Skip to content
The Landslide Scenario
Go to my account

The Landslide Scenario

How Biden might win big.

President Joe Biden speaks in the White House on August 16, 2023. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

As regular readers know, when I want to challenge myself I try to imagine a happy outcome to literally anything.

With great wisdom comes remorseless pessimism. It’s a cross I must bear.

But it’s not fair to ask you to bear it with me day in and day out. So today let’s depart from the same-old same-old and do something uncharacteristic. Let’s think happy, hopeful thoughts.

Let’s think about Donald Trump getting annihilated in next fall’s election.

It could happen. David Frum wrote a piece about “The Coming Biden Blowout” back in April, when we were still just one indictment deep. Since then, the U.S. economy has looked surprisingly resilient, Joe Biden hasn’t forgotten his own name in public, and the long list of reasons that Trump should never again be president has grown longer.

There’s a nonzero chance that, 15 months from now, we’ll look back and wonder how we ever thought the election might be close, let alone that Trump might win.

Nonzero. But not much better than zero.

Indulge me a moment of pessimistic throat-clearing.

Joe Biden is very, very old, you may have heard, so much so that a majority of his own party now believes that two terms would be one too many. Just as time moves in one direction only, the share of Americans who think he’s not up to the job will move in one direction only over the next 14 months.

Economists are more bullish than they were a year ago, but only slightly. Last October, 65 percent of experts surveyed by Reuters expected a recession one year out; today, 55 percent still do. In 2020, a viral contagion that began in China helped end Trump’s term in office. In 2024, an economic contagion that began in China could do the same to Biden.

House Republicans are barreling toward impeaching the president this fall. They may or may not find any fire in their search for wrongdoing but they’ve already seen some smoke. Bill Clinton famously grew more popular after being impeached, but I don’t foresee the same fate for an unpopular incumbent governing in a more polarized era. Impeachment will hurt Biden, if only by giving some right-leaning swing voters a reason to discount Trump’s sins on grounds that “they’re both corrupt.”

Don’t expect a Joe Biden landslide next fall, in short. Don’t expect a Biden victory, period: There are good grounds to believe that Trump is a narrow favorite, a conclusion supported by the current national polling and the GOP’s structural advantage in the Electoral College. We should, as always, expect the worst.

But I promised you optimism, didn’t I?

Fine. If a Democratic landslide happens (nonzero chance!), here’s why it’ll happen.

The bar for Biden is low.

For the moment, the president’s biggest political liability is his age. That could change depending on how future jobs reports look and what House Republicans dig up, but the strongest line of attack on him right now is his looming mortality. A vote for President Biden is a vote for President Kamala Harris.

Anything that happens in the next 14 months to deepen suspicions that he’s too infirm for the job will damage him badly. But there’s an upside to that: If he gets through the campaign without any health scares, the argument against him will weaken.

“Remain upright and mostly coherent” is a low bar for a politician to have to clear.

Many undecided voters are looking for reasons to justify voting for Biden, remember. They’re skittish about reelecting an octogenarian, but they hate Trump and won’t support him unless they’re convinced the incumbent’s deterioration leaves them no choice. The more energy Biden manifests in his campaign appearances, the easier it’ll be for those undecideds to talk themselves into believing that he can go the distance. “See? He’s fine—sort of! He’s not getting worse, at least. Not much worse, anyway …”

Schedule his events judiciously and give him a six-pack of Red Bull a few hours beforehand. He’ll power through.

The president is blessed to have a (likely) opponent who is himself pushing 80 and whose brain long ago turned to oatmeal. If you’re worried about age and mental capacity in the next commander in chief, the choice isn’t nearly as clear as Republicans would have you believe.

The electorate is churning.

Political pundits tend to treat the electorate as a constant. It’s tempting, for instance, to believe that because Biden owes his 2020 victory to fewer than 100,000 or so votes across five swing states, all Trump needs to do to win in 2024 is to flip those and hold serve elsewhere.

It’s not true, of course.

Electorates are dynamic. As we speak, American politics is seeing a realignment of working-class voters toward the GOP and college-educated voters toward the Democrats—which isn’t a great trade for anti-Trumpers, as the less educated greatly outnumber the more educated in the electorate. The extent to which that flux continues through next November may decide the outcome.

But electorates are dynamic in other ways. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and a co-author recently noted that, since 2016, some 32 million people have aged into the voting pool by turning 18 while about 20 million have aged out of it by, well, you know. Those younger voters are taking advantage, too: In the past the rap on young adults was that they didn’t vote regularly, but the new crop has been turning out in recent elections at a rate higher than their elders did at the same age. Advantage: Joe Biden.

While American voters historically have tended somewhat to become more conservative as they age, no one should expect these voting patterns to change drastically. About 48 percent of Gen Z voters identify as a person of color, while the boomers they’re replacing in the electorate are 72 percent White. Gen Z voters are on track to be the most educated group in our history, and the majority of college graduates are now female. Because voting participation correlates positively with education, expect women to speak with a bigger voice in our coming elections. Gen Z voters are much more likely to cite gender fluidity as a value, and they list racism among their greatest concerns. Further, they are the least religious generation in our history. No wonder there’s discussion in some parts of the GOP about raising the voting age to 25, and among some Democrats about lowering it to 16!

Counties that include major colleges are obliterating Republicans by such enormous margins nowadays that they’re all but singlehandedly tipping swing states like Michigan into the Democratic column. If the kids turn out in force for Grandpa (Great-Grandpa?) Joe next fall, Trump might get smoked harder than a dorm-room bong.

Abortion is galvanizing pro-choicers.

Getting college students off their futons and down to the polls for a figure as uninspiring as Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandpa Joe won’t be easy.

Fortunately for Democrats, there’s another reason for otherwise disengaged liberals to want to vote urgently next year.

I won’t belabor the politics of abortion post-Dobbs, having written about the latest state referendum last week. It’s enough to say that the left is doing very well on the issue— shockingly well, frankly—with no end to their victories in sight. Efforts are in motion already in Arizona and Florida to put pro-choice initiatives on the ballot 2024; even in states without referendums, Democrats will campaign nationally on reviving abortion rights by promising a new federal statute if voters hand them total control of the government. A vote for President Biden is a vote for Roe.

It might not work. Look no further than Ohio, where voters handed pro-choicers a landslide victory on restoring state abortion rights last week yet handed pro-life Gov. Mike DeWine a landslide victory last fall. Candidates matter. When voters are asked whom they want to represent them in office, they naturally base their decision on more than just one issue.

But it’s a really potent issue. Two separate polls published in the last month found upward of 40 percent of Republicans (Republicans!) believe that abortion should be “mostly legal” or “legal in most cases.” A right-leaning pro-choice independent who isn’t thrilled with President Joe might talk himself into voting for him anyway when considering that the other guy on the ballot appointed the justices who sent Roe into oblivion.

The legal drama is hurting Trump.

Because we immerse ourselves in right-wing politics in this newsletter, it’s easy to forget that being indicted four times is … not great for a candidate.

It seems great because each new felony charge appears to bolster Trump’s primary polling, a perverse testament to the corruption of the right relished by the man himself. But most Americans have not, in fact, lost their moral bearings. Being accused of a crime, or two crimes, or 91 crimes, is a bad thing to them.

Especially, perhaps, when most of those alleged crimes relate to trying to overthrow the government.

A new Associated Press poll published on Wednesday finds Trump’s favorable rating at 35/62 following Jack Smith’s latest indictment. A near-majority of 47 percent supports criminal charges stemming from the 2020 election while just 3 in 10 Americans oppose them. Majorities of independents say that Trump’s actions in Georgia and on January 6 were either illegal or unethical. Notably, roughly 40 percent of Republicans say the same.

I won’t tempt fate by declaring that this makes him unelectable but it’s left him perilously close. In 2020 Joe Biden took 51 percent of the vote from Trump; per the AP poll, already 53 percent of Americans say they “definitely” won’t support Trump in the next election while 11 percent say they “probably” won’t support him. Biden’s numbers on those same questions are also poor—43 percent and 11 percent, respectively—but not so poor that a clear majority of voters have written him off more than a year out from the election.

Even so, the share of Republicans who want to see Trump run again is higher now than it was in April before most of the charges against him were filed. That’s irrational, but the cultish nature of his support is what it is—and arguably it makes renominating him the lesser of two evils for the GOP despite the dire circumstances. To nominate him again, felony warts and all, and risk frightening away swing voters in the general election is to play Russian roulette with five bullets in the chamber. To not nominate him again and forever alienate his gigantic populist cult is, conceivably, to play with six.

More of Trump’s brain is turning into oatmeal.

Joe Biden isn’t the only candidate in the race whose main political liability will only get worse with time.

Just as the president will grow older before Election Day, Donald Trump will grow more insane. There’s seemingly nothing he can do about it. Or wants to do about it, insofar as there is.

As noted in yesterday’s newsletter, the judicial machinery in his criminal cases has barely begun to turn and already he’s trying to intimidate witnesses, prosecutors, and judges from his social media perch—with impunity, so far. (“I’ve never seen a defendant being treated the way Trump has been treated in my 30-year career,” one expert told the New York Times, marveling at the leniency with which his outbursts are received.) Last week during a speech he casually mentioned that “they say” Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis had an affair with a gang member, a smear for which there’s no evidence but which is true to the spirit of a man who spent years jungled up with the sleaze merchants at the National Enquirer.

On Monday, nearly three years after his defeat, he’ll release a report purporting to prove that Georgia’s 2020 election was rigged, a claim his own running mate now disavows. A few days ago he spent an afternoon with Laura Loomer, who once handcuffed herself in protest to the front door of Twitter headquarters and who’s so fringe that even Marjorie Taylor Greene describes her as “mentally unstable and a documented liar.”

This can only get worse.

If this is how Trump sounds in August 2023, it’s unimaginable how he’ll sound in August 2024. Amid the immense pressure of an active presidential campaign and after a full year of court-related anxiety has pulverized what’s left of his mind, he’ll be so far off the rails that even Trump-leaners will be doing the Homer-disappearing-into-the-bushes routine. We’ll be lucky to avoid violence committed in his name, possibly incited by Trump himself. We won’t avoid it, I suspect.

The voters who love him won’t care. But the voters who merely like him, who’d otherwise be happy to cast a ballot for a 2018-vintage American economy, will conclude reluctantly that Captain Queeg can’t be returned to the bridge.

That’s how we get a Biden landslide.

It is, as I’ve said, an unlikely scenario. But it’s also the best-case scenario for Trump-leery conservatives who yearn for a better Republican Party.

There’s no obvious way to reduce the malign influence of MAGA populism over the GOP. No moral appeal will work, clearly. Changing the financial incentives might, but I can’t see how to do that. So long as right-wing media consumers demand propaganda, right-wing media outlets will supply it. Apart from tweaking libel laws to deter the most outrageous defamation, we’re stuck with an information ecosystem that trades in catastrophism and ruthlessness.

Even if the electorate delivers a Biden landslide, the playbook from 2020 is ready. Trump will cite the margin of victory as “proof” of vote-rigging: Why, it’s impossible that an even older, feebler Joe Biden could have grown his support in four years. The more emphatically voters reject Trump, the more emphatically diehards will insist that they couldn’t have done so.

Not all Republican voters are diehards, though.

If anything has a chance of persuading a critical mass of the GOP not to quadruple down on Trumpism in 2028, a landslide Democratic victory does. Normie Republican voters have heard many times now, including from figures whom they esteem like Ron DeSantis, that Trump is unelectable. Should the results in 2024 bear that out decisively, not all of them will resort to wild theories about election fraud to explain the outcome. Some will be introspective.

Having been warned repeatedly that Trump has run the party into the ground, blowing a fourth straight election might at last convince them that DeSantis (and the dastardly Never Trumpers!) had a point after all. And if it does, and they demand change in 2028 in the name of victory, the populist wing might feel obliged to accommodate them.

The only way to maximize the normies’ leverage in that dispute is to demolish Trump at the polls in 2024. Anti-Trump conservatives should think hard on it before throwing their vote away by writing in Ronald Reagan or Edmund Burke instead.

So, cheer up. Take heart! The Biden landslide could happen, fueled by a conservative crossover vote that buries Trump and his menagerie of cronies. It would amount to a total reboot of the GOP, clearing the way for someone younger, smarter, and much more electable in 2028.
Republican nominee Tucker Carlson. Can you feel it?

Nick Catoggio is a staff writer at The Dispatch and is based in Texas. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 16 years gradually alienating a populist readership at Hot Air. When Nick isn’t busy writing a daily newsletter on politics, he’s … probably planning the next day’s newsletter.