Ruben Navarrette: There was no red wave in the midterms. But that doesn't give Biden a green light for 2024

From the commentary: Voters are not saluting the idea that Joe Biden should be the Democratic nominee in 2024.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the North American International Auto Show on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Detroit. Biden announced a $900 million investment in electric vehicle infrastructure on the national highway system in 35 states.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the North American International Auto Show on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Detroit. Biden announced a $900 million investment in electric vehicle infrastructure on the national highway system in 35 states.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images/TNS
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SAN DIEGO — After a round of elections, it's natural for journalists and pundits to look for trends and try to connect dots. But when the dots they're trying to connect are miles apart, this no longer qualifies as political analysis. It morphs into political spin.

Ruben Navarrete column logo
Ruben Navarrete column logo
Kit Grode / Tribune graphic
From the commentary: So California, if you're planning to settle up with other groups, you should at least acknowledge that Mexican Americans also have a claim — even if we don't pursue it.
From the commentary: Those of us who want immigration reform ... aren't supposed to express our frustrations out loud.
From the commentary: The Uvalde massacre was a test for the Texas Rangers, and they failed miserably.
From the commentary: Latinos needed a feel-good story, and we've been waiting for a hero we can be proud of. ... Rich Fierro is the one. His bravery helps the nation see who we really are and what we bring to the party. The story of Latinos in the United States must be told — in full. In a bloodstained crime scene at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, an inspiring chapter was written.

Now that the midterm elections are behind us, Americans are being encouraged by the liberal media to believe two things: that Republicans did worse than expected in large part because President Biden did a great job marshaling support for Democrats, and that because Democrats dodged a bullet, Biden's standing with voters has improved so much that more of them want him to run for reelection.

The day after the elections, an article in The Washington Post began this way:

"Tuesday's midterm election results gave President Biden a much-needed political boost, as his party's better-than-expected performance enabled him to avoid a damaging setback and tamped down Democratic calls for him to consider ending his presidency after one term."

This month, an article in Newsweek referred to a CNN poll, taken after the midterms, that supposedly showed a "surge" in Biden's job approval rating. In that poll, 46% of respondents approved of Biden's performance in office while 54% disapproved.


It's true that there has been some improvement. In a CNN poll from October, just 41% of respondents approved of the job that Biden was doing as president and 59% disapproved.

But the president's "boost" was just five percentage points. That's not enough to change the fact that his approval rating is still underwater. So much for what Newsweek generously called a "surge."

Here's the real story: No matter what we're hearing from the media, there is only scattered evidence that Biden is in a much stronger position with voters after the midterm elections. There is also little evidence that, if he is politically better off today than he was a few months ago, it's because of the outcome of the midterms.

Those dots don't connect. No matter how badly some Democrats would like them to.

Usually, while Republicans fall in line, Democrats tend to fall apart.

Today, the opposite dynamic is at work. As Republicans fall apart, thanks to the fact that former president Donald Trump is seeking another term, Democrats are feeling pressure to fall in line — behind Biden. The goal is to scare off any potential Democratic challengers and condition Democratic voters to accept Biden as their party's 2024 standard-bearer.

Here's what Jim Messina, who managed President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, told The Post:

"We can put aside any silly talk about primaries or new candidates in the presidential [race]," Messina said. "Joe Biden's focus on democracy and abortion with a positive message on the economy was the winning game plan."


Not so fast. Many polls show that only about 35% of registered Democratic voters want Biden to seek reelection, even if they don't have a strong alternate candidate in mind to replace him. That was true before the midterm elections, and it still seems to be the case.

A recent CNBC All-America Economic Survey — taken at the end of November — found that a majority of Americans, from both parties, didn't want Biden to run for a second term in 2024. The survey found that just 19% of respondents said they supported a Biden reelection bid. And 70% of those polled — including 57% of Democrats — said they didn't want Biden to run. Most of the folks who felt that way cited the president's age as a major reason. Biden is now 80 years old.

It's obvious that the media is pulling for Biden. But that doesn't mean they're allowed to pull a fast one on the public.

From the commentary: (Mike) Pompeo is critical of what he calls "the (Henry) Kissinger model" of engagement with China.
From the commentary: The (Trump) wall is largely ineffective as policy. ... It’s a silent scream of fear and loathing directed at the people on the other side.
From the commentary: (Kamala Harris) has the brains and the chops to be a real asset to the ticket and the party.
From the commentary: Americans have so far resisted getting cheated out of the benefits they and their employers have paid for with real money.
From the commentary: The 2024 campaign is already very different from 2016, and it’s likely to become even more so.
From the commentary: The real problem is that too many Americans have come to rely on the government for what it was never created to do and less on themselves.
From the commentary: (Pete) Buttigieg connects with voters. He could be the Democrats' presidential candidate. Or, as a replacement for not-much-loved Vice President Kamala Harris
From the commentary: The American business community is about creating jobs, bolstering our economy, and solving problems, and it will support candidates that bring answers and not fear. That message is a recipe for success for either party to embrace.
From the commentary: In another America where laws were once supposed to be equally enforced (the exception being the rule) and truth was not personal, this would likely not have been a problem.
From the commentary: (The judge) said he’d alert everyone when his ruling was coming. ... And that he would give everyone a chance to respond before he released the report, if (it was to be) released.

Anyway, Americans are too sophisticated to fall for that brand of spin. Many of them rejected a lot of what Republicans were offering in this year's midterm elections: unqualified Senate candidates, extreme rhetoric, unworkable policies, personal attacks, Trump's lingering and outsize influence over the party.

Even so, they have refused to obediently salute the idea that Biden should be the Democratic nominee in 2024. The fact that they turned their back on Republicans doesn't mean they're turning toward Biden.

This gives me renewed hope for the political process. Just because the media and the political parties can't seem to deliver honesty, nuance and common sense doesn't mean voters can't find their way to these things on their own.

This commentary is Ruben Navarrette's opinion. He can be reached at

© 2022, The Washington Post Writers Group


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