(The Hill) — President Joe Biden sees himself as the Democrat with the best chance of beating former President Donald Trump.
The president is suffering from anemic approval ratings, with a recent poll showing a majority of Democrats don’t want him to be the party’s nominee in 2024.
He’s facing record-high inflation, a turbulent political and media environment, and deep frustration within his party over its inability to protect abortion rights and take action on climate change.
It’s no wonder many are beginning to look for alternatives in two years as Democrats face the prospect of a tough midterm election in which they could lose the House and Senate majorities.
Yet the same New York Times-Siena College poll that had terrible news for Biden also showed he would still beat Trump in a head-to-head match-up 44% to 40% if the next presidential election were held today.
“It’s pretty clear that the strongest argument for Biden 2024 is a Biden vs. Trump rematch,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne.
In the Times poll, Biden’s approval rating hit a low of 33%, and it showed a majority of Democrats want someone other than him to run in 2024.
Yet one top Democratic donor said the poll showing Biden beating Trump, who could announce a new run for the White House any day, is giving the president “some life at a time when he really needs it.”
“So many people are counting him out, but when you put it in those terms … when you see he’s the only one who could win, we’d be crazy not to rally behind him. Because who else is there at the moment?” the donor added.
Biden ran in the 2020 contest to end Trump’s presidency, saying no other Democrat could take him on and win after the Republican’s shocking win over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden, the vice president for the previous eight years, didn’t run in 2016, with Clinton sitting as the party favorite.
Given Biden’s political problems, the 2024 scenario is setting itself up as quite the conundrum for Democrats.
Many in the party hold doubts about Biden, who would be 81 in 2024. Young people are crying for a different candidate, and the president has been severely weakened politically.
Yet there are also doubts about all of the would-be replacements for Biden in a 2024 race. And while there is no guarantee that Trump will win the 2024 GOP nomination if he does run for a second term — although polls suggest it is likely — there are Democrats who see Biden as a strong candidate to run against Trump in such a scenario.
“I thought the only relevant number in that was that Joe Biden beats Donald Trump,” Zac Petkanas, a former aide to Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said of the Times poll.
A Biden-Trump rematch would be a historical abnormality: a president running against a former president he defeated.
“As frustrated as Democrats might be with the administration, the fear of a second Trump term looks larger than anything else,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
The Times survey couldn’t have landed at a better moment for Biden, in some ways, as Trump appears to be inching closer to announcing another presidential bid.
In an interview with New York Magazine, Trump all but said he planned to announce another presidential run, saying the only remaining question was whether he would do so before or after the November midterm elections.
While Trump may be weakened by the bombshell findings of the Jan. 6 committee and competing investigations into his conduct, polls still suggest he maintains dominance among GOP voters.
Democrats would be thrilled to see Trump announce his candidacy pre-midterms, which could help energize their base at a critical moment.
“Trump is like a steroid boost for Democrats,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. “He’s the most hated politician in America, particularly among Democratic voters.”
Kessler acknowledged that the November midterms are likely to be difficult for Democrats but said that a Trump reelection announcement could help boost turnout among the base.
Biden at times has intimated he would relish another matchup against Trump. He did so again this past week, telling Israel’s Channel 12 in an interview that he would “not be disappointed” by another Trump-Biden match-up.
“Biden very much benefits from a Trump run,” said one Democratic strategist who has worked on recent presidential campaigns. “We know what that looks like. We know what the arguments are. We know that even if Biden runs, Trump energizes the base. It’s the best-case scenario for Biden.”
Still, the strategist said Biden risks boxing himself in by playing the ‘I’m-the-only-one-who-can-beat-Trump card.’
“They’re setting up an interesting box for themselves if for some reason Trump decides not to run or he can’t run,” the strategist said. “It’s a dangerous argument because it deemphasizes his strength with other Republican candidates, including someone like [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis.”
There is sparse 2024 public polling at this stage, but a Marquette Law School poll released at the end of March showed Biden beating three hypothetical challengers — Trump, DeSantis, and former vice president Mike Pence — by four or five points each. At the time, however, Biden’s approval rating was about 10 points higher than it is now.
Biden also faces a significant challenge in improving his standing among voters who have soured on his presidency amid high inflation. FiveThirtyEight earlier this week placed his current average approval rating — 39% — as the worst of any president since World War II’s end at this point in their term.
Still, Biden started his presidency on a high note, and his supporters argue that Biden, unlike Trump, has a chance to rebound as the economic situation in the U.S. improves.
“At a certain point we’re going to start to see inflation ease and, hopefully, a soft landing, and he’s got room to grow,” said Kessler.