Stuck on Stupid, Biden and the Democrats Face Disaster in November

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Let them eat cake,” Marie Antoinette once famously said, disdaining the immiseration of peasants in pre-revolutionary France.  Joe Biden didn’t use those exact words last week during his interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, but his tone-deafness about the suffering of millions of Americans grappling with high food and gas prices and unaffordable rents was palpable.

Burnett did her best to allow Biden the opportunity to address voters with a measure of simple empathy – but Old Joe was having none of it.  When Burnett gently suggested that Americans weren’t feeling the vaunted “recovery” the White House keeps touting, Biden all but insisted that Americans were simply wrong – and needed to buck up.

It was an embarrassing performance, and coming on the heels of Donald Trump’s remarkable mass rally in Jersey City in the midst of his trial in the Stormy Daniels case, it suggests that the White House is sinking deeper into denial about its prospects for losing – and losing big – in November.

Despite weeks of campaigning and TV ad buys in the key swing states – outspending Trump by a whopping 13-1, while the former president is largely sidelined – Biden hasn’t moved the needle in the polls.  In fact, he appears to be losing ground.  The latest NY Times/Siena poll has Trump up by a whopping 13 points in Nevada, 9 in Georgia, and 6 in Arizona, three states Biden carried in 2020.  In Pennsylvania, where Biden recently barnstormed, Trump went from slightly behind to ahead by 3. Trump also inched up in Wisconsin, a state that many consider the pre-eminent 2024 bellwether.

Only in Michigan, where Biden clings to a 1 point lead, is there a fresh sliver of hope, and that could soon fade as the prospects for peace in Gaza slip further and further away.

 Burnett’s willingness to challenge Biden on his administration’s economic performance is just one of the many signs that the mainstream media is unlikely to continue fronting for an administration that keeps gas-lighting voters with misleading data on jobs and GDP growth while a growing number of metrics point to the country’s continuing descent into full-blown stagflation.

By almost every indicator – from sagging consumer confidence and rising home prices to declining real wages and mass layoffs at major firms – Americans do not feel better off than they were during the heyday of the Trump administration – before COVID-19 and the mandated government shutdown all but destroyed the burgeoning economy, resulting in jobless numbers not seen since the Great Depression.

A large number of those jobs – maybe three-quarters – have since returned, but those are hardly jobs that Biden “created” from scratch.  Americans, still traumatized by the COVID experience, are grateful for a return to a semblance of “normalcy.”  But they hardly credit Biden for putting America back on a solid footing. Unemployment at 3.9%?  Perhaps, but many Americans are working two jobs that still don’t pay enough to feed their families, while a record number of those without jobs are homeless – with an increase of 12% between 2022 and 2023 alone.

America, of course, has never been just one country economically, current trends mask the continuing divide.  Some, in fact, were protected during COVID and large corporations reaped billions.  And though funded through deepening consumer debt,  the fortunes of some are now improving.  But what many analysts don’t recognize is that a disproportionate share of the nouveau riche and comfortably salaried professionals, especially in government and health care, are now Democrats, not Republicans.  The party may still be the “party of the working class” when it comes to the labor aristocracy in the trade unions – but those workers represent less than 10% of the total workforce.  Many blue-collar workers – even a goodly share (close to half) of those in unions like the UAW – have drifted to the Trump camp, while the greater mass of non-union workers are voting GOP, and indeed, have done so for years.  These voters generally don’t eat cake – not the fancy stuff, at least.

And their ranks now include a growing number of Hispanics and African Americans, especially men, who find Trump’s angry macho posturing appealing, or least comforting.  “Polls are just polls,” Democrats keep saying, but we haven’t seen numbers like this since…..well ever.  Trump could end up with well over 20% of the Black vote, besting the historic percentages reached by the Nixon-Ford regimes in the 1970s.  And amazingly, if current trends hold, he might well take close to 50% of the Hispanic vote –besting George W. Bush’s former record of 41% in 2004, and completely reversing the more recent 2-1 – and even 3-1 – Democratic voting trend.  Hispanics interviewed in Larino-rich swing states like Arizona and Nevada  tell reporters a simple truth: they can’t  afford the rising price of beans and tortillas, their family staple.

Something is happening to the U.S.  electorate that goes far beyond Joe Biden.  The old “Obama coalition” – the one that analysts John Judis and Ruy Texeira famously predicted – or, at least hoped – would become a “permanent” Democratic majority – is falling apart.  It’s not just the large-scale defection of workers of colors, but of youth.  Amazingly, Trump, in most polls, is now leading or tied with Biden among 18-29 year old voters, completely reversing the president’s former advantage.  And while Biden leads strongly among women, some polls have the gap surprisingly narrow, while Trump’s lead among men remains wide.  While the GOP is not about to become the “populist multicultural working-class coalition” that Republicans like Marco Rubio still fantasize about, Democrats are in danger of losing their once broad demographic support, giving Trump and GOP a fresh opening not just in 2024 – but well beyond.

The good news?  Signs of a serious freak-out — and even a potential meltdown – about Biden’s prospects in November – once dismissed as mere “bed-wetting” – are finally appearing among party pooh-bahs. Witness the remarkable drunken rant of former Clinton strategist James Carville posted on Twitter last week.  Never one to mince words, an angry and exasperated Carville bemoaned the continuing slide of Biden in the polls and confessed that “nothing is working” to convince disaffected Democratic voters to return to the fold.  “You can prepare and you can be on TV, you can write pieces, you can have a YouTube channel, you can have a podcast…and it doesn’t matter.  Everything we’re throwing is spaghetti at a wall, and none of it is sticking, me included,” he fumed.

Another staunch Biden supporter, CNN’s Farid Zakaria, also took to the airwaves to issue his own stern warning about Biden’s rapidly diminishing prospects. In a blistering six minute review, he listed one area after another where Trump’s political resurrection and standing with voters is exceeding expectations, noting that a landslide win – including a popular vote victory – by Trump in November was looming.  Zakaria even broke with the party line on Trump’s presumed “criminality.” suggesting that the four legal trials aimed at discrediting the former president were largely motivated by simple politics, not a concern for justice.  “I doubt a criminal indictment in New York would have been brought against a defendant whose name wasn’t Donald Trump,” he deadpanned.

Could all this dire hand-wringing lead to another public call for Biden to step down?  That seems highly unlikely for now.  Top White House apologists like Simon Rosneberg and Jim Messina continue to insist that Biden is simply suffering from the usual presidential first-term blues – disaffection at the base combined with pre-general election apathy among all voters.  Sustained outreach coupled with a persistent hammering of the challenger can turn things around, they say.  Once voters realize what the real stakes are – democracy, abortion rights, climate change – and the threat posed by Trump, they’ll surely pull a lever for Biden, even if it’s not with great enthusiasm.

It sounds logical – but the accumulating evidence strongly suggests otherwise.  Most voters do question Trump’s commitment to upholding democracy, but nearly as many now question Biden’s.  And by a wide margin, they also rate Trump as a stronger and more effective leader.  Trump enjoys a 10 to 20-point edge over Biden on the handling of the economy overall, inflation, immigration, crime and foreign and defense policy which are also deemed by voters to be the nation’s top issues. Dismissing this perception – and support for Trump generally – as a form of irrational “nostalgia”– as pro-Biden pundits continue to do, is self-defeating.  2024 wasn’t destined to become a classic “change” election – not with a current incumbent battling a former scandal-ridden one – but that’s what it’s becoming.  By all appearances, 2024 is now Donald Trump’s to lose.

Of course, there’s still six months left before the election – and “anything can happen.”  But anything includes a further deterioration of Biden’s position. One election-year wild card Democrats clearly didn’t count on was Gaza, which has only compounded voter concerns about Biden’s weakness on the world stage. The chimera of a pending peace may have helped Biden in the polls in Michigan recently – the one battleground where he’s gained ground just slightly – but it’s unlikely to last. Despite mounting pressure from the White House– or perhaps because of it – Netanyahu is digging in his heels and will likely stall in any deal until November, hoping that Trump wins and gives Israel a freer hand to prosecute the war as it sees fit.  By trying to have it both ways – castigating Netanyahu publicly, while sending massive new amounts of military aid, Biden has managed to alienate Arab-Americans and Jews both, while leaving many undecided voters both aghast at the carnage and dismayed by Biden’s obvious pandering to both sides.

“Genocide Joe”  and the Democrats could well face a decline in support thirty highly competitive congressional districts where the Arab-American vote (though relatively small nationally) is large enough to make a difference, and not just in Michigan.  But a loss of support among the much larger and traditionally Democrat-leaning Jewish population – concentrated heavily in the four main “Blue” states, California, Florida, New York and New Jersey – could also weigh heavily on key House and Senate races.  And if Trump is right – God forbid – it could even help put New Jersey – where Biden won by 16 points in 2020 – in play for the first time in years.

“We need to do something completely different,” Carville moaned at the conclusion of his recent Twitter rant, before wandering, Biden-like, off camera.  But from all appearances, the Democrats, right now, have no Plan B.  Not in Gaza or anywhere else.

Biden’s apologists insist on comparing his re-election prospects to Obama’s in 2012, when a once-popular incumbent began sinking in the polls, and for six months prior to the election, seemed headed to defeat, only to pull out of his tailspin, thanks to Bill Clinton and Hurricane Sandy.  But the more obvious if daunting parallel might be Jimmy Carter’s predicament 30 years earlier.  In 1980, Carter was saddled with domestic discontent over inflation, a general feeling of pessimism and malaise, and a series of intractable foreign policy challenges, including a never-ending hostage crisis.  Ronald Reagan – whom Democrats derided as a right-wing “madman” – threatened Carter’s re-election.  Democrats were clearly rattled by Reagan’s rise in the polls and decided to play it safe, pivoting to the center and closing ranks against Ted Kennedy, who enjoyed a fierce loyalty among liberals.  There are eerie parallels to Biden’s predicament today, with another Kennedy RFK, Jr., Teddy’s nephew, stoking discontent.  And of course, there’s another madman, Trump, fueling a right-wing insurgency – or in this case, resurgence.

Overconfidence and a misreading of the public mood killed Carter in the end.  Right up to the final week of the campaign, he enjoyed a small but seemingly unshakable single-digit lead over Reagan..  Most pundits – and Carter’s senior advisors – confidently predicted victory.  It was conceivable that voters would choose as their leader a man steeped in anticommunism, pro-life family policies while promising – much like Trump – to “make America great again.”

But Reagan won big.  Capitalizing on a groundswell of discontent with Carter, even among Democrats missed by pollsters, the Gipper, ended up winning by a whopping 10 points, with a near-landslide in the electoral college. The party, shut out of power for the next 12 years, eventually recovered, but it wasn’t easy. Bill Clinton led the Democratic comeback, largely by moving the party even further to the right than Carter had.  And America – saddled with Reagan’s legacy of militarism and free market fundamentalism for much of the past half century –  has never been the same.

Is it really too late to reconsider Biden’s faltering candidacy?  LBJ, facing antiwar opposition, pulled out before the Democratic convention in 1968, at roughly the same distance from the election that year.  Democrats are headed for another potentially riotous convention – and in Chicago, no less – which will only further damage Biden’s standing with the public. Most Democrats, shocked by the prospects of Trump 2.0, are quietly loitering in the shadows, just holding their breath, while an increasingly emboldened right – championing their beleaguered King – is eagerly waiting to exhale.

Democrats, it seems, are destined to soldier on.  They missed their chance to replace Biden painlessly months ago, and are now stuck on stupid.  Barring a miracle, the price for their cowardice and lack of vision is likely to be severe.

Stewart Lawrence is a long-time Washington, DC-based policy consultant.  He can be reached at