Biden Knows He's Losing

Column: The president plays catch-up to Donald Trump

President Biden Delivers Remarks At Border Patrol Station in Brownsville, Texas
(Photo by Cheney Orr/Getty Images)
March 1, 2024

On February 29, Bloomberg News released another set of swing-state polls showing Donald Trump in the lead. The polls had Trump narrowly ahead of President Joe Biden nationwide, with Trump's margins in swing states ranging from plus 2 points in Michigan to plus 9 points in North Carolina.

This is now routine. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Trump has held a national lead over Biden since last September. At this writing, he leads in every swing state except Pennsylvania—where he is a single point behind the incumbent. Yes, the polls in GOP primary contests have slightly overestimated Trump's support. But Trump still won those contests. And his edge in battleground states such as Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada is not slight.

The two impeachments, the 91 counts across 4 indictments, the huge civil penalties, the almost-a-decade-long trail of controversy and scandal, the warnings from former senior officials, the shadow of January 6, 2021—none of it has sidelined Trump. None of it has changed the dynamic of the 2024 presidential race. Biden is losing.

Here's how you can tell. As the president's campaign says it isn't worried about the polls, Biden is traveling across the country playing catch-up to Trump. While Biden's words, when decipherable, suggest confidence, his actions betray weakness. He's trying to recover lost ground by addressing past mistakes. He won't admit to error, but he is trying to fix his mess. Biden's former boss, Barack Obama, famously went on an apology tour. Biden's on a regrets tour.

It opened on February 16 with his jaunt to East Palestine, Ohio. Biden's yearlong refusal to visit the site of the Norfolk Southern train wreck was a reminder of general aloofness and weakness with working-class voters. Biden handed his opponents an easy and effective talking point. He obviously came to regret his decision—else he wouldn't have ever made the trip to a county where Trump won more than 70 percent of the vote in 2020.

The next steps on the tour were meant to address public concern over Biden's age. On February 26, Biden taped an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. He grinned and gabbed, ate ice cream, donned aviator glasses, and told viewers that Trump is also old and forgetful. His choice of a safe venue made for forgettable television. Biden won't live down his error in passing up a pre-Super Bowl interview on CBS. About one-third of the United States of America tuned into Super Bowl LVIII, the highest-rated NFL championship game in history. Fewer than 700,000 people watch Meyers's program on a given night.

On February 28, Biden made a surprise visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for his annual physical. The president's doctor says Biden is "an active 81-year-old white male" who is "fit for duty." His stiff gait is a consequence of "significant spinal arthritis, post-fracture foot arthritis and a sensory peripheral neuropathy of the feet." Interesting. Also noteworthy: Biden was not given a cognitive test. Asked about this omission, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "He passes a cognitive test every day."

She must be grading on a curve.

On February 29, Biden returned to the site of another regret: the southern border. Biden unleashed a crisis by reversing Trump policies on his first day in office. Millions of people have entered America through the southern border and have been allowed to stay. Millions more have entered unnoticed. The political cost is enormous. Voters consider immigration the most important problem facing the country. Just 28 percent of voters approve of the way that Biden has handled it.

The migrant crisis has spilled over into blue cities short of housing. Poisonous narcotics trafficked across the border have affected close to half of the population. Terrible crimes such as the murder of Laken Riley intensify voter outrage at the White House's failure. And the national security implications of an overwhelmed immigration system are dire.

Biden could have addressed all this years ago by reinstating Remain in Mexico, safe-third-country agreements, and Title 42. He hasn't. Instead, he delivered remarks on law and enforcement and crime from the White House a day before traveling to Brownsville, Texas. Photo ops won't improve the situation. Only policies will.

Even if Biden were to do the right thing, voters are unlikely to repay him with support. The Bloomberg poll this week revealed an electorate sour on both major party candidates. The majority said Biden is old and Trump is dangerous. Voters rate Biden and Trump equally poorly on attributes such as honesty and empathy. A lot of voters are undecided or looking for an alternative. Many people have given up on Biden.

The president spent most of his life in a media environment where highly massaged official statements and coordinated public events shaped coverage and hence campaigns. That is not the world we live in. Voters form impressions of leaders through a kaleidoscope of memes, reels, clips, DMs, and posts. They distrust the press and have little affection for politicians. Biden's travels and comments will be short-lived and little remembered.

Biden can't persuade voters that he is fit for office. But he and his allies can spend hundreds of millions of dollars telling voters that Trump is too extreme to be president again. This unpredictable election rides on whether Democrats succeed in convincing Americans that Trump is a risk they cannot afford.

As of now, the Democrats have failed at their task. The polls show it. And Biden knows it.