister, or even your creepy second cousin in Boise, Idaho. Word of mouth is often the best way to build support for a creative endeavor, so if everyone here sends it to just one person … it would be much appreciated!
Last week, in a piece for MSNBC, I made the following argument:
Barring the aforementioned unforeseen circumstance, Trump will win the 2024 GOP nomination, face off against Biden in the general election — and likely lose.
It’s a point I’ve made several times in the newsletter, but over the weekend, it occurred to me that I’m getting a bit too confident in this particular quasi-prediction. (This was prompted, in part, by conversations with liberal friends who are freaking out over the possibility of a Trump victory in 2024). So I thought I’d take some time today to question my assumptions — and weigh the arguments for and against Joe Biden’s reelection (I’m going to start from the assumption that Trump is the likely GOP nominee).
Incumbents usually win reelection. When incumbents lose, it’s generally because of a lousy economy — and the US economy is steadily improving, and there are fewer and fewer signs of a potential recession in 2024. The economy does not have the electoral impact it once did, but it would still be unusual for an incumbent to lose if the country is relatively prosperous. The only recent example of that happening is when the incumbent party lost in 1968 (Hubert Humphrey was the de facto incumbent after LBJ dropped out). The economy was actually doing quite well, but, of course, there were other issues — like the Vietnam War and rising crime rates. (Read more here!)
Donald Trump has very high negatives that are well-established and unlikely to shift in either direction.
Of all the arguments against a Trump victory, this, to me, is the most powerful. Americans have largely made up their mind about Trump. They don’t like him. And I don’t see how he reverses this negative image.
I asked friend of the newsletter, Jeremy Rosner, his thoughts, and he said, “Trump’s legal problems will continue to erode his support, and as he campaigns, he will remind people of the crazy factor they have come to dislike.” Along these lines, there’s an interesting poll result from CNN today:
Yes, I know it’s mind-boggling that nearly 70% of Republicans are unbothered by the charges against Trump … but that 32 percent might have second thoughts could be a real problem for Trump. Democrats despise the former president, so he can’t afford to leave votes on the table … and that would definitely happen if a third of Republicans considered not supporting him in 2024. I would expect that most of these Republicans will still vote for Trump because, in modern American politics, party loyalty trumps all else. But even losing 5-10 percent of Republicans, either those who stay home or vote for Biden, would likely be enough to doom his chances of winning back the White House.
By next Spring, the former president will be immersed in four criminal trials. They will receive enormous press coverage, and knowing Trump, it’s all he will want to talk about on the campaign trail. He will have a hard enough job convincing Americans who aren’t full MAGA to vote for him. But it will be far more difficult if his primary focus is his legal troubles. Moreover, while we have no idea how a guilty verdict will play with the American people, it seems far more likely to erode Trump’s support than boost it. Again, even if Trump loses a small percentage of GOP support because of a guilty verdict, that could be crucial.
Another old friend of the newsletter, Tom Schaller, suggested that demographic change alone could add a point to Biden from what he got four years ago. Sure enough, when I checked the latest census numbers, the Census Bureau estimates that the white population has fallen slightly since 2020, the Black population increased by about 500,000, the Asian population went up by 700,000, and Hispanics jumped by nearly 2 million. This may not seem like much, but Democrats tend to do better with minority voters, and we’re talking about 3.2 million people. And these demographic numbers will likely continue to move in the Democrats’ favor by next year.
Biden has a clearer path to 270 electoral votes. To be sure, the Electoral College strongly favors Republicans, and that’s the only reason 2020 seemed all that close of an election. (Fun fact: Joe Biden’s margin of victory in 2020 was the same as Bill Clinton’s over George W. Bush in 1992 and larger than George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s reelection victories. None of those elections seemed all that close). But what’s working in Biden’s favor in 2024 is that he has several paths to 270.
Let’s start with the assumption that Biden will win all the blue states he is expected to capture on Election Day (New England and the Northeast, the Far West, the DMV, Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, and Hawaii). That gives him a baseline of 226 EVs. Then, let’s add Michigan and Pennsylvania to the mix. Both states lean blue, except for 2016, Democrats have won each state in every election since 1992, Biden won them in 2020, the Republican Party in both places is a raging dumpster fire, and in 2022, Democratic candidates won statewide races by relatively large electoral margins. With those states, Biden is at 260 and has multiple ways to get to 270. For example, Biden could win Arizona and lose Wisconsin, Nevada, and Georgia (three states he won in 2020) and still win reelection. He could prevail in Wisconsin and lose the other three. Same for Georgia. Also, he could lose Georgia and Michigan, and if he takes Nevada, Arizona, and Wisconsin … four more years. Trump could win Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada but would fall short if Biden wins Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Politico, here’s a recent deck put together by Jim Messina (Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager) that makes my point in visual form.
Abortion has become a defining issue in American politics. During the 2022 midterms, it played a crucial role in precisely the swing states that Trump must win (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arizona) to take back the presidency. So Trump would not only need to outrun his lousy approval numbers ... he would also need to minimize his losses from pro-choice voters. Trump already has a hard enough path to win the White House. Abortion makes it far more difficult.
Democrats have the political momentum. One odd thing about the pessimism I hear from liberals is that they consistently ignore that Democrats are on an electoral roll. In 2018, Democrats took back the House of Representatives, picking up 40 seats in the process. In 2020, they won the White House and the Senate. In 2022, they barely lost the House, increased their narrow margin in the Senate, and picked up state legislature seats in 21 states (flipping control of five chambers). In special elections since 2022, they’ve consistently over-performed — which is usually a good predictor of future electoral outcomes.
The single best argument for Trump has nothing to do with him … but everything to do with Joe Biden’s age. I know that Trump is only three-and-a-half years younger than Biden, but that fact is lost on voters. According to a recent AP poll, 77 percent of Americans think Biden is “too old to be effective for four more years,” while only 51 percent feel that way about Trump. Among independents, the numbers are even more stark: 74 percent think Biden is too old versus just 48 percent for Trump. Now, I think it’s worth taking these numbers with a grain of salt. I, too, would probably answer “no” to the question of whether Biden is “too old to be effective for four more years,” but take a wild guess who I’m voting for next year.
Nonetheless, Biden’s age is a significant problem. He simply looks more feeble than Trump. If he has a senior moment or health scare between now and Election Day, it will only magnify the issue — and raise questions about Kamala Harris, who is not that popular and would become president if something happens to Biden. I’m still not convinced that age alone can move enough voters to Trump’s corner or keep Democrats home … but it’s a major wild card and probably Biden’s greatest vulnerability heading into 2024.
Joe Biden’s approval ratings stink. His numbers are not quite Trump bad … but they ain't good.
Biden is barely leading Trump in head-to-head polls. I tend not to take polls 15 months out from an election all that seriously, but these numbers are not great for an incumbent.
The economy could go into recession. This is probably a low percentage possibility. Earlier this week, Goldman Sachs lowered its estimates for a recession in 2024. Even if the economy goes south, it’s an open question as to how much that hurts Biden. It didn’t kill Democrats in 2022, and considering the polarized nature of modern politics, I’m not sure that the economy has the significant impact it once did in determining electoral outcomes.
The Electoral College still favors Republicans. This is the other side of the point I made above: the GOP advantage in the EC keeps this race competitive. If Trump turns out his supporters like he did in 2016 and, to a lesser extent, in 2020, he could win. That higher Trump-specific turnout was crucial to him winning Pennsylvania and Florida in 2016 … and the presidency.
Trump’s numbers continue to improve among Black and Hispanic voters. In 2020, Joe Biden did worse among Black voters than Hillary Clinton in 2016 (white suburban women saved him). Those numbers have continued to fall for Democrats, and considering how essential minority voters are to Democratic success, even a 5-10% switch could be enough to doom Biden in a close election.
According to a recent piece by Nate Cohn in the New York Times, Biden’s weakness among these voters is “mostly responsible for the close race in early national surveys.” However, as Cohn points out, “there’s plenty of time for Mr. Biden to re-energize his former supporters. Indeed, the Times/Siena data suggests that Mr. Biden could approach — though not match — his 2020 standing simply by reclaiming voters who say they backed him in the last election.” So Biden’s erosion with minority voters is a problem, but it could also be reversed — and it’s still a long time until Election Day.
And The Winner Is …
When you look at the two arguments for and against Biden’s reelection … the pro-Biden side is slightly more compelling. I will be the first to acknowledge that a bit of motivated reasoning is going on here. Still, I think many of the pro-Trump points are canceled out by something Messina told Politico, “It’s a choice between two parties, two ideologies, between two people,” he said. “And that choice matters.”
For all the arguments about Biden’s age, his lousy approval numbers, a neck-in-neck race, and even the potential for an economic downturn … Trump still has to convince a good number of Americans who didn’t vote for him in 2020 to reverse themselves in 2024. This might be Biden’s biggest advantage going into 2024. His likely opponent is well-known by Americans and intensely disliked. In fact, Trump might be the single best vote motivator for Democrats. If Biden were replaced on the ballot by an inanimate carbon rod, I would give the rod a 50/50 chance of winning … just because of how much Trump is loathed.
Unlike in 2020, Trump has to face the headwinds of the Dobbs abortion decision and his four criminal indictments. Trump needs to draw an inside straight to win. Obviously it could happen (and it would be a mistake to discount the possibility), but it’s still a bit of a longshot.
Dissatisfaction with Biden is a real issue for the White House, but is that dissatisfaction enough to get people to vote for Trump or stay home? Maybe, but at this point, I’m not convinced.