WASHINGTON – None of the two. Neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump. The majority of U.S. voters want a generational change in the White House. That’s what the polls say. The problem is that neither Democrats nor Republicans dare say that to Biden or Trump.
First, the numbers.
Fifty-eight percent of Democrats say they prefer any candidate other than Biden, according to recent polls by ABC News and The Washington Post. That’s not good news for a president who has an approval rating of only 42 percent for his work in the White House.
I came to Washington to listen to and report on Biden’s State of the Union Address. But in truth, the speech was about the enormous lack of unity that exists in the United States. In my 40 years in this country, I have never seen politics so polarized.
The cordiality, respect and decency that used to prevail in these types of events has disappeared. “Liar!” Republican Congress member Marjorie Taylor Green shouted at Biden when the president spoke about reducing the government debt. But Taylor Green – known for her conspiracy theories and refusal to recognize Biden’s electoral victory – was not alone. Several other members also interrupted the president’s 73-minute speech, and one of them even shouted “It’s your fault” when he mentioned the fentanyl smuggling from Mexico.
The insults are breaking through digital barriers.
It is as though the stupidities and aggressive attitudes that prevail in social media have invaded all the spaces of our society. The border between real and digital life is increasingly disappearing. There are people who turn into their own avatars. Psychologists call it the “symbolic body.” Suddenly, you become what you project. And then it’s very difficult to separate yourself from the virtual image you have created or invented.
And since we’re talking about people who are boorish and liars, let’s move on to Donald Trump. Republicans also don’t want him to run again for the presidency. Forty-nine percent prefer someone else as head of the party. Trump is a loser. He lost the 2020 elections by a good margin, and many of the candidates he backed in 2022 also lost.
Nevertheless, he invented a winning avatar for himself, and no one can get him out of there. He invented the Big Lie that he beat Biden in the 2020 presidential elections. And worst still, millions believe him, according to polls. (Note to reader: The center of US power is not Mar-A-Lago.)
The most interesting part of the ABC and Washington Post polls is that in a head-to-head race, Trump supposedly would beat Biden 48 to 45 percent. But the gap is within the margin of error and it comes 21 months before the 2024 balloting – when anything can happen.
Top Democratic leaders are convinced Biden would beat Trump again. At least that’s the message they steadfastly believe. That’s what I and a small group of journalists we were told here in Washington by Senate leader Chuck Schumer and the new minority leader in the House, Hakeem Jeffries.
The truth is that if Biden wants to run for president again at the age of 80, no member of his party will dare challenge him. Even if he would be the first octogenarian in the White House. NPR recently asked, “How old is too old to be president?”
There is, of course, a long list of other possible Democratic contenders. But none of them has done the key thing: beat Trump. And the logic of Biden’s supporters is very simple: He did it once, he can do it again.
Among Republicans, there is a similar attitude toward Trump. But more than respect, it’s an issue of fear. No one would dare tell Trump, 76, to abandon his second campaign for the Republican nomination. The young governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders – who served as Trump’s spokesperson and is 40 years old – approached the delicate issue in her reply to Biden’s state of the union address, saying that “it is time for a new generation of Republican leadership.” But she did not dare mention Trump by name.
It is possible that we will soon know who will face Trump for the GOP nomination. The names making the most noise are those of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nicky Haley. But clearly, no one want to be the first to announce a candidacy. That would guarantee him or her the typically brutal Trumpian attacks on the digital jungle.
It’s important to note that both parties have young politicians ready to try new ideas, to work with the opposition and be more inclusive in a country increasingly diverse. It is not possible that, well into the 21st Century, the only political alternative would be Biden vs. Trump and constant polarization.
The United States is stuck. The future has been born, but it doesn’t know how to leave the past behind.