The two fighters who gave boxing legend Muhammad Ali the most problems in the ring were Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. Each man beat Ali once, and gave him the battles of his life on two other occasions. Yet when both faced the ferocious and undefeated George Foreman, they fell like Styrofoam mannequins toppled by a charging bull. For that reason, when Ali signed on to fight Foreman, many boxing experts thought Foreman would make minced meat out of him. But Ali not only won the fight, he knocked Foreman out.
That example underscores boxing’s intricacy and unpredictability, which also applies in politics. Democrat President Biden’s approval ratings are plummeting, having sunk far below 50 percent, with many independent voters bemoaning buyer’s remorse, moderate Democrats feeling hoodwinked, and Republican never-Bideners not missing a chance to compare him to Jimmy Carter. In stark contrast, the GOP, except for gadflies like Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney, is almost completely united around Republican ex-President Trump and can’t wait for 2024 to roll around so he can regain the presidency.
Yet, much like the Ali-Frazier-Norton-Foreman quadrangle, if things remain the way they are, Trump will probably be his party’s weakest presidential nominee and Biden his party’s strongest. Trump would likely eke out a rematch victory, but it would be a nailbiter. Not a landslide, not even close. Why is that the case?
If you recall, both Trump in 2016 and Biden four years later didn’t simply coast to the party convention unscathed; they had to fend off multiple blistering attacks from plenty of primary rivals. Each was successful in winning the nomination, but for very different reasons.
In Trump’s case, he competed in a field of very formidable contenders, many of whom could’ve won the nomination in his absence, and most of whom probably would have bested the despised Hillary Clinton in the general election. Among them: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio. Mike Huckabee, who had been a very strong contender eight years earlier, and John Kasich, a centrist with national appeal, also might have pulled it off.
But the voters chose Trump. They were tired of business as usual. (I was among them. In 2012, I described the contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as “Obamney.”) Most had a sense that Hillary was beatable and figured it was a good time to roll the dice and usher in a very different type of candidate.
In Biden’s case, though, the exact opposite was true. The Democrats’ stars – septuagenarians Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and rising upstarts Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Andrew Yang – all declared on national television that they don’t think crossing the border without permission ought to be a crime. That philosophy is too far to the left not only for cattle ranchers in Oklahoma, but also for Latinas in the Bronx! It appeals mostly to self-loathing white millennials who feel obligated to atone for the transgressions of fellow Caucasians from vastly different eras to whom they have no connection other than they all require sunscreen once the temperature rises above 68 degrees. On that debate stage, Biden seemed like Barry Goldwater by comparison.
Biden didn’t win the Democratic nomination because of charisma, formidability, or strong leadership; he won because he was the only one bland enough not to scare away moderate Democrats and to attract Republican and independent never-Trumpers, and that loosely banded coalition could unseat the orange-haired monster they deemed an existential threat to democracy itself.
Well, both major parties still feature the same cast of characters. Unless I’m missing something, there’s no Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama ready to step onto the scene and captivate the masses. So, let’s consider Christie vs. Warren, or Rubio vs. Buttigieg. Or let’s say Harris throws her hat into the ring and faces Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. In this center-right nation – it still really is, despite what the media, academia, Hollywood, and urban dwellers will tell you – who do you think would win? You do the math.
What if Biden survives his first term and runs for a second? Well, an 82-year-old Biden with one forgetful (to this point) presidential term under his belt is even less electable than his 78-year-old counterpart – the Joe Biden of 2020 with an unremarkable record but at least no presidential baggage.
On the other side of the aisle, Trump is every bit as blistering and divisive as he was during his time in office. He promised us he’d be more “presidential” once he won; so presidential, in fact, that we’d be bored. Unfortunately, we weren’t bored. A solid 42 percent of the country will still vote for him because of all of his accomplishments (which Trump Derangement Syndrome sufferers refuse to acknowledge), and he may regain some who jumped ship in 2020 and now realize that runaway inflation, wokeness, and porous borders are far worse than mean tweets.
On the other hand, Christie, DeSantis, and Rubio would all do better against Biden or any of the aforementioned Democrats to his left (well, to the left of what he’s been telling us he is, anyway), and better against them than Trump would.
Except that the GOP belongs to Trump. He’s the party kingmaker. The question is whether he’ll make himself king again, or step aside and anoint someone else as his successor.
The other wild card is if the Republicans really win back both houses of Congress in November, will they screw things up enough in two years so that the voters can be turned off by them yet again? In that case, a Republican president in 2024 won’t be so inevitable.
Then there’s Biden himself. He hasn’t even been president for a full year yet. There’s a chance he can still turn things around, bounce back, and lead his way to reelection. It’s not theoretically impossible, in the sense that there’s also a chance the Jets can win the Super Bowl next year.
Democrats, don’t be so quick to toss Biden aside; he may be your only chance in 2024. And Republicans, Trump will probably get you over the finish line, but not in a generations-long transformational landslide.