With the Iowa caucuses less than two months away, the papers are awash in stories on why Joe Biden will lose in 2024. He is too old. The public does not understand all the good things he has made happen. Donald Trump’s base is just too dug in to shrink, even in the face of a legal Armageddon. And they perceive that Joe Biden’s presidency has hurt them.
This last claim has me scratching my head. I have thought long and hard about Joe Biden but have not once thought that his time in the White House has hurt me. Apparently, I am missing something. Last week I read a Wall Street Journal poll conducted on December 4 that found that 53 percent of respondents indicated that “Biden’s policies have hurt me personally.” This compares with only 37 percent who claim that Trump’s policies have hurt them.
Respondents in polls routinely blame incumbent presidents for things like soaring prices, crime, and responses to crises deemed insufficient (think of George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina). They also blame incumbents for things like climate change, falling stock markets, and the rise of dictators like Vladimir Putin. The blame is legitimate, but only to a degree. If respondents thought more about it, they might accept that a rise in the price of gasoline might have been caused by OPEC or by disruptions in the supply chain. Similarly, they might accept that a rise in carjackings in Washington might not have resulted from something President Biden did.
I do not like soaring prices, crime, Putin, war, and a lot of other societal and economic problems any more than anybody else but still think Biden is getting a bum rap. Just to look at crime—Biden has not “defunded” police, does not hate the police, and has not coddled criminals. I do not hold him responsible for increases in crime. And if the solution to combatting crime is to shoot drug dealers, mandate racist stop-and-frisk programs, increase incarceration for minor crimes, and abandon efforts to reform policing, count me out. I want less crime but not at the cost of establishing a police state.
But what about other results in the WSJ poll? Incredibly, 49 percent of respondents indicated that Trump’s policies have helped them while only 23 percent found the same about Biden’s policies.
What is going on here? It is possible that the poll was just too small, consisting of 1,500 phone calls and text messages. Also, the poll did not indicate how the sample was chosen. If we are talking about 1,500 Alabamians or, sadly, 1,500 people on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, maybe the poll makes sense. But what, I wonder, are the Biden policies that respondents said personally hurt them really Biden’s fault?
Setting aside things like permitting the Department of Justice to prosecute crimes associated with the January 6 insurrection, a policy that would prompt Proud Boys, Trump, and several hundred January 6 rioters to face prosecution, it is hard to figure out what the issues are. I suspect the answers are things like, “Biden raised the price of gas,” or “Biden defunded the police and promoted crime,” or “Biden discriminates against White people.” But are any of these things that Biden should be held accountable for? I do not think so.
Importantly, in looking at inflation, the impact of Biden’s massive spending bills needs to be looked at in the context of where the money was spent. In the case of the infrastructure bill, the money is going to rebuild failing roads, bridges, the electrical grid, and to replace lead pipes. Most of us would accept these expenditures as needed if asked about them separately. And, If Biden’s spending bills are to blame for inflation, he should also get credit for keeping the economy out of recession. Is anyone giving Biden credit for keeping us out of an economic recession?
Finally, let’s remember that the U.S. economy simply is not controlled by one person, even the president of the U.S. That is why I am unable to blame Biden for inflation or to give him primary credit for low unemployment rates. And I am definitely not ready to credit Trump for good economic developments, like a booming stock market, or to pretend that the massive tax cuts enacted under his watch did not contribute to today’s inflation.
The same WSJ poll asked the 1,500 respondents whether Trump or Biden is “better able” to oversee certain issues. I choked at the reference to Trump’s abilities because he governed by “gut instinct,” refusing to attend national security briefings or rely on experts. What Trump abilities are involved here? President Biden’s abilities, of course, are also questioned by many, but he clearly relies heavily on a team of highly qualified, able advisors. Even if you disagree with various Biden policies, I think, you have to give him the edge on “ability.” Right?
The poll found that respondents view Trump as more “able” than Biden to oversee the economy, inflation, crime, border security, and “Israel-Hamas.” Biden edged out Trump in only two categories: Abortion and “Tone in Politics.” Frankly, had the poll found that Trump is more able to oversee the issue of tone in politics, I would have thrown away the paper reporting on the poll, and you would not be reading this article.
Is it possible that Trump really is more able than Biden and that Biden’s policies hurt more people personally than Trump’s did? I do not think so. As president and since leaving office, Trump has led an assault on people of color, the LGBQT community, the media, and many others. Biden has limited his attacks to those denying anyone their civil rights.
How do you explain a poll that seems to endorse a return of Trump to the White House? One answer is to acknowledge that lies work when running for office in a country where too many of us accept claims without verifying or at least questioning them. Trump tells working people that Biden’s policies will flood the country with undocumented immigrants, fentanyl, criminals, communists, and other undesirables. Unfortunately, many people believe him. The same people believe Trump when he says he could end the war in Ukraine in “one day,” prevent wars from breaking out, and won the 2020 presidential election.
I worry for the future of America when the only politician who lies more than George Santos is shown in a poll to beat Joe Biden if the 2024 election is Biden against Trump. Our only hope is that between now and November of next year, Trump is found guilty of at least some of the 91 felonies he’s charged with, and the public still sufficiently believes in the legitimacy of the U.S. legal system to conclude that Trump, regardless of his abilities and love for flag-hugging working people, is unfit for office.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.