Biden vs Trump 2024: Two disliked candidates fighting to be the most liked

They say politics is the art of persuasion, but that assumes the existence of an audience open to being persuaded. With Republicans and Democrats alike preparing to embark on a presidential-election cycle fronted by two of the most well-defined and generally disliked candidates either party is capable of producing, the universe of genuinely persuadable swing voters is a small one. At what may be the earliest outset of the general-election campaign in living memory, both major political coalitions appear to recognize that. They and their allies are not tailoring their messages to either attract swing voters to their side or repel them from their opponents. They are focused on suppressing visible displays of dissent within their own ranks. In the process, both parties’ coalitions are telegraphing their intention to campaign for the White House by bitterly berating their own side as much as, if not more than, the opposition.

With Donald Trump’s re-nomination to the presidency appearing increasingly inevitable, some Republicans have begun to sound alarm bells — all too late, of course, and on the condition of anonymity — over signs that a sizable portion of the GOP electorate is unenthused by the prospect. Citing polling data and the unimpressive turnout for Iowa’s caucuses, lawmakers with an investment in the GOP’s success warned that potential GOP votes may not be convertible into actual GOP votes. The resources being diverted toward Trump’s legal-defense fund compound this condition. Over a billion dollars in unanswered Democratic ad spending will be devoted as much to building Joe Biden up as it is to depressing potential Republican voters. How do pro-Trump forces intend to address these suboptimal conditions? So far, the plan seems to be limited to scolding Trump skeptics within the Republican firmament until their morale improves.

The primaries haven’t even concluded — not formally, at least — and already, Trump’s proponents are menacing the former president’s critics with the threat that, unless they buck up in some outwardly verifiable ways, they will bear responsibility for Joe Biden’s reelection. “Whether you like Trump or not, Americans face a binary choice,” read Senator Mike Lee’s version of this wholly uncompelling ultimatum. North Dakota governor Doug Burgum also appealed to the “binary choice” formulation, adding that Trump’s candidacy represents the best opportunity for the West to avoid “World War III.” And you wouldn’t want to be responsible for a third world war, would you? Indeed, potential Republican voters who remain on the fence have been warned that they will be responsible for the critical-race-theory studies in the classroom, DEI initiatives in the boardroom, chaos at the border, and general “economic destruction.”

Perhaps these committed Trump backers believe the prospect of their disapproval will prove a sufficient inducement to get Republican stragglers to hop off the fence. But the faulty logic of a “binary choice” election will not, if only because the premise is self-evidently false. Voters will have a variety of choices available to them in November, and not just in the form of third-party protest candidates. Voters always have the option of leaving the top of the ticket blank or just not participating in electoral politics at all. Indeed, that tends to be what unenthusiastic voters do.

If gettable GOP voters are unenthusiastic, it is because GOP primary voters made them that way. Republican voters made an informed decision to ignore the warning signs indicating that Trump’s presence on the ballot would repulse soft Republicans and nonaligned voters. They invited the consequences associated with Trump’s renomination, and a campaign of emotional blackmail will not make their party’s enthusiasm problems disappear.

This is not a Republican problem alone. Among rank-and-file Democrats, there is a similar lack of organic or genuine exuberance for Biden’s reelection campaign. So, Biden’s supporters — or, rather, the GOP’s opponents — have adopted the shakedown tactics that mimic those deployed by pro-Trump forces.

“Some respond by saying that Trump may be a curse, but they’re sick and tired of voting for the lesser of two evils,” wrote Bill Clinton’s former labor secretary, Robert Reich. “Wrong. Biden is not evil. Trump is truly evil.” With Trump’s renomination coming into focus, Biden holdouts are being pummeled with the accusation that their reluctance is a narcissistic exercise. The integrity of the Constitution, America’s egalitarian ideals, and our very national experiment in self-rule will be on the ballot in November. There are no two sides to that argument. “You know, they are happy with or comfortable with the notion of autocracy, of dictatorship, as opposed to democracy,” Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, said of Trump’s die-hards. “American democracy could end with the election of Donald Trump.”

Once again, we find ourselves perched at the end of a precipice, and all that stands between us and oblivion is your willingness to compromise your values — compromises to which those who make those demands of you would never themselves submit.

Is anyone still receptive to this trite exercise in blame-shifting? Has this sort of eschatological hectoring ever changed a single mind? But then, maybe persuasion isn’t the point. Perhaps the primary value of these ultimatums is that they paper over the manifest defects apparent in the candidates they are meant to serve. Indeed, they all but concede to critics of both Trump and Biden that the viability of their respective candidacies is, at the very least, suboptimal. But what can you do?

Catastrophizing the election is a handy way to shame dissenting voices into silence, and that is the tactic’s most attractive feature. It absolves those who imposed this contemptible presidential matchup on voters of responsibility for their preferences. Indeed, it renders their critics the irresponsible actors in this drama. An election centered on two competing exercises in emotional blackmail isn’t a persuasive enterprise. And it’s not supposed to be. It is an internal conversation, the upshot of which is that no one really had any agency in this process. Trump’s renomination and Biden’s reelection campaign were ordained by fate. We are merely hostages to events. What is left to us but to play out our predestined roles?

Nonsense. Both likely presidential candidates got where they are because of the choices their supporters made. And contrary to the table-pounding from the partisan peanut gallery, all choices have consequences.

While the No Labels candidate is extremely unlikely to win the presidency, the levels of dissatisfaction and disaffection in the electorate have to be at least comparable to the conditions of 1992, when H. Ross Perot won 19 percent of the vote nationally.

While there’s no combination of a Republican and a Democrat that will be perfect, you can envision some reasonably well-known combination of officials running on a simple message of, “We’re not senile, we’re not geriatric, and we’re not insane. How about it, America?”

I increasingly get the feeling that the two parties think that the American people are bluffing when they say that they hate both candidates. They’re not. Yes, most voters are going to fall in line, but not everyone will. If, indeed, “some reasonably well-known combination of officials” decide to “run on a simple message of, ‘We’re not senile, we’re not geriatric, and we’re not insane. How about it, America?’” I can see those officials doing quite well.

In politics, there is only so far that cajoling will get you — especially when what you are offering up is flaming garbage. Donald Trump is flaming garbage. So is Joe Biden. There is not going to be some grand epiphany in which a contrite American public decides that it loves its two choices after all. Given the scale of their predicament, the obvious play for both parties will be to insist that the other party’s candidate is more garbage than theirs. But, if there are more than two people in the race, that doesn’t work half as well, does it?

Ideally, we need a pair of young-ish, cogent-ish, morally upstanding aspirants who have experience in both politics and in the private sector, and who are prepared to take it to both Trump and Biden without holding back for one moment. If they’re out there, they should run without hesitation. Not in three decades has “None of the Above” had a better moment.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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