Joe Biden Is 2024's Chaos Candidate

Column: Biden's incompetence opens the door for a Trump restoration

Police storm UCLA anti-Semitic protesters’ barricades, May 2, 2024 (Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
May 3, 2024

Higher prices, a broken border, raging wars, violent campuses—is this what Joe Biden promised Americans four years ago?

Quite the opposite: In his 2020 convention address, Biden said that he would lead America away from Donald Trump and toward "a different path," where "together" we would "take this chance to heal, to be reborn, to unite. A path of hope and light."

Leave aside, for a moment, the garbled metaphors and syrupy language. Consider instead how far away America is from Biden's gossamer vision. Here is a man who pledged a restoration of national unity and global tranquility if he became president. Not only has he failed to achieve his goals. His very policies put them out of reach. We were promised competence. We got chaos.

Back in 2015, Jeb Bush warned his fellow Republicans that his billionaire rival for the GOP presidential nomination was "a chaos candidate. And he'd be a chaos president." Republican primary voters ignored him. Trump won the nomination and the presidency. His years in office were tumultuous, to say the least. Yet today's electorate views the instability that Trump brought to Washington differently than the disorder that Biden unleashed at home and abroad. Once there was a single "chaos president." Now there are two.

My colleague at Commentary magazine, Abe Greenwald, points out that the past three-and-a-half years have seen a whittling away of the arguments Biden used against Trump. Biden said Trump and his family business was corrupt—only to find himself embroiled in his own family scandal. Biden flogged Trump's mishandling of classified presidential records—only to have a special counsel investigate him for a similar offense. Biden described Trump as a sower of discord—only to preside over an America coming apart.

The widespread sense of confusion and disappointment, the general feeling that the country is a mess, best explains why Biden is losing to Trump.  A recent New York Times/Siena poll found that just 25 percent of registered voters say Biden's years as president have been "mostly good for the country." Forty-two percent of voters say the Trump years were mostly good. A whopping 46 percent of voters, meanwhile, told the Times that Biden's presidency has been "mostly bad" for the country. Thirty-three percent said the same of Trump's term in office.

Nostalgia is a powerful drug. But voters are not simply looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses. They have perceived, on their own schedule and in their own fashion, the connections between Biden's policies and the economic and social conditions they deplore. The trillions in federal spending that gave rise to inflation. The unwinding of immigration protocols that sparked the border crisis. The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan that killed 13 U.S. servicemen and signaled to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping that America was in retreat.

Rather than move swiftly to address the sources of public discontent, Biden and his team have alternated between denial and spin. Price increases would be temporary—and when the cost of living continued to outpace wages, we were told to blame corporations and "big sandwich" and be grateful for high employment and GDP growth.

Migration would be seasonal—and when the number of unauthorized border crossings since Biden took office rose to more than 6 million, with more than 2 million illegal immigrants allowed to enter the country, we were told to welcome the newcomers, or blame Republicans, or remember that, as Biden said during a May 1 fundraiser, "immigrants [are] what make us strong," unlike "xenophobic" countries such as Russia, China, and… "Japan."

America would spy on terrorist groups in Afghanistan and fight militants with our "over-the-horizon" capability—and when ISIS-K began killing Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians, and Russians, we were told that everything was under control. When Putin resumed his invasion of Ukraine in 2022, we were told that America would stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes and that Putin "cannot remain in power," even as fear of escalation led us to slow-walk weapons deliveries that would have given the Ukrainians a strategic advantage.

And when Hamas invaded Israel on October 7, 2023, and killed 1,200 men, women, and children, injured thousands more, and kidnapped hundreds of civilians, including American citizens, Biden visited the Jewish state and pledged his support, before gradually distancing himself from Israel's war on terrorism in a desperate effort to placate the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Biden's combination of bold statements and lazy and clumsy execution allowed America's adversaries to work their will, from eastern Ukraine to the Middle East to the South China Sea. His reluctance to confront the anti-Semitic left contributed to the atmosphere of ambivalence toward pro-Hamas protesters on America's college campuses. On May 2, when Biden denounced the campus violence in hastily scheduled remarks, it was after much prodding. His comments were brief and late and ineffectual. They were a reminder that a chaotic world reverberates inside the White House, where failed presidents hurriedly react to events rather than establish new facts on the ground.

In a contest between chaos presidents, Trump has a double advantage. Not only is he a challenger whose record is viewed more favorably than Biden's. He is also associated, rightly or wrongly, with authority, with law and order, with the police and the military and the working-class elements in American society. Biden, on the other hand, leads a party highly dependent on the college-educated and advanced-degreed, on campus culture, on pro-Palestinian and even pro-Hamas factions, on activists who desire nothing more than to take to the streets, harass "Zionists," and tear down the established order.

A few commentators, watching the unfolding disaster on campus, have drawn parallels between 2024 and 1968. While there are some similarities, you do not have to look decades into the past for a precedent to the current election. Look at 2016. Then, Donald Trump benefited from chaos on the southern border, rising terrorism, violence against police, and voter dissatisfaction with the economy. He benefited from an opponent whom few voters liked and who often seemed elitist and out of touch. He benefited from the notion that his peculiar brand of crisis was preferable to the crises generated by contemporary American liberalism. That is why people chose Trump. And why they look like they are about to choose him again.