With the Democratic Party in a bit of a tizzy over whether Joe Biden will run again, there’s at least as much uncertainty about whether Donald Trump will be on the ballot.
That’s kind of a surreal situation, not knowing whether the 2020 combatants will stage a rematch — especially against the backdrop of an election that the former president still insists was hijacked from him.
Trump’s body language is designed to convince people he’s running, and his power is such that the GOP nomination is his for the asking. But as I wrote Monday about Biden, is it really such a slam dunk for Trump, a guy who’ll be 78 in the next election? There’s also his considerable baggage and the prospect of defeat that would have history render him a two-time loser.
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But as with his successor, if Trump harbors any doubts about running, there’s no way he would voice them now and instantly surrender his leverage.
In a Hill-Harris X poll last month, 47% of voters overall said they support the idea of another Trump campaign. But what I found pretty startling is that 23% of Republicans oppose the idea (along with 58% of independents). That suggests his iron grip on the GOP has loosened somewhat.
Of course, he’s in better shape than Biden. A USA Today survey early this month found that 64% of voters overall don’t want Biden to seek a second term — and that includes 28% of Democrats.
Now here’s the caveat: It’s kind of absurd to be talking about polls and handicapping three years before a presidential election. (Jeb Bush looked like the strongest Republican candidate in 2013.) But Washington has just about cleared out for Thanksgiving, so here we are.
Politicoreports that Trump’s outfit has polled the five states that gave Biden his victory — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia — and 45 is ahead of 46 in all of them. But Politico hasn’t actually seen the survey, just a memo about it from Trump’s pollster, which makes me wary.
But let’s say the numbers are solid and that Trump is really ahead in Michigan by 12 points. What does that mean at this point? Biden is in the arena, getting pounded every day, and Trump, while more visible than any ex-president since Teddy Roosevelt, is essentially on the sidelines. That means some people remember what they liked about his administration and not what drove them crazy.
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But by leaking the numbers, the Trump team generates some press for the notion that their guy is increasingly strong. I wonder if the poll included any questions about Jan. 6, which just might surface in a potential campaign.
The Atlantic quotes former national security adviser John Bolton, who had a big breakup with Trump, as doubting Trump will run again:
“Imagine what would happen if he said, ‘After careful consideration, I won’t be a candidate in 2024.’ You can hear the spotlight switches turning off. He’ll talk about it right up until the point when he doesn’t.”
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So for all the inherent uncertainties in politics, consider this:
Trump has to calculate whether he’d be running against octogenarian Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or someone outside the administration.
Biden has to calculate whether he’d be running against the guy he beat last time, or Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley or someone else.
That’s why, for the moment, this is all nothing more than positioning.