Rule Five 1980-2024 Friday

In what ways might the 2024 Presidential election resemble Ronald Reagan’s 1980 landslide defeat of the hapless Jimmy Carter?  The Messenger’s Douglas Schoen has some thoughts.  And, as usual, so do I.

In many ways, the upcoming presidential election may mirror the 1980 election, when Jimmy Carter suffered a landslide defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan.

What should alarm Democrats is that Carter, like President Biden now, was extremely unpopular, while Reagan, like Donald Trump, was considered almost unelectable. Similarly, inflation was a thorn in Carter’s side, much as it has dogged Biden since the first year of his term. Not for nothing, 2022’s inflationary surge hit the highest levels since … Jimmy Carter was in office.

On foreign policy, we were facing a number of challenges then, as we are now. In 1980, the U.S. was still dealing with the Iranian hostage crisis, not entirely dissimilar from the hostage crisis in Gaza and our issues in the Middle East.

There are some key differences in the GOP candidates.  While both are known political quantities – Reagan from eight years as Governor of California, Trump from his first term as President – they also have some key differences.  Reagan was rightly known and is rightly remembered for his sunny optimism; Trump is rightly known for his prickly temper, his capability of holding a grudge like a terrier with a death grip on a rat, and he never, ever forgets or fails to pay back a slight.

In the 1980 election, incumbent Jimmy Carter had proven unable to either get the hostages out or overcome the perception of overarching weakness on foreign policy. And indeed, it is that same perceived weakness on foreign policy that could ultimately make the difference in 2024 for Joe Biden.

Biden’s approval ratings began to decline after the precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, a move that Biden and most Democrats thought would be popular, but in fact became enormously unpopular as scenes of the Taliban’s romp through the country as the Afghani military, which the U.S. had supposedly built into a true force, melted away, causing Biden’s numbers to sink, a trend which continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and thereafter.

In that same vein, it is becoming nearly impossible to argue that the world has been safer, or less chaotic, under Biden than under Trump.

That’s the key.  In both domestic and foreign affairs, the administration of the ever-more-befuddled Joe Biden has been an utter failure, and that may well be what decides the 2024 election.  In both domestic and foreign affairs, the affable but easily-railroaded James Earl Carter was also an utter failure; his fate was sealed from the moment that Reagan laid into him with the “There you go again” remark in debate.

But the country is far more partisan, and far more deeply divided than it was in 1980.  I should know – I was there – and I worked in the summer and fall of 1980 as a (very low-level) campaign volunteer for the Reagan apparatus in eastern Iowa.  Crossover voters were common in 1980; the Old Man, who always described himself as a Truman Democrat, voted for Reagan in 1980 and again in 1984.  Why?  Because in 1980, things weren’t going well, and in 1984, because they were.

Things today are bad.  But the wild card, of course, will be the national Democrats.  Will they let Joe Biden run again?  It’s tempting to say “No way.”  He just can’t.  Granted they won 2020 on a “basement campaign,” but there is no COVID panic to provide cover for Joe Biden now, and he has deteriorated rather dramatically since 2020.

If Joe Biden is their candidate, they’re fucked.  If not… We’ll have to see.