For the mainstream media, the unthinkable has become all too plausible: Donald Trump could win a second term.
There is something of a Democratic freakout going on in light of recent polls, and for much of the media, which never imagined that the four-times-indicted Republican could win a general election, are joining in the panic.
I think it’s fair to say that the coverage of Joe Biden’s nearly three years in office has been largely sympathetic, with the exceptions of the deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan and a spate of stories about his age.
But that has abruptly changed, with some pundits openly urging Biden to drop out of the race, while others lambaste him and his campaign or offer advice on how to salvage his candidacy.
He is not going to withdraw, of course, and polls a year out are a blurry snapshot. But a Biden-Trump rematch, president vs. president, would pit two extremely well-known politicians against each other, with public opinion largely settled.
Nothing has seemed to work for Biden. Despite a raft of legislative accomplishments, his attempt to talk up Bidenomics has faltered, because people feel the economy is lousy despite a long stretch of unemployment staying below 4 percent. The statistics don’t matter, that’s how they feel.
Case in point: The president went to Delaware to announce an unprecedented $16 billion in new funding for Amtrak, including a major upgrade to the Washington-to-Boston corridor used by Acela journalists. But Amtrak Joe got almost no airtime because the cable networks were almost wall-to-wall with Trump testifying at his civil fraud trial–and repeatedly slamming the judge and state attorney general to reporters in what has become part of his campaign.
The New York Times/Siena College poll, showing Trump leading by 4 to 10 points in five out of six key swing states, has been like rocket fuel for the Biden-is-doomed crowd. They are being dismissed by presidential loyalists as bedwetters.
No less a figure than top Obama aide David Axelrod has strongly suggested that Biden consider pulling the plug if it’s in the country’s best interest, adding “there is a lot of leadership talent in the Democratic Party poised to emerge.”
One positive note in the poll: 6 percent of voters said they would abandon Trump if he is convicted before Election Day. But that depends on the timing of the Jan. 6 trial in Washington and whether a lone dissenter might cause a hung jury.
Political analyst Amy Walter notes that Trump’s share of the vote in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania is almost identical to what he got in 2020, while Biden has dropped as much as 7 points compared to last time.
The Washington Post: “Democrats are growing increasingly anxious about the state of President Biden’s reelection campaign, concerned the president and his political team are ignoring warning signs and not taking action to correct course.”
Politico: “Several prominent Democrats close to the campaign, granted anonymity to speak more freely about internal operations, said discussions are taking place among Biden brass about how much to prioritize positive campaigning over negative. And allies are calling directly for a more aggressive approach.”
I would argue that while it’s fine for Biden to attack Trump, as he occasionally has, the media spend so much time pounding away at him and his legal troubles that the negative information is already baked into the cake.
Biden is also hemorrhaging support among black voters, a crucial part of his base. And a majority of Democrats who want him to retire often cite the 80-year-old president’s age, even though Trump is 77.
But there’s an equally powerful reason that Biden is losing ground. He is getting hammered from the left and right for his handling of Israel and Ukraine.
“After four weeks of terror and retaliation in Israel and Gaza, and 20 months of war in Ukraine,” the New York Times says, “President Biden is confronting the limits of his leverage in the two international conflicts defining his presidency.”
At the outset of the Hamas slaughter of Israelis ranging from grandmothers to infants, the president drew plaudits for visiting the Jewish state and vowing unshakable American support.
But as the media’s focus has shifted to rising civilian casualties in Gaza, the Rashida Tlaib wing of the Democratic Party is accusing Biden of supporting genocide. A striking number of younger voters are backing Hamas. And the president looks ineffective when he asks Bibi Netanyahu for humanitarian “pauses” and the prime minister flatly refuses.
Conservatives are increasingly opposing continued U.S. aid to Ukraine, and new House Speaker Mike Johnson refused the president’s attempt to link military assistance to both allies, passing an Israel-only bill destined to fail. Biden drew widespread praise for leading a western coalition after Russia brutally attacked its neighbor, but as the war drifts toward stalemate, many Republicans say the money should be spent at home.
All this amounts to a very rough season for Joe Biden. A year is a lifetime in politics, but right now Democrats are more fearful than ever that Trump, for all his baggage, will wind up back in the Oval Office.