Last week, Politico reported on a Trump-commissioned poll that shows Trump out-polling Biden in the five key swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. At the same time, a national Rasmussen poll showed Trump leading Biden in a hypothetical rematch by a stomach-churning 13 percent.
If these polls are anywhere near accurate, the country — and the world — faces the all-too-real possibility that, in November 2024, the twice-impeached, coup-plotting, fascist-flirting Donald Trump could be elected as the 47th president of the U.S.
There are many reasons to be suspicious of polls three years out from a presidential election and there are, of course, myriad things that could derail a potential Trump comeback. Trump is currently under investigation in New York and in Georgia, and could, quite plausibly, be indicted or convicted for tax fraud or intimidation of election officials by the time the 2024 primary season rolls around. Public opinion has soured on Biden, but that could potentially be reversed if inflation is brought under control, if the Build Back Better Act passes, and if large numbers of people see significant benefits in their daily lives as a result of its passage. And, perhaps the greatest unknown is whether the pandemic will continue to wreak havoc on the world — in which case incumbents of all political persuasions the world over may well suffer at the hands of ever-more-frustrated electorates — or will, by 2024, be a thing of the past.
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It’s also possible that Biden, who will be well into his 80s by the next election, will, despite current plans to run again, announce that he is not seeking reelection, and will step aside to allow for a younger candidate, with less political baggage from a COVID-era presidency, to step up to the plate. And it’s also possible that, if the GOP gains control of Congress next November, they will push policies that are so extreme and so unpopular that national support for the party and its presidential nominee will evaporate.
For all of these reasons and more, head-to-head polling in 2021 about an election not taking place until 2024 is an imprecise science at best. Yet, without stampeding into a panic, we would be foolish to entirely dismiss these polls, and the broader trends they suggest.
In 32 states, including all 11 of the states that are considered to be plausibly swing states, Biden’s numbers have fallen off a cliff since the summer. In a slew of recent polls, Biden’s net disapproval ratings range from a modest 1 percent all the way up to Rasmussen’s 17 percent. That doesn’t mean he can’t win reelection — Bill Clinton’s numbers were similarly dire in 1993, and yet he easily won reelection in 1996, ending his presidency with sky-high approval numbers; and Reagan was also deeply unpopular early in his presidency and won reelection in a landslide — but it does mean that, at the moment, he has a mountain to climb to restore public confidence in his administration.
Having spent the past six months fighting among themselves and failing to pass Biden’s signature Build Back Better Act, along with their failure to break the GOP filibuster and pass meaningful federal voting rights protections, the Democrats are intensely vulnerable heading into the 2022 midterms. That danger is compounded by GOP efforts in numerous states to restrict the franchise; by an unprecedented level of gerrymandering in states such as North Carolina, Ohio and Texas that threatens to lock minoritarian GOP rule into place for decades at both the state level and, by gerrymandered congressional districts, increasingly at the federal level; and by the fact that the Republican Party, now entirely committed to Trump’s lies about a stolen election, has dedicated itself to undermining the integrity of the election system in order to secure, no matter the cost to the country’s democratic culture and system of governance, a GOP presidential victory in 2024.
If the GOP, with “Stop the Steal” candidates playing increasingly prominent roles, locks into place their state-level grip on power in 2022 and retakes control of the House of Representatives, the party’s ability to successfully manipulate the 2024 presidential election will have taken a giant leap forward.
Trump, egging the party into evermore anti-democratic positions from his gilded perch in Florida, is all too aware of the dynamics playing out here. Early next month, the real estate mogul’s Super PAC, with the absurd moniker “Make America Great Again, Again,” is holding a big fund-raising event at Mar-a-Lago. The GOP’s top donors are expected to gather there to plan out their routes back to power. Trump himself has opened up Mar-a-Lago to a series of fundraisers for anointed candidates in races in key states around the country. He and his odious family have also aggressively courted, in recent weeks, the most conservative wing of the party. After the teenage vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted at his murder trial, Donald Trump Jr. shared a photoshopped meme of his father ostensibly giving a Congressional Medal of Honor to Rittenhouse. Meanwhile, the QAnon congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene — who spent much of last week issuing a set of Trumpian demands she wanted met before promising to back Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker should the GOP win a majority next year — actually did introduce a bill in Congress to award Rittenhouse that highest of honors.
Greene’s bill has, of course, a snowball’s chance in hell of passage; but that’s not the point of the stunt. The point is publicity and riling up an already angry, heavily armed base around the wedge issues of race and guns in the U.S. It’s pure Trumpist exhibitionism, and a sign of just how low Trump, his Super PAC and his Congressional allies will be going as the ex-president plots a comeback. Meanwhile, the Democratic base is increasingly unenthused with a presidency seen by many as having not delivered on racial justice and economic promises, on its more ambitious climate change goals, on immigration reform, and, perhaps above all, on protecting the franchise.
The 2024 elections are, of course, still a long way off. But Democrats, already facing powerful headwinds, would do well to get their own house in order, and to prepare as well for the gutter politics, the Trumpian theatrics, quite clearly heading their way in the coming election cycles. We all remember the consequences of the party’s leadership underestimating Trump in 2015 and 2016. It would be an act of supreme political incompetence, and a vast surrender to profoundly anti-democratic forces, were they to make a similar mistake over the coming years.