Ironically, the only major political question the majority of Americans seem to agree on is that there is little appetite for the seemingly inevitable: A presidential election between incumbent President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
And while two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans say that they are generally “tired of seeing the same candidates in presidential elections and want someone new” according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, the problems are deeper than that and speak to the significant impediment each candidate faces.
Indeed, majorities of Americans say they would be “very” or “somewhat dissatisfied” with both Trump (58 percent) and Biden (56 percent) as the nominees, per AP-NORC Research Center polling.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same poll shows just how unpopular both candidates are, with six in 10 (60 percent) Americans viewing Trump unfavorably, and a similar 54 percent having an unfavorable view of President Biden.
As November’s election nears, it is highly unlikely that these feelings will drastically shift to either Biden or Trump’s decisive advantage, especially as non-political developments continue exposing each candidate’s flaws.
To that end, special counsel Robert Hur’s scathing — and questionably appropriate — description of President Biden as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” whose lapses “appear consistent with diminished faculties and faulty memory” was a clear shot across the bow of the incumbent.
Moreover, it could not have come at a worse time for the Biden camp, coming just days after Biden mistook two living heads of state — President Emmanuel Macron of France and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel — for their predecessors — François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, respectively — both of whom have passed away.
That Biden is susceptible to these types of gaffes is not new, but it should alarm Democrats that even before Hur’s report, roughly three-quarters (76 percent) of registered voters — including 81 percent of independents and even 54 percent of Democrats — had “major” or “moderate” concerns that Biden did not have the necessary mental or physical health to serve a second term, per NBC News polling.
In response to Hur’s report and larger concerns over his age and memory, Biden will likely be forced to push back in ways that are not certain to be successful. Case in point: Thursday’s press conference, where Biden attempted to put Democrats’ fears to rest with a fiery performance, but probably exacerbated those fears by angrily lecturing the press, and once again confusing a world leader, this time referring to the president of Egypt as “the president of Mexico” in response to a question on the Middle East.
Even before Hur’s bombshell, Biden told Democrats that “Trump and his MAGA friends” are “losers,” seemingly forgetting how Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” comment ahead of the 2016 election haunted her by feeding the narrative that Democrats will openly disparage anyone who disagrees with their world view.
Unfortunately for Democrats, it appears they have no better choice than Biden. It is clear that the party establishment does not trust Vice President Kamala Harris to step in and run, otherwise, they would have elevated her months ago and given her a chance to build out a proper campaign.
Further, as it is incredibly unlikely that someone popular from outside the administration, such as Michelle Obama, would throw their hat in the ring, Democrats seemingly have no choice but to continue supporting the president, in hopes that voters will overlook his impediments, if for no other reason than intensely disliking Donald Trump.
Speaking of the former president, what cannot be lost in the conversation around Biden’s flaws is that, while Trump is certainly more vigorous and engaged than Biden, he has issues of his own.
Trump not only faces 91 felony charges and a civil case that threatens to upend his business empire but also multiple states have launched their own campaigns to keep him off the ballot due to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
And while the Supreme Court is highly likely to rebuff those states, Trump’s legal and ethical baggage is a political headache and is bound to keep him in the news for all of the wrong reasons.
In that same vein, the polling is clear that a conviction in any of the four criminal trials Trump faces may prove decisive. Among voters in swing states, a majority (53 percent) say they would not vote for him if he were convicted, according to Bloomberg/Morning Consult polling.
A conviction would not just hurt with independents, as one-fifth of swing state voters who supported Trump in 2020 would be “somewhat” or “very” unwilling to vote for him again following a conviction.
Importantly, while none of the trials seem on track to issue a ruling before the election, voters clearly take this issue seriously, and if it even appears that a conviction is likely, a large enough bloc of voters may reject the former president.
Making matters worse, for both Biden and Trump, is that neither is capable of effectively talking to voters, aside from their most loyal base. Biden, hampered by mental and physical impediments, often struggles to make clear and concise points.
And Trump’s tendency to use divisive and inflammatory rhetoric, such as “banning” Nikki Haley supporters from MAGA turns away moderates and women.
Ultimately, while both candidates have vulnerabilities that would be politically fatal to virtually any other candidate, I, like many others, suspect Trump may be the biggest winner here, despite him being the more controversial and divisive candidate.
Biden’s struggles with perceptions of his mental and physical decline, however accurate, are likely to be more damaging than Trump’s flaws, which the American public is deeply aware of by now.
Put another way, this November, Americans will be forced to go to the polls and decide between two inherently unelectable candidates, neither of whom the majority of the country wants to be president, and both of whom, albeit for different reasons, would be unelectable against any other opponent.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.” Saul Mangel is a senior strategist at Schoen Cooperman Research.
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