2024—The Early Line Is Wrong

The announcement late last week that Nikki Haley is likely to announce soon as a candidate for president in 2024, with several other worthy contenders (Pence, Pompeo, Hulk Hogan) lining up to do the same before long, set off the commentariat handicapping the Republican field. It could well be crowded with good candidates, as was the case in 2016, and right now most people seem to think the leading prospect is a slugfest between Trump and Gov. DeSantis—if DeSantis chooses to run. And that could be a bloodbath for Republicans that will damage their chances of beating Biden.

I think there is a strong likelihood that everyone has sized up the scene backwards, and that the real surprise of the 2024 election cycle is a disaster in the Democratic Party. There could well be a rerun of 1968 in some ways, when the year began with the certain Democratic incumbent nominee, Lyndon Johnson, appearing to head to the election in a strong position. “Johnson Popularity on Upswing, Year-End Gallup Polls Discloses,” the New York Times declared on page one on New Year’s Day of 1968. LBJ’s public approval numbers had bounced back from a low of 38 percent in October 1967 to a respectable 46 percent at the end of December.  While the polls showed that LBJ would face a close race in a head-to-head contest against a Republican, he would win handily in the anticipated three-way race that included Alabama Governor George Wallace running as an independent.  A Fortune magazine poll of 400 top corporate executives found 65 percent expected Johnson to win, though they preferred Nixon.

Time magazine named LBJ their “Man of the Year” for 1967.  Despite all of the troubles at home and abroad, Time wrote, “the President’s prospects are not all that gloomy.” “We know who our nominees will be,” the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, John Bailey, said on January 8. “I’m happy to be able to say the Republicans have all their bloody infighting to look forward to.”

Well we know how that all turned out for Democrats, don’t we? Johnson was a goner less than ten weeks later. A critical mass of the restive Democratic Party wanted someone else.

Guess who thinks the same thing about Biden today? Looks like Democrats. That’s one big takeaway from the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll just out, which finds by a 58 to 31 margin (nearly two-to-one, in other words) Democrats favor nominating someone other than Biden in 2024. This finding is muted in the Post‘s write up, which chose instead to say voters aren’t enthusiastic about a Biden-Trump rematch, which, however, the poll finds Trump would win by a 48 to 44 percent margin.

Biden is still underwater generally with an approval rating at 42 percent and disapproval at 53 percent. But on specific key issues he’s deeply under water. On controlling the border, he doesn’t even keep the Democratic base, with only 28 percent approving, and 59 percent disapproving. (That’s down from a 37 percent approval at the end of 2021.) There are also signs that the public is wary of his handling of Ukraine: right now the disapprove/approve breakdown is 48 – 38.

So where do Democrats turn? Kamala Harris is no Hubert Humphrey, but Humphrey had to strong-arm his way to the nomination in 1968—it was still possible to do that back then, but not after the post-Humphrey primary reforms radical Democrats demanded after the 1968 election. And Kamala, remember, has never even entered a single Democratic primary, let alone won one. Who else have they got? Gavin? Gavin??  Who else. Mayor Pete?

Buy your popcorn futures now.

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