Is it possible to have buyers' regret on two presidents in a row? Americans seem to suffer just that when it comes to President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump. Just as important, the Republican Party shows signs of moving on from its status in recent years as little more than Trump's cult of personality. Polls suggest that many Republicans appear ready to reclaim their party's status as a movement of ideas and policies rather than a personal vehicle.
"Roughly 7 in 10 Americans (71 percent) say they would not like to see Joe Biden run for president in 2024, while 24 percent say they would like to see him seek a second term" finds a Quinnipiac poll published July 20. "More than 6 in 10 Americans (64 percent) say they would not like to see Donald Trump run for president in 2024, while 32 percent say they would like to see him run."
"There's scant enthusiasm for a replay of either a Trump or Biden presidency. But while Trump still holds sway on his base, President Biden is underwater when it comes to support from his own party," observed Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.
Of course, Americans as a whole don't pick standard-bearers for political parties, primary voters do. What's important here is that 54 percent of Democrats do not want the sitting president from their own party to run for reelection in 2024. Republicans are more enthusiastic about their once and, potentially, future leader, with only 27 percent opposing him running again. That said, when asked who they want to represent their party in the 2024 presidential race, many are willing to consider alternatives.
"Michigan GOP primary voters were asked if they would support Donald Trump or [Florida governor] Ron DeSantis to be the Republican candidate for President in 2024, with the results producing only a small modest lead for Donald Trump," according to a WDIV/Detroit News survey released this week. "45.2% said they'd vote for Trump, while 41.6% said they'd vote for DeSantis. 12.4% were undecided."
The Michigan numbers square with a June survey of New Hampshire Republicans.
"When provided with a list of Republicans who are thought by observers to be considering running for President in 2024, likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters (N=318) are split between DeSantis and Trump, with 39% preferring the Florida governor and 37% supporting the former president," note University of New Hampshire pollsters.
Unsurprisingly, Ron DeSantis strongly outpolls Trump in his home state of Florida, with 51 percent for the governor and 33 percent for the former president in a Victory Insights poll published this week.
Simultaneous eroding enthusiasm for both the current president and his predecessor (and rival) is remarkable in itself. Biden won office by defeating a controversial and mercurial cartoon-character of an opponent who delighted in making enemies. Trump is still under investigation for his role in the January 6 riot resulting from his loss. In the end, Biden led his party to victory in the contest for not only the White House, but the House of Representatives and (sort of) the Senate.
But the Democratic Party has continued to function as something resembling a normal political party, focused on policies and ideas, terrible though most of them are. Biden's bungling in office, his visible deterioration, high inflation, and general dissatisfaction with the state of the country has stripped away whatever goodwill he held when he entered office.
"A majority of 57% say that the actions of the federal government over the past six months have hurt their family when it comes to their most important concern," reported the Monmouth University Polling Institute earlier this month.
With the president's approval in the basement, it makes sense that Democrats would lose faith in their party's leader. Even before the latest numbers, 64 percent of Democrats wanted a candidate other than Biden to run for president in 2024, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.
But the Republican Party functioned in recent years as an extension of Trump, not as a political party that picks and chooses among candidates based on policy preferences and tactical considerations.
"By double digits, 46%-27%, those surveyed say they would abandon the GOP and join the Trump party if the former president decided to create one," USA Today reported in February 2021, just one month after the Capitol riot by his disappointed supporters.
Quite clearly, Trump didn't represent the Republican Party; the party became a vehicle for the man himself, to be used or discarded as he saw fit. That's a classic cult of personality, and many loyalists remain committed. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's viability in early polls suggests that's changing, and for good reason. Trump remains a deeply polarizing figure for whom many people will never vote.
"Democratic misgivings about Mr. Biden seemed to mostly melt away when presented with a choice between him and Mr. Trump: 92 percent of Democrats said they would stick with Mr. Biden," The New York Times noted, after reporting disillusion within his own party for the current president.
In contrast, while New Hampshire favored Biden over Trump by seven points in 2020, and the recent Granite State survey predicts a similar result in a rematch, it has DeSantis and Biden in a dead heat.
So far, DeSantis is the only real challenger to Trump in polls of Republican voters. But he got to this point by opposing the Biden administration on COVID-19 policy, immigration, and its efforts to define "misinformation." He's also been an effective culture warrior, battling Democrats and politicized corporations alike. That's not to say his causes are always good ones; the socially-conservative, red-meat flavor of much of his politics is tiresome for those of us who favor a hands-off government. But he's established a track record on performance and policy. At least some Republicans seem open to, once again, choosing candidates based on such factors instead of on personality.
"The share of Iowa Republicans who say they feel more allegiance to Trump than to the Republican Party has fallen from 26% in November 2021 to 21% today," the Des Moines Register reported this week. "Seventy percent now say they feel more allegiance to the Republican Party — up from 61% in 2021."
America's experiment with strongman politics may turn out to be blessedly brief. One way or another, we're likely to find out soon, since Trump says he's already decided whether to run again in 2024 and he'll tell us at his convenience. Then America will find out whether Republicans support a revived political party or a continuing cult of personality, and whether Democrats still have what it takes to battle either one.