July 11, 2022 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Biden in 2024? Debating it is more evidence of regime change
Public opinion is volatile during periods of transition.
The Times reported today that 64 percent of Democratic voters want someone other than Joe Biden to be the 2024 presidential nominee.
I have a few thoughts.
First, it’s July. Anything said today will almost certainly be forgotten by the time Democratic voters start thinking about voting choices in November. If you’re presuming that these survey results are going to shape the outcome of the midterms, you might be right. Then again, you might wrong. That’s another way of saying no one really knows.
I have ten bucks saying the second Biden makes it clear to the party bosses that he’s running again is the same second the party bosses clear a path for his inevitable renomination. Indeed, the party apparatus will likely create conditions making it impossible – or at least painful enough – for any Democrat to challenge him.
Second, it’s July in the Year of Our Lord 2022. Any poll taken this far out from actual voters making actual decisions is wish-casting of the kind you would expect when you are this far out from actual voters making actual decisions. If you believe these survey results are going to hold steady for the next 848 days, well, I have a bridge to sell.
I don’t know why so many Democrats are down on Biden. Each person has their own reasons. But I do know why it’s newsworthy.
It fits into a narrative the Times wants to tell – which is, perforce, a story that the Washington press corps will want to tell – about a struggling incumbent who can’t get support from his own party. Just as they did with the former president, reporters love to write about intraparty conflict. I can hardly blame them. Conflict is interesting.
But conflict for one party isn’t by necessity conflict for another.
While moderate Republicans really were alienated by the fascist lurch of the Republican Party, so much so that they voted for Joe Biden, liberals and the rest are not going to bail on the president. Rather, they want him to listen to them. That’s a separate orientation.
Sure, Democratic voters are moaning and groaning. Prices are high. Politics is chaotic. The future is precarious. But telling a pollster that you think someone other than Biden is preferable is not the same thing as telling a pollster that you won’t vote for him in 2024.
In short, I have ten bucks saying the second Biden makes it clear to the party bosses that he’s running again is the same second the party bosses clear a path for his inevitable renomination. Indeed, the party apparatus will likely create conditions making it impossible – or at least painful enough – for any Democrat to challenge him.
Polling is important to political journalism, but not because it reflects political reality – something firm that voters can depend on when it comes time to make choices. It’s important for reasons rhetorical, not substantive. Polling gives reporters an excuse to write stories they want to write. In the profession, we often call this a news peg.
What’s good for a reporter – a news peg – is not the same thing as what’s good for voters. We should be skeptical of polling, all polling, because we are living through a period of transition. We are living between the old political order and an emerging one. Naturally, with such regime change comes volatility, especially in public opinion.
The fact that we are talking at all about Biden in 2024 seems to me evidence of our living in a period of transition. Yes, he’s elderly, but so was Ronald Reagan. Biden’s age is probably a stand-in for an issue related to regime change. I’d guess that that’s a yearning for militant reactions by the Democrats to rightwing politics in a post-Roe world.
If Democratic voters say they are unhappy with the president’s performance, as is currently the case, you’d expect them to say so with their vote. This is why a president’s low approval is a reliable indicator of his party losing one or both chambers of the Congress.
But given that we’re in a period of transition – a time between a nominally liberal democracy (1964-2016) and something possibly authoritarian (2022-?) – I wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats were expressing their displeasure with polling, not with voting. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were telling Biden through opinion surveys to do more while also preferring the Congress stay in his party’s hands.
It could be, as Nate Silver observed today, that the more Democratic voters complain via polling, the more likely Democratic voters will pick a Republican in November or skip it altogether. This possibility seems to have sparked stampede of finger pointing. Salon’s Amanda Marcotte suggested this morning that if only Democratic primary voters had listened to her, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.
“Most Democratic primary voters, when asked who they wanted as president, said Elizabeth Warren. But they voted Biden, out of sheer cowardice. And now we’re upset that the cowardly pick is a coward,” she said. (There was a very brief window that favored the senator.)
But it could be that we are living through an era of immense change that’s making an accurate read on public opinion more difficult than it usually is. The pandemic turned the economy upside down. We are experiencing levels of inflation we haven’t experienced in 40 years. Time will tell, but why wouldn’t the covid effect public opinion, too?
Conning a con man?
The big news over the weekend was about Steven Bannon, the former president’s former senior White House adviser and perhaps the country’s most vocal champion of mutiny and insurrection.
The J6 committee and the House already voted to hold Bannon in contempt of the Congress. The US Department of Justice indicted him last November. His trial on that charge is scheduled to begin next Monday (July 18). Press reports suggest – though do not say outright – that Bannon’s decision to cooperate is a bid for leniency.
Other news reports suggest – but, again, do not say outright – that Donald Trump wants Bannon to sabotage the J6 investigation.
Trump is known to be frustrated by the “one-sided presentation” of the J6 hearings, which has attracted millions of viewers, even during daytime. “Trump said he would waive that privilege claim, according to a letter Saturday to Bannon’s lawyer,” according to USA Today.
(If the J6 hearings are “one-sided,” it’s Trump’s own damn fault. House leaders had wanted to form an independent commission, like the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks. It would have been half Democratic and half Republicans, with each side having subpoena powers. Trump said no. So Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, said no, too. Trump could have had “both sides.” Now he has only one.)
In the letter, Trump said that, “If you reach an agreement on a time and place for your testimony, I will waive executive privilege for you, which allows for you to go in and testify truthfully and fairly, as per the request of the unselect committee of political thugs and hacks.”
A former president has no executive privilege to claim. Nevertheless, in “releasing” Bannon, Trump appears to believe that his lickspittle Leninist – his boffo Bolshevist – in testimony before a national television audience will turn the proceedings into a clownshow.
As if reading Trump’s mind, committee members Zoe Lofgren and Jamie Raskin told CBS News that Bannon will be treated like every witness has been. Before they allow him to testify openly, he will “first be deposed under oath, in private, by the committee.”
It seems highly unlikely that the committee would risk permitting anyone casting any gradation of doubt on its investigation. For this reason, it seems highly unlikely that it would trust Steve Bannon.
Time will tell, but it could be that Bannon’s real objective is getting off easy, as press reports have so far suggested, though have not said outright. He therefore conned Trump, perhaps, into thinking he’d defile the hearings knowing Trump does not understand how the J6 panel works.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.