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By Jamelle Bouie
There are a few reasons to think that President Biden might lose his bid for re-election next year, even if Donald Trump is once more — for the third straight time — the Republican nominee.
There’s the Electoral College, which could still favor the Republican Party just enough to give Trump 270 electoral votes, even if he doesn’t win a popular majority. There’s Biden’s overall standing — around 43 percent of Americans approve of his job performance — which doesn’t compare favorably with past incumbents who did win re-election. There’s the economy, which may hit a downturn between now and next November. And even if it doesn’t, Biden will still have presided over the highest inflation rate since the 1980s. Lastly, there’s Biden himself. The oldest person ever elected president, next year he will be — at 81 — the oldest president to ever stand for re-election. Biden’s age is a real risk that could suddenly become a liability.
If Biden has potential weaknesses, however, it is also true that he doesn’t lack for real advantages. Along with low unemployment, there’s been meaningful economic growth, and he can point to significant legislative accomplishments. The Democratic Party is behind him; he has no serious rivals for the nomination.
But Biden’s biggest advantage has to do with the opposition — the Republican Party has gotten weird.
It’s not just that Republican policies are well outside the mainstream, but that the party itself has tipped over into something very strange.
I had this thought while watching a clip of Ron DeSantis speak from a lectern to an audience we can’t see. In the video, which his press team highlighted on Twitter, DeSantis decries the “woke mind virus,” which he calls “a form of cultural Marxism that tries to divide us based on identity politics.”
Now, I can follow this as a professional internet user and political observer. I know that “woke mind virus” is a term of art for the (condescending and misguided) idea that progressive views on race and gender are an outside contagion threatening the minds of young people who might otherwise reject structural explanations of racial inequality and embrace a traditional vision of the gender binary. I know that “cultural Marxism” is a right-wing buzzword meant to sound scary and imposing.
To a normal person, on the other hand, this language is borderline unintelligible. It doesn’t tell you anything; it doesn’t obviously mean anything; and it’s quite likely to be far afield of your interests and concerns.
DeSantis is a regular offender when it comes to speaking in the jargon of culture war-obsessed conservatives, but he’s not the only one. And it’s not just a problem of jargon. Republican politicians — from presidential contenders to anonymous state legislators — are monomaniacally focused on banning books, fighting “wokeness” and harassing transgender people. Some Republicans are even still denying the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, doubling down on the election-related conspiracies that hobbled many Republican candidates in the midterms.
Not only do Americans not care about the various Republican obsessions — in a recent Fox News poll 1 percent of respondents said “wokeness” was “the most important issue facing the country today” — but a large majority say that those obsessions have gone too far. According to Fox, 60 percent of Americans said “book banning by school boards” was a major problem. Fifty-seven percent said the same for political attacks on families with transgender children.
It is not for nothing that in Biden’s first TV ad of the 2024 campaign, he took specific aim at conservative book bans as a threat to freedom and American democracy.
And yet there’s no sign that Republicans will relent and shift focus. Just the opposite, in fact; the party is poised to lurch even further down the road of its alienating preoccupations. On abortion, for example, Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, says candidates need to address the issue “head on” in 2024 — that they can’t be “uncomfortable” on the issue and need to say “I’m proud to be pro-life.”
But the Republican Party has veered quite far from most Americans on abortion rights, and in a contested race for the presidential nomination, a “head-on” focus will possibly mean a fight over which candidate can claim the most draconian abortion views and policy aims.
There’s more: DeSantis is in the midst of a legal battle with Disney, one of the most beloved companies on the planet, and House Republicans are threatening the global economy in order to pass a set of deeply unpopular spending cuts to widely used assistance programs.
Taken together, it’s as if the Republican Party has committed itself to being as off-putting as possible to as many Americans as possible. That doesn’t mean the Republican Party is doomed, of course. But as of this moment, it is hard to say it’s on the road to political success.
As for Joe Biden? The current state of the Republican Party only strengthens his most important political asset — his normalcy. He promised, in 2020, that he would be a normal president. And he is promising, for 2024, to continue to serve as a normal president. Normal isn’t fun and normal isn’t exciting. But normal has already won one election, and I won’t be surprised if it wins another.
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