Can Biden Bounce Back? (Part I)


In my previous column, I set the stage for the last six months of the 2024 presidential election.  

If the presidential election were (today), Donald Trump (would) become only the second president ousted from the White House to return four years later. Trump is currently leading in virtually all of the national and state polling — and he has been leading by around two points for almost a year now. To keep this in perspective, during 2016 and 2020, Trump rarely led in any polling, and never led in the average. Also, Trump is leading in virtually all the battleground states, and for Biden to win these battleground states, and thus the electoral college, he will almost certainly have to win the popular vote by at least three points, a five-point swing from where we currently are. Biden is also facing (six) huge electoral problems that make things even worse for him. The polling negatives from these six huge Biden problems continue to accelerate and aggregate. And all these issues will certainly be more publicized as Republican/conservative forces increasingly get their paid message out.  


Also, Biden’s RealClearPolitics average presidential job approval is roughly 40 percent. This is substantially less than the job approval numbers of former Presidents Trump, Obama, and Bush at a comparable time in their presidencies.  

Considering all this, the question becomes – is there anything that can change Joe Biden’s trajectory and prevent his runaway campaign train from falling off the November cliff, with him on board?

Yes, of course; things can always change. The 2024 campaign is still happening, even as we speak.  

As I see it, there are three other factors that could change the 2024 election’s trajectory: 1) major outside event(s); 2) Republican screw-up(s); or 3) Biden’s campaign rights itself – i.e., the campaign more effectively uses its assets.

Major Outside Events

The first of these possibilities is that a major outside event(s) saves Biden. This is not likely, but always theoretically possible. For example, a September 11, 2001-like incident could occur, causing the American voters to rally around Biden. Note I said that this could occur – if the U.S. were to be attacked with mass casualties, there is no guarantee that Biden would gain in popularity.  For example, if Hamas attacked Americans unloading aid off Gaza and killed large numbers of them, this would almost certainly harm Biden’s re-election prospects.

Republican Screw-up(s)

The second of these possibilities is that a major Republican screw-up, or many small Republican screw-ups, saves Biden.  


So far, the Trump campaign has given Biden little to work with. Donald Trump wisely chose to avoid Republican primary debates, which limited the Republican attacks on him, hastened his primary victory, and limited his exposure to a national audience answering tough questions (which could be used against him by Biden). Trump has also made a strong play for traditionally Democrat-leaning voters, including labor workers, Hispanics, blacks, and other minorities. Trump has been politically smart about abortion, saying that this is a state issue – which it is – and that the federal government should avoid passing laws restricting it. Even the far-left Daily Beast has conceded the wisdom of his strategy, quoting a former Trump staffer-turned-critic Alyssa Farah Griffin as admitting, “It’s actually a savvy take…He can claim the conservative mantle that he’s for states’ rights. And he avoids the political liability of calling for 15 weeks, which Republicans see as a betrayal on the life issue and Democrats will frame as a national abortion ban.” Trump’s use of abortion brings to mind Richard Nixon’s use of the issue as well (and, of course, I have previously argued that Trump is a Nixon Republican).  

Considering Biden’s current position and accumulating problems, a bigger Trump campaign screw-up may be necessary for Biden to win. He needs the equivalent of the Bush (II) 2000 campaign blunder. That year, Bush II was a popular two-term Republican governor of Texas who was also the son and namesake of the most recent Republican President (Bush I). Bush II was running against Al Gore, the sitting two-term vice president under Bill Clinton, who also had a prominent political family name and a much more extensive governmental resume than Bush II. After Bill Clinton’s impeachment, many swing voters were turned off by Clinton’s corruption and longed for a moderate “compassionate conservative” like Bush. Many of them also felt bad that they had voted against the honest and decent Bush I in 1992. And Al Gore had foolishly gotten caught up in the Bill Clinton corruption scandals – does anyone remember “no controlling legal authority?”   


By October of 2000, Bush II was running slightly ahead of Gore nationally and had a clear edge in the electoral college. The one concern voters had about Bush II – that he was relatively inexperienced and untested – had largely subsided. But then, the Bush campaign’s earlier mistake was exposed by the Gore campaign, and voters were once again reminded of their earlier concern regarding Bush’s inexperience: 

In the 2000 race, the news that Republican candidate George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving in 1976 was released just five days before the election. Harry Enten at noted that while Bush’s chief campaign strategist, Karl Rove, believes that the news cost Bush two percentage points nationally, it’s difficult to be certain. Bush lost the popular vote but won the election after an extended legal battle in Florida.

I can attest to the fact that I, a mere peon on the reelection campaign of Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, was privy to Bush campaign polling that showed a big drop in Bush’s polls after the hit, and that the entire Santorum campaign was thrown into a panic.

And here is the key point – Bush II certainly had prior knowledge of his drunk driving incident. And Karl Rove, his campaign manager, either knew it or should have known it. Therefore, the smart play for the Bush campaign was to, soon after the Republican convention, release that information to the public, far before the November election, so as to prevent it from being used as a political hit. (Hat tip: Robert Traynham, my former boss, the 2000 press secretary for Sen. Santorum.) If the Bush II campaign had done so, there would not have been such damage taken by Bush II, and he likely would have easily won both the popular vote and the electoral college.


The problem with both of these possibilities is that Joe Biden has no control over either outside events, or of Republican screw-up(s). So, he is dependent on others. But the one thing Joe Biden does have full control over is his own campaign. Which leads me to the final chapter of this extended series of columns…

To be Continued.