Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 4 March 2024


Opinion | Democrats’ Hubris Paves the Way for a Second Trump Term

March 4, 2024 1:41 pm ET

President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 1. Photo: Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg News

The state of our union is strong, President Joe Biden will doubtless insist on Thursday night. But as a description of America in 2024, the claim has about as much credibility as the protestations from the White House that the president has the mind of a chess grandmaster and the stamina of a thoroughbred.

Mr. Biden presides over a weakened, divided, fearful nation whose voters face a bleak choice about their future.

It must have dawned on Democrats by now that eight months from Election Day, it’s getting awfully late. Mr. Biden’s approval ratings remain in Jimmy Carter territory. In poll after pollswing state after swing state, he is losing to the man he beat in 2020.

Incumbent presidents are blessed with often-decisive advantages. Donald Trump was only the fourth elected president in a century to lose re-election. But unless something changes Mr. Biden is set to join him on that short list, even as he adds his predecessor to the even shorter roll of third-time’s-a-charm candidates.

The Democrats have made three critical miscalculations that have brought them here.

The first was to underestimate Mr. Trump and to overestimate their ability to dispatch him. Except for a few empathic souls, most Democrats have never really understood the former president’s appeal. They like to ascribe it, in their own words, to a “basket of deplorables,” “bitter clingers” or, in Mr. Biden’s characteristically less imaginative phrasing, “semifascists.”

They gaze out from their Ivy League casements and Hollywood balconies on a Hobbesian hinterland of racists, bigots and fools, fed a diet of “misinformation” by right-wing media. From those secure perches they don’t see people who feel betrayed at home and abroad by successive leaders, American communities battling devastating health and financial crises, workers whose incomes have struggled to keep pace with costs, parents who fear their children’s lives will be worse—all told by a modern aristocracy that their American values are wicked, that people from other countries who have no legal right even to be here are entitled to the same privileges, even when they commit violent crimes.

Never having grasped how validating it is for many Americans to hear someone who gets this, Democrats thought they could put him down with ease. But 2024 isn’t unfolding by that script. They thought Mr. Trump would fail to make it across a criminal-law minefield, being convicted before the first votes are cast. But he has always had a charmed ability to slip between the interstices of the law. And many voters, whatever they think of his flaws, are uneasy about the spectacle of Democratic state prosecutors and a Democratic administration’s Justice Department striving to put their principal opponent in jail.

The second miscalculation was Mr. Biden’s own misplaced self-belief that despite his declining powers he was the only candidate for the job. If the president had kept the implicit promise in 2020 that he would be a caretaker president, he wouldn’t now be asking Americans to take the terrible risk of voting for a ticket that consists of a man who may not finish his term and a designated successor who shouldn’t be allowed to.

It’s simply untrue that the Democrats have a hopelessly weak bench. Vice President Kamala Harris may have demonstrated her unfitness for the office, but there are a slew of governors who could have made a strong case. Gavin Newsom may be too oleaginous and too Californian for swing-state voters, but Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania and Wes Moore of Maryland all have strong credentials and are at least a generation younger than Mr. Biden and his opponent.

The third miscalculation was the decision to interpret the narrow victory of 2020 as a mandate to rewrite the social contract. At the presidential and congressional levels, the Democrats won a squeaker four years ago and decided they were the reincarnation of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson.

The implementation of the left’s agenda—dismantling the border, a massive stimulus into a supply-constrained economy, the regulation of American capitalism and a federal industrial policy, taxpayers forced to foot the bill for the education of the privileged, the rewriting of social relations in line with the dictates of the “diversity, equity and inclusion” ideology—all this would have been ruinous in a country that had actually voted for them. In a country that simply sought to escape the chaos and lunacy of the Trump years, it is almost criminal.

The common element in all these miscalculations is the familiar flaw in the left’s mindset—hubris, the absolute self-assurance that they alone know what is good for the rest of us. Disdainful of the concerns of regular people, supremely confident that, even in their dotage, they should make choices for us that we can’t be trusted to make for ourselves, their unshakable faith in the ability of government to order our lives better than we can.

As I said, it’s getting late. There may still be time. Perhaps at least their hubris about Mr. Trump may prove justified. More likely, nemesis awaits.

Wonder Land: To most voters, what happens in Washington has become an incomprehensible blur. What makes Donald Trump think he can fix it? Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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