Tom with the BTRTN February, 2023 Month in Review.
At this point it seems a foregone conclusion that Joe Biden will run for reelection. The main
theories out there are that Biden believes that he himself is the only candidate that can hold off the GOP; that he has a fine record of accomplishment; and that,
despite his advancing age, he feels fit for the rigors of a reelection campaign
and a second term.
While Biden may believe all that, and each is a compelling argument, to
varying degrees, here is another theory on why he will run again: he’s enjoying himself way too much to give it
We offer as evidence the month of February, 2023, when Biden
seemed positively giddy, whether he was sparring with MAGA crazies,
shooting down UFO’s, making an unprecedented
visit to a war zone or taking the global stage to defend the causes of freedom
and democracy against the authoritarian ways of Vladimir Putin. In each of these confrontations, Biden
not only came out the clear winner, but he also looked vital, in command, and
in general positively enjoying himself.
Hand it over to Kamala? Good luck
with that in your senior year!
The State of the Union address was impressive enough on paper, a
doubling down on his progressive agenda, even in the face of the loss of the
House in the midterms. We have grown accustomed to first-term presidents using the post-midterm SOTU to accept publicly the
humiliation of the election verdict, vowing to take their medicine, listen hard to the message sent by the voters and mend their ways.
Biden may have lost the House in the midterms, but clearly he won the (more important) expectations game by avoiding the rout that befell so many of his predecessors and was expected by most. So that was Biden grinning and jousting while pushing forward on his agenda, while Kevin McCarthy,
who had just fulfilled his lifelong dream of winning the Speakership, sat directly
behind him looking rather forlorn, stuck in the hell of an unmanageable caucus with a mere four votes to spare on any issue.
Apart from his SOTU script — indeed, freelancing off it — Biden showed, rather startlingly, the
nimbleness of Muhammad Ali in his prime as he parried and thrust with the crazy
performance artists who are now the face of the GOP. Biden coolly set them up on Medicare and
Social Security, deftly securing an audibled voice-vote agreement with the GOP
to not touch Social Security or Medicare in the looming debt ceiling/budget
wars. They did not even seem to
understand they’d been had. Instead,
they kept up with their histrionics, shouting that Biden was a liar and booing
and hissing him like a mob of unruly Parliament backbenchers. All of that turns off Americans, as post-SOTU polls confirmed. Perhaps even worse, the
display showed the national audience once again that McCarthy had lost control of
his caucus (if he ever had it), since he had admonished them to refrain from such acts. The picture of McCarthy staring at them, Zombie-like,
from his seat on the podium, like the agonized parent of an uncontrollable child, was
The Balloon Saga was similar to the Document Drama that
immediately preceded it, in that both seemed like Very Big Deals until it
became clear that UFO’s populate the upper atmosphere with the frequency that
classified documents show up in former presidential and vice-presidential
residences and offices. (Not to let
Trump off the hook, for his document sins are mountains compared to the
Biden/Pence molehills.) Biden and his
team deftly disabled the China spy balloon, let it drift out of harm’s way,
shot it down over safe waters, and retrieved it to learn much more about its
capabilities. What more could you
ask? The GOP, of course, complained that
he was too slow to take the sucker down, but when he quickly shot down three
other UFO’s of indeterminate source and threat (hovering above non-populated
areas), they howled that he was trigger happy.
(Note to my brother: we have
early contenders here for his BTRTN’s 2024 “Lindsay Grahammies,” which celebrate
cases of titanic political hypocrisy.)
Biden’s historic trip to Kyiv and his speech in Warsaw are
destined to appear in the annals of history alongside the Berlin speeches by JFK (1963), Reagan (1987) and Obama (2008), as pillars in clarifying the world order. Biden, like his predecessors, sought the
biggest possible stage to send the most unambiguous of messages to his
adversary — that the West would never abandon Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s entire
fallback strategy, once he experienced the shock and awe of his initial attack of Kyiv being singularly rebuffed, has been to settle into a war of attrition in the
hopes that ultimately the West would divide, lose interest and stop the flow of expensive
arms into Ukraine. But Biden’s strength
in the midterms has given him the upper hand with GOP opponents who advocate an
America First retreat, and the NATO alliance, refortified by Biden’s post-Trump efforts, remains rock solid and unified in support of their ally. Biden recognized the moment and made the
statement of a lifetime.
Joe Biden — the man who even many Democrats doubted was up to any
public appearances at all – ad-libbing in front of a national audience with the
nonchalance of Jerry Seinfeld? Shooting
down UFO’s with the cool precision of Han Solo? Jetting across the globe, cloak-and-dagger
style, a la James Bond? Thundering
from the podium, channeling his inner Obama?
Not running for reelection?
Unthinkable. He’s having too much
The currently announced field for the presidency is as follows: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, Marianne Williamson
and Vivek Ramaswamy. Heaven help
us. This is a field that should have
America begging for more. Biden will
surely join the fray soon, and Ron DeSantis as well. Once Biden joins, that will sideline any
other responsible aspirants in the suddenly unified Democratic Party. Once DeSantis enters, they key question will
be, how large will the GOP field become?
Trump has never looked more feeble, or beatable. He received full blame for the GOP losing the
Senate; bungled his launch in terms of both timing (just after those midterms
but before the Warnock-Walker runoff in Georgia) and style (the launch speech
was, of all things, dull, Trump shedding his natural persona for some sanitized version
of himself that pleased no one); staged a very public dinner with the utterly despicable
Ye and Nick Fuentes; eschewed a return to Twitter and Facebook, proving his
interests are more commercial (to help keep TruthSocial alive) than political; lost
the support of the big PAC money that backed him in 2016 and 2020; and edged ever closer to real legal danger with potential indictments lining up like
dominoes, starting with Georgia.
Frankly, he’s looked pretty bad in his campaign clips. He took questions at a “Club 45” gathering
recently and was asked, after he became president again, what would he do to
stop the war in Ukraine? This was his
reply, verbatim and unedited: “So I would literally start calling, not
from the day I took over, but from the night I won, and I’d called two people,
you know who the two people are?
Putin…right, you know who Putin is…and Zelenskyy…and I’d say: ‘We’re
gonna meet. We’re gonna meet.’ And I would…I guarantee that I would work
that out. I guarantee it…I know exactly
what I’d say, by the way, I know exactly.
I’d tell one guy this and I’d tell one guy that and I say you better
make a deal. We would have a deal made
in 24 hours.” Ah, diplomatic nuance
at its finest.
And yet, he remains the GOP frontrunner for the nomination, leading DeSantis by about 15
points, and that margin could expand with every new candidate
entering the ring. Thus far there are
two clear tracks in the GOP, the Trump and anti-Trump tracks, and each new
candidate appears to take a bite out of the others, not out of Trump. DeSantis rose from roughly 10% support to 30% over the course of 2023, but most of that came from Pence’s hide or the undecideds. So while Trump considers running against him to be an
act of disloyalty, the irony is, the more who make the leap, the better
Trump’s chances of securing the nomination. For DeSantis to win, he needs the party to coalesce the anti-Trump track around him.
Nikki Haley is certainly a more conventional politician, although
as a Republican Indian-American woman, she would certainly set all kinds of
firsts if she won the nomination. Haley
was, of course, the former Governor of South Carolina and Trump’s Ambassador to
the UN (as well as a three-term rep in Congress), so she has the kind of executive and foreign policy credentials, burnished
over nearly two decades, that have long made her a rising GOP star. But she has been far less successful than
DeSantis in traversing the Trump Era, having worked for Trump, defended him to
the hilt, castigated him after January 6, meekly returned to the fold, promised
not to run against him, and then broke that promise when she announced. Ron DeSantis has done exactly none of those things,
and that distance has served him well, even as he benefited from Trump’s early
support and has risen to current heights without it. Well played, thus far.
Haley is almost surely running more for Vice President than the
top job, and she would be attractive to either Trump or DeSantis in that
post. At 51, she has plenty of time to
win the presidency (no matter what Don Lemon may think about her “prime”). She is, however, pushing the “generational
change” button hard in the early going, and that might soon rankle Trump. One wonders whether, if Iowa and New
Hampshire are a split decision, Trump or DeSantis might announce Haley as their
VP partner before the South Carolina primary, inducing her to drop out. (If one does, the other may counter by
tapping current South Carolina Senator Tim Scott as their VP; Scott may also join
the presidential race very soon.)
Perhaps the less said about Williamson and Ramaswamy, the
better. The high water mark Williamson
reached in her 2020 run – in an open field, with no incumbent – was 2%. If Ramaswany hits even that, we’ll be
surprised. At 37, his goal is surely
simply name recognition, and he has half-a-billion dollars to spread around to
that end. Tom Steyer certainly achieved
that (and a surprising third place finish in South Carolina) with his own
multi-billions the last time around.
Ramaswamy is probably playing the long game.
Biden’s approval rating increased marginally to 44% in February. His issue ratings also tended to show modest
increases. (There are few polls on Covid
approval anymore, so that drop is likely not terribly indicative of any major
change.) The “Bidenometer,” our BTRTN aggregate
measure of economic performance (explained below), dropped slightly to +41, with stock market and consumer confidence declines mitigated by a drop in gas prices.
The Bidenometer is a BTRTN proprietary economic measure that was
designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven
question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign: “Are you better
off than you were four years ago?” We reset the Bidenometer at this
Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs
better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what
he inherited from the Trump Administration.
The Bidenometer measure is comprised of five indicative data
points: the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of
gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP. The
measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from
the inaugural to the present time.
The +41 for February, 2023 means that, on average, the five measures
are 41% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart
below). With a Bidenometer of +41,
the economy is performing markedly better under Biden compared to its condition
when Trump left office. Unemployment is much lower, consumer
confidence is higher, the Dow is higher and the GDP is stronger. On the flip side, gas prices have soared (as
has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component).
Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, under
Clinton the measure ended at +55. It declined from +55 to +8 under
Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose
from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery. Under Trump, it fell again,
from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of
it. Now we have seen it move upward from 0 to +41 under Biden.
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