Biden, Trump face troubling signs amid a pandemic of distrust

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It makes for a striking headline: Nearly half of Democrats don’t want Joe Biden to run for reelection.

That’s according to a new NPR/”NewsHour”/Marist poll, which includes Democratic-leaning independents in these figures. The grim numbers: 44% say the party will have a better chance of keeping the White House without Biden, 36% say the president gives them the best chance, and 20% are unsure.

After Tuesday’s Election Day, that’s a sobering signal for an incumbent who has been slipping in the surveys.

The same poll shows Donald Trump’s grip on his party loosening quite a bit.

Exactly half of Republicans and GOP-leaners say Trump has the best chance of winning back the White House. Another 35% want someone else, and 14% are unsure.

Given that President Trump commanded near-total loyalty from his party, that suggests the love affair has cooled a bit or some Republicans want a forward-looking messenger rather than someone refighting past battles.

President Joe Biden, with first lady Jill Biden, speaks during a visit at Brookland Middle School in northeast Washington, on Sept. 10, 2021. Biden has encouraged every school district to promote vaccines, including with on-site clinics. (Associated Press)

Now of course such a poll tells us nothing about what the political climate will be three years from now. Biden will be 82, and Trump 78. The president may have bounced back from his rocky start or be widely viewed as a caretaker. The former president may have rekindled his magic with his base or be seen as a figure from the past. Other rivals may have emerged in both parties, although Trump in particular seems to have frozen the field. If Republicans control Congress, voters may or may not want to hand one party unified control again.

But that’s actually the least significant part of the NPR/PBS poll.

What’s really troubling is the lack of trust in the election process. That’s hardly a shocking revelation in light of Trump’s continued and unsubstantiated assault on the 2020 results and the voting restrictions being imposed in several red states. But the numbers are eye-popping all the same.

The top line – 62% of those surveyed saying they’ll trust the results of the 2024 election, even if their preferred candidate loses – doesn’t sound so bad, at least until you drill down a bit.

While 82% of Democrats have that confidence, only one-third of Republicans say they do. That is a devastating snapshot of the partisan divide in America.

So if Biden or some other Democrat wins three years from now, two-thirds of those who identify with the Republican Party will believe he’s an illegitimate winner? Can this cycle ever be broken?

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump onstage at the end of the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland. (Associated Press)

Maybe the question has become a proxy for how people feel about Trump, who denounces the last “rigged” election every day and fights about it even with the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page.

So while 62% of Americans believe Trump falsely calls the election stolen because he “doesn’t like the outcome,” 75% of Republicans surveyed say he has a legitimate claim that there were “real cases of fraud that changed the results.”

So much for all the lawsuits and investigations, including by Trump’s own Justice Department.

(Getty Images)

Look, these are the beliefs they have, and at this point no one – and certainly not the media establishment they despise – is going to change their minds.

Now does this all emanate from Trump and 2020 – not to mention 2016, when some Democrats and pundits insisted he was illegitimate because of Russian meddling? (In fact, Trump insisted there was also fraud in 2016 – a campaign he won – and otherwise he would have carried the Electoral College as well.) If so, that would mean we might move on from this sea of mistrust once Trump has left the political scene. Or not.

A final depressing note: Overwhelming majorities in this survey say there is a “serious threat” to American democracy. Where does that threat come from? Here’s the split: 42% say Democrats, 41% say Republicans, and – a pox on both your houses – 8% say both.

Might I suggest the greatest threat is all the mutual anger and suspicion that is eating away at our country?

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