January 18, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The cynical left will fade as Biden’s image improves
It’s already happening, and honestly, the choice for voters isn’t hard.
There is a view that’s now popular among self-described leftists that goes something like this. 2024 is going to be a choice between “a large bowl of lukewarm watery gruel, and a flaming hot Cheeto someone dropped under the couch in 2014 that has been slightly nibbled on by mice.”
I’m not going to name the person whom I am quoting. Nor am I going to link back to the source of the original quote. I’m only quoting this self-described leftist in order to make a point about this kind of perspective, which is this: It would look like rank cynicism if not for public polling that suggests that the presumptive candidates are evenly matched. Once the polling changes, and it will, this view will look like what it is.
We are coming out of a period in which the fortunes of the Democrats appear to be falling and we are going into a period in which they will appear to improve. Then people will probably stop listening to such leftists or, better yet, see their criticism for what it is.
We should be familiar with this kind of thing by now. Every time the fortunes of the Democratic Party appear to fall, there’s a (small, loud) segment of the left that piles on, blaming party leaders for not doing what they “should be doing.” In time, those fortunes improve, but not necessarily because party leaders did what they were “supposed to.” Once they improve, however, people stop listening to such leftists.
We are coming out of a period in which the fortunes of the Democrats appear to be falling and we are going into a period in which they will appear to improve. Then people will probably stop listening to such leftists or, better yet, see their criticism for what it is: rank cynicism about the promise of democratic politics that’s useful to no one except those who are trying to monetize attention to their rank cynicism.
Why do Joe Biden and Donald Trump appear to be evenly matched? Because so far, there are so many people who have not been paying attention to Donald Trump since he lost the 2020 election. They can’t bring themselves, for obvious and understandable reasons, to believe that he’s going to be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Something big is needed to jolt them out of this disbelief. What’s needed is for Donald Trump to start winning GOP primary races.
That process began Monday with Trump’s victory in Iowa. It will continue Tuesday when he wins New Hampshire. As his win tally grows, people who have not been paying attention are going to start paying attention, and with that attention will come understanding that Trump will be the nominee – that a major political party really is going to field a presidential candidate who’s a fraud, insurrectionist and rapist.
Once it’s clear that Trump is going to be the nominee, polling about anything related to Joe Biden is going to improve. When there was a doubt about whether Trump would be the nominee, people rated Joe Biden according to whatever was happening in that day’s news. When all doubt is removed, people will rate Joe Biden according to Trump. (Trump will dominate the daily news cycle.) Judging Biden on his own terms yielded mixed results. Judging Biden relative to Trump won’t.
I said we are coming out of a period in which the fortunes of the Democrats appear to be falling and into a period in which they will appear to improve. Why? Consider that December poll by Ipsos that I told you about, showing that people had already begun reassessing 2023 with this year’s election in mind. The conventional wisdom was that 2023 was terrible, economically. Biden was the blame. The Ipsos poll showed that most people believe 2023 was actually pretty good.
More evidence of this transition came out yesterday. Felix Salmon, of Axios, wrote about a new Harris poll showing that Americans are pretty happy with their personal situations. “The Axios Vibes poll has found that when asked about their own financial condition, or that of their local community, Americans are characteristically optimistic.”
“GDP growth is the highest in the developed world, inflation is headed back down to optimal levels, and consumer spending keeps on growing,” he wrote. “63% of Americans rate their current financial situation as being ‘good,’ including 19% of us who say it’s ‘very good.’”
The Harris poll mirrors the Ipsos poll in that the future looks rosy. Salmon: “66% think that 2024 will be better than 2023, and 85% of us feel we could change our personal financial situation for the better this year … The bottom line: Americans who believe their community’s economy is strong outnumber those who think it’s weak. They’re right.”
Why is this transition happening? It’s not because the economy has dramatically improved over the last year. It’s because more people are becoming more aware of the reality they are going to be facing in the coming months. Honestly, the choice before them isn’t hard. On the one hand is an incumbent who is trying to be a good president, though he isn’t pleasing everyone. On the other hand is Donald Trump.
I said that I wasn’t going to name that self-described leftist, or link back to the source of the original quote, and I’m still not going to. I don’t think that view, as cynical as it is about the promise of democratic politics, is going to stay relevant for much longer. It matters now, because Trump seems strong. But he’s only as strong as the degree to which most people are not paying attention. That’s going to change, and with that, the relevance of cynical leftist commentary will fade.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.