Let’s be clear: For most people Joe Biden was not elected last November to get us out of Afghanistan. His election was not a blank check to oversee a dramatic expansion of the federal government. His victory wasn’t even wholly about halting the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, although surely that was top of mind for many voters at the time.
For many, Biden was elected for one thing and one thing only: to walk our nation — our democracy — back from the cliff edge where former President Donald Trump and his cronies had led it, and where below waited fascism, demagoguery and totalitarianism. Simply put, Biden’s mandate was to ensure that Trump would never, ever, occupy the White House again — and ideally leave the political stage for good.
Yet we’re not even a year into his first term and Biden’s approval rating has dipped to 42%, thanks to political fumbles that are also creating an opening for a 2024 Trump run. Indeed, GOP insiders have noted that Trump has been signaling that he is more likely than not to run again in the next election.
Last fall, the two of us breathed a huge sigh of relief alongside millions of other Americans when voters delivered a resounding 306 to 232 electoral vote victory for Biden over Trump. With record turnout and a margin of more than seven million votes, the Biden win was a decisive rebuke to Trump — personally and politically. Although Biden won a number of swing states by the narrowest of margins, he did so with a coalition that included not only some Republicans disaffected with Trump but more than half of independent voters, according to exit polls. When Biden delivered his victory speech on November 7, 2020, he spoke about being for “we the people,” and how he had run to “restore the soul” of the nation and unify the country.
But somehow since that moment, the Biden administration seems to have forgotten its mandate. Through a series of self-inflicted wounds, miscalculations and gaffes, the Biden administration is “priming the pump” for a Trump presidency, part deux.
Early on in Biden’s presidency, Trump’s omnipresence seemed to grow more distant by the day — thanks in part to his being kicked off Twitter and Facebook. But the former president nonetheless continues to be the most influential Republican in the country, with a recent CNN opinion poll showing that 63% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents still feel that Trump should be the leader of the GOP. Just over half believe that they have a better chance with Trump as the nominee than someone else. (This is a drop from the 78% who thought they had a better chance with Trump in 2019, but the recent number should still be a concern.)
Recently, Trump has increased his media appearances and is planning rallies in states like Georgia and Iowa — the latter of which is the first caucus state. Veteran Trump adviser Jason Miller estimates the chance of the former president running again in 2024 is “between 99 and 100 percent.” And don’t forget that Trump is building a war chest that already tops $100 million dollars.
President Biden, meanwhile, has blown a steady gust of wind into Trump’s sails. Let’s count the ways:
- Unlike his predecessors Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and even Barack Obama, Biden failed to name a single person from across the aisle to his cabinet (at least not anyone with public political affiliations to the GOP) — an especially important signpost about rebuilding the country in a bipartisan manner.
- He took way too long to wield all the tools at his disposal to confront the pandemic, which allowed Covid-19 to become even more politicized than it was under Trump. He had executive orders for masks and testing, but his delay in enacting tougher policies, like his recent vaccine mandates — a positive step that could cover over 100 million Americans — arguably allowed the Delta variant to spread and gave Trump and his acolytes an opening to allege that Biden has failed.
- The chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, where Biden strangely declared an “extraordinary success,” has made his administration look inept. The US has appeared weak and disorganized, ensuring that Trump’s “America first” rhetoric will gain newfound meaning as we approach 2024.
- Instead of looking merely to get on first base, Biden swung for the fences with a transformative legislative agenda that has yet to make its way through Congress at a time when the country needs Washington to show it’s capable of getting the country back on track. And his proposed multi-trillion dollar package to expand the social safety net has left many of his small-government, independent supporters with a sense that the size of the federal government is growing too large — and that Biden is captive to the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party.
All of this has created a cloud of pessimism around Biden. Many expect Democrats to lose seats in the 2022 midterm elections, which will further fuel Trump’s sense that America is eager to have him back on the scene.
Biden needs to do America an urgent favor and begin addressing Covid-19 like the existential threat that it is by using the awesome powers vested in his office. He needs to start governing in a bipartisan manner, embracing some of the GOP agenda as his own to widen the fissure between Trump and the rest of his party.
Many in America, and the world, are counting on Biden to not give Trump a path back towards electability, a sequel most Americans are uninterested in seeing.
Arick Wierson is a six-time Emmy Award-winning television producer and former senior media adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He advises corporate and political clients on communications strategies in the US, Africa and Latin America. He tweets at @ArickWierson. Bradley Honan, CEO of Honan Strategy Group, a Democratic polling and analytics firm, has advised the campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Tony Blair and leading global companies. He tweets at @BradleyHonan. The views expressed in this commentary are their own.