Republicans greeted the stunning January jobs news with utter silence. What’s there for the party to quibble over when the economy generates 517,000 more jobs, unemployment drops to a 50-plus-year low, manufacturing continues to expand and wages increase at a steady pace?
The failure of a long-predicted recession to appear might not just send Republicans scrambling for the next shiny object with which to distract the public; it might shake up the 2024 presidential race.
Biden’s legislative and economic successes have already dampened any serious discussion about his declining to seek a second term. Departing chief of staff Ron Klain seemed to remove any doubt when he declared, “As I did in 1988, 2008 and 2020, I look forward to being on your side when you run for president in 2024.”
Sure, the game of fantasy politics still gets play on Twitter and among bored pundits, but absent some extraordinary development, Biden will run, and no primary challenger will emerge.
“Nine months ago,” the New York Times reported, “amid sky-high gas prices and legislative gridlock, anxious Democrats routinely offered the same assessments of President Biden as a candidate for re-election: too frail, too politically weak, too much of a throwback. But now, as Democratic National Committee members gather in Philadelphia for their winter meeting this week, nearly all have come to the same conclusion: It’s Biden or bust.”
Forget the polling showing Biden’s disapproval exceeding his favorables. The days of positive ratings for any president might be a thing of the past, given the persistence of tribal politics and the gloomy cast of news coverage.
As we saw in the midterms, elections are choices, in this case between earnest Democrats working on popular economic proposals, and unhinged MAGA extremists. Put differently, if the economy remains strong, Biden’s chances of reelection will be high. (Recall that President Barack Obama’s approval in 2012 was less than 50 per cent as well.)
Biden is going strong
Biden clearly senses that his political fortunes have improved. “For the past two years, we’ve heard a chorus of critics write off my economic plan. They said it’s just not possible to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” he said in announcing the January jobs numbers.
“And they said we can’t bring back American manufacturing. They said we can’t make things in America anymore, that somehow adding jobs was a bad thing ... or that the only way to slow down inflation was to destroy jobs.”
He added with relish, “Well, today’s data makes crystal clear what I’ve always known in my gut: These critics and cynics are wrong.”
On the GOP side, Biden’s economic success deepens their dilemma: If they nominate former president Donald Trump, the subject of multiple criminal probes, many rightly fear he’ll bring political disaster up and down the ticket.
If he doesn’t run as the Republican nominee, a third-party bid threatens to hopelessly divide the party, with as many as 28 per cent inclined to follow him, according to a recent poll.
Considering that every modern president running for reelection during an economic downturn won (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama), Biden’s chances soar should the economy remain strong.
That should give some potential candidates second and third thoughts about entering a brutal primary and facing off against a president with economic winds at his back.
Jennifer Rubin is a prominent American political columnist and author