Five scenarios that could help Joe Biden
President Biden is on a roll, hitting his highest point of approval in nearly a year.
Yet doubts remain about whether he’ll run for reelection in 2024, as even with the boost, more people disapprove of Biden’s job performance than approve of it.
Over the summer, polls suggested many Democrats wanted someone else to represent their party in the next presidential race, and Biden this week hedged on his plans.
“Look, my intention as I said to begin with is that I would run again,” Biden said in an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday. “But it’s just an intention. But is it a firm decision that I run again? That remains to be seen.”
There are reasons to think Biden will run again. Historically, most presidents seek a second term, and he’s repeatedly signaled that’s his intention.
There are also reasons to think he will change his mind. Biden will turn 80 in November and would be 86 at the completion of a second term. He’s also repeatedly shown political vulnerability over the last year, raising questions about whether it’s time for Democrats to turn the page.
Much may depend on what happens in the midterms.
Here are five scenarios that would increase the likelihood of Biden running for a second term.
Democrats hold the Senate
Most Republicans and Democrats expect Biden’s party to lose the House.
Democrats have a tiny majority in the first place, and historically the party of a sitting president generally loses seats in the first midterm after that president’s election.
But the battle for the Senate is a different story, and there’s a decent chance Democrats could hold their majority there, given a favorable map and retirements that have left Republicans in a tougher spot.
Former President Trump’s efforts in GOP primaries have also caused GOP consternation, leading to arguably weaker Republican candidates in states such as Arizona, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
If Democrats hold the Senate or even increase their majority — a distinct possibility if John Fetterman and Mandela Barnes are successful in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — it will leave the party feeling better about its performance in the fall.
Some of that credit will go to Biden, strengthening him for a White House run.
On the other hand, if things turn worse for Democrats in the Senate and they lose the majority, it will be a bitter disappointment that could lead Biden to decide it is time to bow out.
That scenario is also possible — if the GOP can hold on to seats in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and takes back Georgia, Arizona or Nevada — perhaps the three states where Democrats are the most vulnerable.
Republicans just narrowly win the House
The GOP is the heavy favorite to take back the House, but if it doesn’t win in a wave, it would be good news for Biden and Democrats.
A gain of less than 10 seats would give the lower chamber to the GOP, but if Democrats can keep the losses to a minimum they will at least have something positive to talk about — especially if they hold the Senate.
A GOP House could also give Biden something to run against, a scenario that certainly helped former President Bill Clinton in 1996 and former President Barack Obama in 2012.
“The best scenario is to win the Senate and lose the House because it gives Biden something to run on in ‘24,” one Democratic strategist told The Hill.
“We know what Republicans are going to do. They’re going to light themselves on fire and go after everything from Hunter Biden to Anthony Fauci. And it gives Biden the best kind of foil,” the strategist said.
A Republican House could also give Biden a chance to go on offense instead of playing defense.
“The fault disappears from Biden if [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says no to everything that comes over from the Senate,” the strategist added. “Is any Democrat going to be pissed if they hold both houses? No, of course not. But this gives them a story to tell.”
McKenzie Wilson, communications director at Data for Progress, a progressive think tank and polling outfit, agreed. “Part of the problem is that an extremist Republican majority is not going to be able to help themselves,” she said. “A lot of policy priorities are very out of step with where voters are.”
Trump investigations deepen
Trump is being investigated with new rigor for his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on the U.S. Capitol and for alleged improper conduct in his businesses, areas that have the potential to shake up the midterms and post-election landscape.
Just this week, the former president and his three children were sued by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) for fraud, the latest in a string of probes that seek to show wrongdoing. And in August, the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida in search of classified materials.
If Trump is indicted in any of the ongoing investigations, Democrats are expected to pounce on the news, with many looking to Biden to come out strongly against his former opponent.
“It would give Biden a huge boost, and Dems as well,” one strategist predicted. “Nothing would bring more joy.”
Biden is shown as leading Trump in hypothetical matchups. Without him, there’s a layer of uncertainty to Biden’s chances against an unknown Republican opponent.
But Biden’s name recognition and incumbent status could also give him a leg up against lesser-known GOP contenders if Trump is out of the mix.
The president has so far steered clear of commenting directly on his Justice Department and other investigations into Trump, but did give a glimpse into his stance around some of the more hard-line parts of his ideology in a recent speech in Philadelphia intended to show voters what’s at stake for democracy in the upcoming elections.
GOP culture wars backfire
Fights over the culture wars always heat up at election time. For much of Biden’s term, this has been difficult terrain for Democrats.
Education and the teaching of “critical race theory,” for example, was an issue in gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey last year that helped GOP candidates.
More recently, Republican governors like Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis have shipped migrants to blue states in a bid to show what he calls the hypocrisy of liberal cities and states regarding immigration policy.
Yet there are real signs in this election season that the focus on culture issues is backfiring on Republicans.
Democrats think the migrant dumps have made DeSantis and other GOP governors look cold and uncaring.
And the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion has shown signs of emerging Democratic voters — particularly women.
This doesn’t mean DeSantis isn’t helping himself. But it could also benefit Biden and Democrats in the longer term.
“What might help Ron DeSantis in the 2024 Iowa Caucus is hurting the Republican Party in the 2022 midterms,” Democratic campaign veteran Josh Schwerin mused.
Democrats keep everything
This scenario is the most unlikely: Democrats retain the House and the Senate.
If that happens, it would be hard not to see it as a major victory for Biden. And it would greatly increase his chances of running for another term.
The problem with this scenario — at least from the perspective of Democrats — is that it is far-fetched.
The Cook Political Report rates seven Democratic-held seats in the House as leaning toward Republicans, and another three as likely Republican.
It rates just three GOP-held seats as likely Democratic.
If the GOP wins those 10 races where it is favored, it will be enough to win back the majority — even if it loses the three seats where it is an underdog.
Another 22 Democratic-held seats are seen as toss-ups, while more than two-dozen others held by the party are seen as competitive.
With such a landscape, it’s hard to see this scenario coming through.
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