Rove: Biden and Trump Could Both Lose in 2024

The Wall Street Journal

For political junkies, there can never be too many polls. But some numbers are more durable and important indicators than others. In the recent deluge of 2024-related surveys—nine last month and 12 the month before—many observers are jumping to conclusions that, while not unreasonable, might not pan out when voters start casting their ballots next year.

Commentators got a reality dose last month from the Washington Post’s chief political correspondent, Dan Balz. He detailed how state polls can “often shift dramatically,” citing the Des Moines Register’s respected Iowa Poll. It showed that late movement resulted in upset victories in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Hawkeye State Republican caucuses.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was at 3% in May 2007 but had reached 27% come November. He won the January 2008 caucuses with 34%. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had an even later turn. He was at 4% in the Iowa Poll in June 2011 and 6% in November. He won the January 2012 caucuses with 25%. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also had a last minute surge. In May 2015, he was at 5% in the Iowa Poll and 10% in late fall. He won the February 2016 caucuses with 28%.

Winning one state doesn’t clinch a nomination, but similar upsets in 2024’s early contests could spell doom for the current GOP front-runner, Donald Trump. So far, he has insisted that his renomination is a foregone conclusion. If his present margin slips or he’s beaten in an early contest, it’ll be all but impossible to resurrect that sense of inevitability—which he hammers at nearly every opportunity.

There are, however, some numbers in that flood of surveys that are unlikely to shift much by November 2024. While ballot choices can change quickly and substantially, voters’ opinions on a president’s basic characteristics generally don’t. That’s bad news for President Biden’s re-election.

A May 24 Quinnipiac University poll put Mr. Biden ahead of Mr. Trump, 48% to 46%, among registered voters and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ahead of Mr. Biden, 47% to 46%. While these results point to a horse race in 2024, numbers deeper in the poll suggest Mr. Biden is in a precarious spot.

By 65% to 32%, registered voters think Mr. Biden is “too old to effectively serve another 4-year term.” This includes 69% of independents, 73% of whites with no college degree, 72% of men, 66% of voters 35 to 49 and 65% of those 50 to 64. Even 41% of Democrats agree, as do 47% of blacks, 75% of Hispanics, and 75% of voters under 35.

What over the next 18 months could improve these numbers? Democrats can’t keep Mr. Biden from constantly losing his train of thought or tripping over sandbags or stairs. Even if they could re-create his 2020 basement campaign, it wouldn’t change what voters already know.

Similarly, in the May 22 Fox News Poll, 64% said Mr. Biden wasn’t “a strong leader.” That stance is supported by 69% of whites, 65% of voters under 35, 75% of independents, 59% of Hispanics and 46% of blacks. Only 64% of Democrats believe their party’s nominee is a strong leader.

After 2½ years in office, what could alter that opinion before the election? Maybe an inspired response to a national crisis? It’s more likely Democrats and the country will get another year and a half of watching an increasingly feeble president.

This suggests that it will be essential for Team Biden to irradiate his GOP opponent to eke out a victory. As Mr. Biden often quotes his father, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.” A Trump-led Republican Party will mimic the Democratic smash-mouth playbook. None of this is good for America, which needs its national confidence restored, not further eroded.

It isn’t good for Mr. Biden’s party either. The Democrats have a talented bench of strong, effective and more youthful presidential prospects. It’s unlikely to happen, but it would be in the interest of the party and country for one of them to suggest respectfully that it’s better if Democrats have a choice—and then seeks the party’s nomination.

Mr. Biden could still win re-election, especially if Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee. But he’s probably the only serious Democrat who could lose to Mr. Trump; too many voters see Mr. Biden as too old and too weak. Democrats ignore that real possibility at their peril.

Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is author of “The Triumph of William McKinley” (Simon & Schuster, 2015).