Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

Biden, Trump and voters’ stages of grief

By 37ci3 Jan24,2024

It’s the rematch no one is looking forward to, voters say they don’t want. However, with nearly 300 days until Election Day, Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump seems like what the public will get this year, like it or not.

Whether or not you are ready to accept this reality depends on what stage of grief you currently find yourself in. Do you still deny that these are our choices? Does this potential alignment make you angry? Are you, like some major centrist donors in this country, willing to negotiate your way out of this situation by looking for a third option? Have you vowed to stay away from politics because of depression over this choice?

Or are you in reception?

There are two camps desperate for admission: Trump’s and Biden’s campaigns. But outside of these two institutions, there are many fears in both parties of another political war with these two aging and unpopular leaders.

And this brings me to the point of why I use the stages of grief to describe the conflict that can occur in the fall. Because while it’s hard to imagine any other fate than Biden-Trump II at this point, there are still plenty of big donors and elite opinion leaders unwilling to compromise on what seems inevitable.

Most importantly, there are many voters, especially those who live ideologically somewhere between the two bases of the two major parties, who hope for another option – either from within their political party or from outside.

This goes a long way to establishing the following: The nation is still very much in the bargain, and why shouldn’t we be? Still only january. During the 1992 campaign, Ross Perot had yet to collect a single petition signature to receive any ballots as a third-party candidate.

But before we get to the inevitable third-party testing balloons that will soon begin in earnest, we need to get down to the official admissions part of the two nomination battles. Three different groups of opinion leaders still live in the “deal” phase: the third-party dreamers (I’ll get to them in a moment); Democrats are calling for a younger candidate; and non-MAGA Republicans are still hoping for someone more electable to help the party win down and up the ballot.

Democrats are with Biden in New Hampshire

On the Democratic side, an impressive showing by the “Write to Joe Biden” New Hampshire campaign should do much to end the public handwriting that remains within the Democratic Party. The lack of traction for largely home state Rep. Dean Phillips was a reminder that two things can be true for many Democratic voters: They wish Biden was younger, but they don’t think he should be fired.

In many ways, Biden was lucky to have a challenger from the party wing, not the progressive wing. Had Phillips been a true-blue progressive and closed his campaign by saying that a vote for him was a vote to encourage Biden to push for a cease-fire in Gaza, Biden might have dealt with a more complex pressure point and big picture. his party. But Biden’s real victory in this primary is that he hasn’t been directly challenged by the left.

Phillips seems determined to run in a few more key states where he’ll share the ballot with Biden, but given how successful the president has been in New Hampshire, it’s hard to imagine him getting less than 70% anywhere else. The possible exception of Michigan.

If there’s one more minor intra-party obstacle for Biden, it’s Michigan, as the state’s large Arab American population is highly critical of the president’s full embrace of Israel in its war with Hamas. But I’m not sure Phillips is the candidate these voters will rally around to send a message to Biden, since Phillips shares Biden’s position on Israel.

Still, the Democratic primary will mean something to figure out how Michigan will play out in November. The only other major hurdle I expect for Biden after that is if he still can’t improve his poll numbers by, say, April 1st. If Trump’s rise and an improving economy don’t lift Biden’s poll numbers by April, he’s fair to wonder, when will they?

The “I told you so” maneuver

And that brings me to the GOP and Nikki Haley. Mathematically, he has no chance of being nominated. Trump’s base is solid and just too big to prevent him from winning the nomination. But the question Haley – and the donors who support her – must answer: What kind of future does she want in American politics?

Watching Sen. Tim Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum turn from polite Trump critics to borderline sycophants for supporting him when he campaigned against him, one gets the sense that the two gentlemen have decided they want a future in the GOP. As it stands now, a GOP supported by Trump and Trumpism. None of the Republicans have decided whether they want to be on the side of pushing in a different direction in the party.

Both rationalized their ambitions in some way. I wonder how they will feel about their decision if they both don’t get the positions they want (which is vice president for Scott and secretary of energy for Burgum).

So what does Haley want? And besides, what do the donors who still support him want from him? In 2016, Senator Ted Cruz seemed to bet that Trump would not win the general election. That’s why he never endorsed Trump at the convention. He clearly longed—always briefly—to be a hero of the conservative movement. As the 2016 GOP runner-up, Cruz had established himself as the “I told you so” front-runner for 2020.

Clearly, Cruz made a bad bet and has been trying to make amends with the Trump movement ever since.

Does Haley have the stomach to do what Cruz attempted in 2016? Could he be a credible crusader for a different Republican Party? I do not know. One of the reasons he performed poorly in New Hampshire is that he has not been as outspoken in his criticism of Trump and Trumpism as many of his supporters and donors. His decision to praise his four years (“the right man at the right time”) rather than outright criticize him for being chaotic, divisive and decidedly not a “small c” conservative has made it harder for him to convince more voters. Leaving Trump.

But this is the opportunity before him. He may begin his bid to be the leader of a post-Trump GOP that rejects not just Trump, but Trumpism. It will be a lonely campaign for him. Almost every elected Republican will pressure him to drop out — even if some hidden hope strikes and he is the nominee.

If he wants to continue this kind of campaign — more of a crusade, less of a 2024 delegate chase — he’ll find the donors to back him to do it. But the strategy comes with a risk: Trump could win the presidency.

However, it’s unclear what Haley’s future (or even what she wants) will be in a Trump-led GOP. As Kris Kristofferson wrote, “Freedom is just another word for having nothing left to lose.”

If Haley stays in the party and makes it a crusade to change the party, she too will likely contribute to the campaign to prevent Trump from winning the presidency. With strong funding, Haley will likely get 25% to 45% in each of the remaining primaries — and she may even win one or two. As we saw Tuesday night, Trump won’t be able to help himself: Instead of ignoring Haley’s candidacy, he’ll likely give her more energy and oxygen to compete.

A large portion of the electorate who would lean toward it will likely still vote for Trump in the general, but voting against Trump in the primaries will make them the target of a strong persuasion campaign to either vote for Biden or stay home.

Still, Trump’s attacks (and those from his MAGA base) will be brutal against Haley — even harsher than we’ve seen. We’re about to find out just how strong Haley’s courage is.

The ghost of a third party

Now, we have the final group of bargain hunters in our stages of grief exercise: third-party dreamers.

I’ve written extensively over the past few months about the potential for a third party and what appears to be fertile ground for one. In theory, the water has never been hotter for third-party hopefuls. The country is of little use to either side, both have been under water for years.

But who is the candidate? I doubt that a former GOP governor or a retiring Democratic senator is the third-party jolt that disaffected voters are looking for. To really catch fire and be a viable option, a third-party candidate must come from a different arena than electoral politics.

The ideal candidate to be nominated is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has enough political experience to be decent in the eyes of the political elite, but enough celebrity and personality to be seen as unbuyable. While Schwarzenegger spent most of his adult life as a Republican, Trump is not a Republican. As governor of California, he governed more like Bill Clinton in Arkansas or Charlie Baker in Massachusetts. Given his family history in Austria, Schwarzenegger can speak to the importance of democracy and the dangers of autocracy in a way that many Americans do not.

Now some of you might say – wait a minute, doesn’t the Constitution say that only a natural born citizen can be president? Schwarzenegger wasn’t born in Austria? The answer is yes on both counts.

It is also possible that no one will be able to challenge his eligibility until he is elected. It would make her choose her running mate a little more important, that’s for sure, but maybe that’s a feature rather than a bug.

Another reason Schwarzenegger is the ideal No Labels front man is that he understands the Trump threat well enough to not play spoiler. And the credibility with which he can turn his supporters into Biden voters, if it’s a binary choice to stop Trump, could be greater if he manages himself.

Personally, I’ve taken the view that Biden vs. Trump is the most likely general election scenario, and the likelihood increases with each new primary. However, never in the era of modern presidential politics have we had two likely candidates so unpopular.

I’ve been around long enough to see weird things overturn conventional wisdom. As I reminded readers at the top of this column, this time in 1992, Perot was just a guest Larry King liked to book occasionally to talk politics. He had yet to hire an employee to start writing in the ballots. His campaign did not take off until the spring of 1992.

The various scenarios that could elevate a Biden-Trump matchup are all in the single-digit percentage category of happening now. Maybe a one-in-a-million chance of a different matchup between Biden and Trump. But as Dumb and Dumber taught us, I say there is a chance.

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By 37ci3

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