“Democrats have a deep bench. They had better prepare now to turn to it.”
That was former Bloomberg News executive editor Al Hunt writing for The Messenger on June 25, pontificating about the prospects of replacing President Joe Biden in 2024 as the Democratic Party nominee as the incumbent president’s poll numbers still appear gloomy even after Biden’s Justice Department brought his top political opponent, former President Donald Trump, who is standing for election once again in 2024, up on charges over documents retained after the Trump administration that Trump says he declassified.
The two most recent Harvard-Harris polls have shown Trump with at least a 6-point lead in the race, 45 percent to 39 percent, and the most recent Emerson poll shows what was a 2-point lead for Biden over Trump down to a 1-point lead, now only 43 percent to 42 percent—and that is after the June 8 indictment of Trump, which appears to have had almost no impact on the race, or may even be helping Trump.
Which defies conventional political wisdom among political elites—and is vexing them. As Al Hunt noted in his Messenger piece, “The White House case, brushing aside the bad polls, is simple: Biden can beat Trump, that — at some point — the accumulation of indictments, lies and erratic behavior will take a political toll. I have long believed that, but there’s scant evidence so far.”
Trump’s uncanny resiliency, though, is not hard to contemplate when a longer view of history is taken into account. For example, former President Bill Clinton’s numbers actually went up during his impeachment and may have helped bolster his party’s support in the 1998 midterms, where Democrats lost no seats in the House (a rare accomplishment for a sitting president).
That is, in the face of adversity, presidents (and apparently former presidents) who stand in the breach can have a rallying effect on their party’s faithful, shoring up and even building support, whether from impeachments, indictments or other flak that is often coming from the opposing party. It’s a circle the wagons and rally around the leader effect.
That Biden is dressing it up as an “independent” Justice Department action is interesting, but likely irrelevant to Trump supporters and political independents who have already lived through the Russiagate hoax that had the Justice Department falsely and wrongly accuse Trump and his campaign of being Russian agents at the behest of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Which was immediately followed by the 2019 impeachment of Trump, and when he was acquitted, even dragged out after the 2020 election, even though Trump lost, to have him impeached after the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, and then tried and acquitted by the Senate after he had already left office, all in a bid to disqualify him from standing for election.
On the federal level, this then stands as the fourth such attempt to somehow knock Trump off the chess board with scary sounding charges that the American public has become desensitized to. It’s the boy who cried wolf — or maybe the boy who cried bear — syndrome. Voters have already come to expect that if Trump’s running, his opponents will hurl all manner of accusations against him, and just because it’s presented as legal briefs does not add to their legitimacy, but instead points to a corrupt system in Washington, D.C. to prosecute political opponents—no matter the cost.
Therefore, there is a lack of self-awareness on the part of Trump’s detractors, that they cannot see how the indictment or other attempts to remove him from political life not only does not persuade his supporters (or independents for that matter), but ultimately solidify their determination to see him prevail. It casts Trump as an underdog against an entrenched and seemingly corrupt Washington, D.C. establishment. The only way out for Trump is through, and he appears to be able to count on his supporters to continue to propel him.
It also casts the prosecution of Trump as a cynical political ploy, as political observers look to public opinion polls to determine where the public stands on what undoubtedly is a risky move for the health of the civil society to weaponize the law.
Ultimately, what it poses is a threat to the American people’s ability to determine who their leaders are, to vote their conscience in the election, if the deck is stacked against opposition candidates like Trump but also Robert Kennedy, Jr. or Bernie Sanders on the Democratic Party side. Voters resent being told by unelected officials who they’re supposed to support, and so the reaction is predictably to do the opposite in response.
And so, unable to deter Trump’s base of supporters, and watching as the former president is able to even grow his support amid the adversity, Democrats are now turning to what they perceive is a deep bench. Maybe Biden’s too old, they wonder. Perhaps an alternative from their slate of governors — completely disregarding the challenged to Biden posed by Kennedy in the actual primary except as a red flag of weakness—would be able to break the logjam.
Ironically, the Al Hunt piece is in itself, calling for Biden to perhaps stand aside and let an anointed leader appointed, not by voters, but by the political party establishment, is in itself a red flag, and a show of weakness by Biden’s supporters, who lack confidence that he can right the ship. The obvious thing of course is they might not be in this position if they had not utilized the Justice Department and intelligence agencies to target Trump in the first place beginning in 2016.
In politics, introspection is hard, but we’re beginning to see signs of it on the Democrats’ side. So far, attempts to tip the scales in Biden’s favor, particularly via law enforcement actions against his opponents, appears to be backfiring. Only time can truly tell whether it proves to be Biden’s undoing — he has his own corruption issues and a likely impeachment in the offing from the House after allegations have emerged of Biden accepting bribes from Ukraine during his time as vice president under former President Barack Obama — but the seeds are being planted right now.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.