America Can Do Better Than Biden or Trump

Voters unhappy with these choices can console themselves, somewhat, by remembering that truly excellent presidents are rare. Most presidents are mediocre. Yet there is new talent waiting to rise.

AP/Michael Wyke, file
President Trump at Houston May 27, 2022. AP/Michael Wyke, file

Are Presidents Biden and Trump really the best this country can come up with as we head toward the 2024 election?

Mr. Biden’s flaws are increasingly apparent. Inflation approaching 9 percent, crime and homelessness overtaking American cities, gasoline at more than $5 a gallon, supply-chain-related shortages, the embarrassing American retreat from Afghanistan, an ongoing genocide in China, the failure to prevent or to win the war against Russia in Ukraine — they all weigh on the American mood. Sunday’s New York Times featured a front-page news article full of Democrats “worrying about Mr. Biden’s leadership” and “viewing him as an anchor that should be cut loose in 2024.”

As for Mr. Trump, his formidable accomplishments — tax cuts, the Abraham Accords, exiting the Iran nuclear deal, the pardons and criminal justice reform, the operation that speeded the development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, some excellent judicial nominations and confirmations — are marred by the violent Capitol Hill riot that was an expression of his refusal to accept the reality of his loss in the 2020 presidential election. No amount of caviling about the unusual pandemic-altered election procedures, about the precise details of Mr. Trump’s pre-riot language, or about the approach taken by the House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack, however technically correct, will change that history.

Mr. Biden would be 81 on Election Day 2024, and Mr. Trump would be 78. They both take good care of themselves, and plenty of talented people are choosing to stay in the workforce rather than retire. The presidency, though, is an unusually demanding job, and while experience is valuable, so is energy.

For both, the temptation to try again is understandable. 

Mr. Biden may figure, as he did the last time around, that he has a better shot at defeating Mr. Trump than anyone else the Democrats could serve up. A second term, with the Fed having beat back inflation and with the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, might finally allow Mr. Biden some successes.

Mr. Trump may figure that polls show him leading the Republican field, and that winning fair and square in 2024 would be his ultimate vindication. He may hope victory in 2024 would ensure he is remembered as a winner, not a delusional sore loser.

Realistically, though, second presidential terms more frequently bring lame-duck drift than redemptive success. 

Voters unhappy with these choices can console themselves, somewhat, by remembering that truly excellent presidents are rare. Most presidents are mediocre. None is perfect. Even the most popular presidents have significant, costly misjudgments. Presidents who rank highly in surveys — Lincoln, FDR, Reagan, JFK — all had lots of people who disagreed with them at the time they were in charge. 

The standard political playbook involves demonizing the opponent as a dangerous extremist, so it’s worth hesitating before embracing the caricatures of elderly, incompetent Joe Biden or reckless, authoritarian Donald Trump. For all the complaints about Messrs. Trump and Biden, they’ve both avoided major wars and kept unemployment relatively low, except for the Spring 2020 pandemic spike. Either one of them is better than another favorite of some voters, Bernie Sanders, the socialist U.S. senator of Vermont. 

Even so, a second term for either Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump would strike many voters, with some good reason, as being like buying a ticket for a sequel to a movie when the original film wasn’t that good. Politicians and political families tend to stay on past their prime in part because the cost in time and money to achieve the name recognition, donor list, and experience necessary to be a plausible candidate is dear.

To be sure, there is new talent waiting to rise. The most astonishing political development is the bipartisan Senate compromise on a federal response to gun violence, drafted by Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican John Cornyn of Texas. The senators who back it include Pat Toomey and Rob Portman, Republicans who are retiring. The group  also includes Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have done Mr. Biden a big favor by curbing the worst of his tax-and-spend proposals. Senators Romney, Booker, Coons, and Lindsey Graham are also on the gun compromise list.

Perhaps it’ll be a legislator who eventually lifts America out of the Trump-Biden doldrums. It could also be a governor, or a Cabinet member, or maybe a former general, admiral, or business executive. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until the 2028 election.

The New York Sun

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