Friday, July 19, 2024

Why a Trump-Biden Rematch Is What Many Democrats Want in 2024

With protesters and news media assembled in the streets, Mr. Trump reported to a Manhattan courthouse, where he pleaded not guilty to 34 counts related to the hush money and the alleged coverup. On his way to the proceedings, he posted on his social-media site: “Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America.”

As the scene unfolded, Mr. Biden kept quiet about his predecessor’s legal travails. But as he prepares to announce plans to seek another term, Democratic officials in battleground states said they would like to see a rematch of the 2020 race.

The legal tumult surrounding Mr. Trump is one reason Democrats feel bullish about facing him. Other reasons include that Mr. Biden has defeated Mr. Trump once before, and that the former president motivates Democratic voters to turn out. They also say that pairing 80-year-old Mr. Biden with 76-year-old Mr. Trump would minimize questions about Mr. Biden’s age and abilities much more so than if he faced 44-year-old Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Donald Trump hands down,” said Joe Wolf, a senior adviser to Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, in her 2022 election. “He’s combustible, he’s undisciplined, he’s been beaten before. I think the country is over him.”

He added: “It’s not that I’m afraid of DeSantis. To me more, it’s the devil you know.”

Polls show that Mr. Trump remains the dominant figure in his party, even as he faces civil lawsuits and criminal investigations. According to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University, when presented with a list of potential GOP candidates, 47% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters picked Mr. Trump and 33% favoured Mr. DeSantis, with no other candidates receiving double-digit support. In a direct matchup, Mr. Trump had 52% and Mr. DeSantis, 42%.

Still, Mr. Trump’s indictment injects fresh uncertainty into the 2024 race, marking the first time a former president has ever faced criminal charges. The case could boost Mr. Trump with his loyal Republican supporters in the primary contest, but could turn off swing voters he would need to defeat Mr. Biden in a general election. Mr. Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and Mr. Biden has declined to comment on the indictment.

A CNN Poll taken after reports that a New York grand jury voted to indict Mr. Trump showed that 62% of independent voters approved of the indictment.

The Quinnipiac poll, which was taken before Mr. Trump’s indictment, found that 57% of Americans thought Mr. Trump should be disqualified from running again should he face criminal charges, but among Republicans, 75% thought he shouldn’t be disqualified. The poll also showed Mr. Biden would be locked in a close race against either Mr. Trump or Mr. DeSantis. Among registered voters, Mr. Biden had 48%, and Mr. Trump, 46%, in a head-to-head contest. In a separate matchup, Mr. DeSantis had 48%, and Mr. Biden, 46%.

“I think generally Democrats are relishing the idea of a rematch with Trump because it’s such a clear contrast,” said Matthew Munsey, the chair of the Northampton County Democratic Committee in Pennsylvania. “Everything Trump has done since we beat him has been the opposite of demonstrating presidential qualities.”

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd at Adventure Outdoors gun store, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Smyrna, Ga. Ahead of a highly anticipated presidential announcement, DeSantis will make his first appearance this year on Thursday, April 6, in Michigan, a battleground state transformed by Democratic-majorities and led by high-profile Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

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FILE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd at Adventure Outdoors gun store, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Smyrna, Ga. Ahead of a highly anticipated presidential announcement, DeSantis will make his first appearance this year on Thursday, April 6, in Michigan, a battleground state transformed by Democratic-majorities and led by high-profile Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File) (AP)

Some Democrats said they did worry that Mr. DeSantis might be tougher to take on, even as they expressed confidence in Mr. Biden.

“I’ll stand with this president all day long. But I think DeSantis poses a much bigger threat than Trump does. He’s a somewhat cleaner version of Trump and Trumpism,” said Jim Wertz, chair of the Erie County Democrats in Pennsylvania.

Of course, if Mr. Trump wins the GOP nomination, he could actually win back the White House, which gives some Democrats pause.

“Ultimately, it’s up to Republicans to determine who they want,” said Kim Gates, chair of the Kent County Democratic Party in Michigan. “If I had a choice, I’d say I’d rather have a sane candidate running who [upholds] the Constitution, doesn’t perpetuate the big lie, didn’t participate in the insurrection.”

A person close to Mr. Biden’s political team said that it doesn’t have a 2024 preference, but that it feels good about the president’s chances against either Mr. Trump or Mr. DeSantis. Jaime Harrison, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, said Mr. Biden could beat either Republican because of their records on entitlement spending, abortion and taxes. “That’s a contrast we’ll highlight and know the American people will reject,” he said.

Emma Vaughn, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman, said: “The eventual Republican nominee will beat Biden, full stop.”

Democrats said Mr. Trump and his candidates have now lost three national elections in a row. In 2022, candidates endorsed by Mr. Trump lost their statewide races in all of the battleground states except Nevada. Some Democrats sought to boost candidates aligned with Mr. Trump in the primaries, viewing them as easier to defeat. There is no evidence of Democratic efforts to amplify Mr. Trump in 2024.

In Arizona, Mr. Biden won the state in 2020, marking the first time a Democratic presidential candidate won there since Bill Clinton. Last year, all four major statewide candidates were backed by the former president and echoed his false claims of election fraud. All four lost, while down-ballot Republicans who weren’t as closely aligned with Mr. Trump won.

Roy Herrera, Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign counsel in Arizona, said a Trump vs. Biden matchup would be “a very good prospect for the president, particularly in Arizona.” Mr. Herrera added that the once-Republican bastion has moved away from Mr. Trump and the candidates aligned with him.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the day of his court appearance in New York after being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury following a probe into hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels, in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2023. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo/File Photo

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the day of his court appearance in New York after being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury following a probe into hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels, in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2023. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo/File Photo (REUTERS)

Democrats also said Mr. Trump motivates Democratic turnout and contribution.

Alan Kessler, a longtime Democratic fundraiser based in Philadelphia, said Mr. Trump was a powerful stimulus when it came to raising money in the 2020 presidential cycle.

“Any time Trump opened his mouth, you’d have donors who would say, you know I was going to do X amount, I’m going to double that,” he said. “I, for one, would love to have a rematch for that reason. However, I do believe, given the kinds of things he’s done in Florida, we’d probably have a similar reaction if it’s DeSantis.”

Whoever the opponent is, Pat Dennis, president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge, said its goal is to weaken GOP candidates during the primary process. He said the super PAC has developed opposition research books on 21 potential candidates.

For Mr. Trump, he said the super PAC’s job is “a lot of reminding” and showing Mr. Biden “in contrast to the chaos of the Trump administration.” With Mr. DeSantis, he said the super PAC wants to show his record in Florida on such issues as housing and health insurance, as well as his voting history in Congress on Medicare and Social Security.

“We’re not here to pick the Republican nominee,” Mr. Dennis said. “We’re here to make sure the Republican nominee comes out of this as weak as they deserve to be.”

While many Democrats expressed a preference for Mr. Trump, some said they would prefer Mr. DeSantis as their opponent because they can attack his stances on education and LGBT issues.

“I’d rather run against DeSantis and get it over with,” said Bob Busch of the Isabella County Democrats in Michigan. “There are stark differences that the Democratic Party can say on the social issues.”

Write to Catherine Lucey at [email protected] and Eliza Collins at [email protected]

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