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A Rematch of Biden v. Trump, Two Years Early

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WASHINGTON — By this point in his term, President Biden figured things can be different. His predecessor would have faded from the scene and the country would have restored a minimum of some semblance of normalcy. But as he said on Thursday night, “an excessive amount of of what’s happening in our country today is just not normal.”

And so the president who declared when he took office that “democracy has prevailed” declared in a prime-time televised speech that in truth democracy 19 months later remained “under assault.” Former President Donald J. Trump “and the MAGA Republicans,” as Mr. Biden termed his predecessor’s allies, still represent a transparent and present danger to America.

If it gave the impression of a repeat of the 2020 campaign cycle, in some ways it’s, although the incumbent and sure challenger have modified places. A rustic torn apart by ideology, culture, economics, race, religion, party and grievance stays as polarized as ever. Mr. Biden has scored some bipartisan legislative successes, but he has been singularly unable to heal the broader societal rift that he inherited. It might be that no president could have.

With an opposition party that has largely embraced the lie that the last election was stolen and stays in thrall to a twice-impeached and defeated former president who encouraged a mob that attacked the Capitol to stop the transfer of power, Mr. Biden’s appeals to national unity have found little traction. Some Republicans have argued that his efforts to construct consensus were fainthearted at best, while some Democrats complain they were excessive.

Either way, they’ve made little difference within the national conversation. And so with the midterm congressional campaign getting underway in earnest, Mr. Biden has allotted with the unity message, a minimum of for now, reaching into the 2020 file cabinet and bringing out the decision to win “a battle for the soul of this nation” that was the cornerstone of his successful election.

The immediate strategy is self-evident. Relatively than a referendum on his own presidency, which has been hurt by high inflation and low public morale, Mr. Biden desires to make the election a alternative between “normal” and an “extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic,” as he put it on Thursday.

If he has his way, it will be a rerun of Biden vs. Trump without either man actually listed on the ballot. If Americans are asked whether or not they support Mr. Biden, they might say no. In the event that they are asked whether or not they support him over Mr. Trump, they might say yes. Not less than, that’s the speculation within the White House.

It’s a view borne out by recent opinion surveys. Within the wake of a string of legislative and policy victories, Mr. Biden’s anemic approval rankings have ticked upward, though they continue to be within the 40s. But when pitted against Mr. Trump in a latest Wall Street Journal poll, Mr. Biden got here out on top in a theoretical 2024 rematch, 50 percent to 44 percent.

Mr. Trump has arguably helped Mr. Biden set the stage for such a political showdown along with his highly visible efforts to keep up his grip on the Republican Party. But it surely implies that Mr. Biden will tackle a more confrontational posture for the following two months, undermining his desire to be a conciliator.

That left him within the odd position of being accused on Thursday night of being divisive by allies of probably the most divisive president in modern times. Trump Republicans argued that Mr. Biden was the one tearing the country apart and threatening democracy, not the opposite way around. He had insulted, of their contention, the 74 million Americans who voted for Mr. Trump.

How Times reporters cover politics.
We depend on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are usually not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

“Joe Biden is the divider in chief and epitomizes the present state of the Democrat Party: one among divisiveness, disgust and hostility toward half the country,” said Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, who has resolutely stood by Mr. Trump despite his many divisive statements.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader and would-be speaker, complained concerning the F.B.I. search of Mr. Trump’s home for classified documents that he was not entitled to maintain and didn’t turn over despite a subpoena. “That’s an assault on democracy,” Mr. McCarthy said, meaning the search, not the previous president’s possible violations of the law.

Because it happens, each parties see democracy under threat — but from the opposite side. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 69 percent of Democrats said democracy was “in peril of collapse,” and 69 percent of Republicans said the identical thing.

In his speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Mr. Biden stressed that in truth he was not speaking of all Republicans. “Not every Republican, not even the vast majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans,” he said. “Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I do know, because I’ve been capable of work with these mainstream Republicans.”

Republicans were probably not Mr. Biden’s audience in any case. For all his expressed hopes of bringing the country together, the president and his team have come to simply accept that 40 percent of Americans are beyond his reach, unwilling to listen. And so Mr. Biden was speaking to not them but to the 81 million Americans who formed the coalition of Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans he assembled two years ago, hoping to bring them out for his favored congressional candidates.

It’s going to be an uphill struggle. Most Americans weren’t even listening on Thursday night. The three important broadcast networks declined to hold the speech, evidently deeming it more of a campaign rally than a presidential address to the nation. As a substitute, they showed “Law & Order,” “Young Sheldon” and a game show called “Press Your Luck” with an episode titled “Zombie Apocalypse Ready.”

History has shown that the party of the incumbent president almost at all times loses the primary midterm election. Republicans need only pick up a single seat within the Senate and a handful within the House to take control of 1 or each houses, which might effectively end Mr. Biden’s possibilities of major progressive laws for the remainder of his term.

But White House officials and other Democrats feel buoyed by the shift in political momentum in recent weeks, especially for the reason that Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, a call that angered liberals and moderates and will motivate them to prove.

The victory of a Democrat in a special House election in traditionally Republican Alaska and the decisive defeat of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment in red-leaning Kansas have provided a possible road map for underdog Democrats. The Cook Political Report, which monitors every House campaign, moved five more races within the Democrats’ direction on Thursday, putting Mr. Biden’s party inside striking distance of victory.

The query is whether or not specializing in the battle for democracy, as Mr. Biden framed it, will move his own voters greater than inflation, crime, immigration and other issues will move the opposite side. The White House concluded way back that it couldn’t win just by promoting Mr. Biden’s legislative record, whilst his aides argue that he has achieved lots on infrastructure, climate change, health care and other issues.

The president’s team determined that Democrats would win only by making Americans see the opposite side as too dangerous to let back into power. In American politics within the Biden-Trump era, that debate is the brand new normal.

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