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5 key X factors in the Biden vs. Trump rematch

Welcome to The Campaign Moment.

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It’s now definitely, assuredly — if not yet officially — general election time (that will happen later summer at the party conventions). Both President Biden and former president Donald Trump secured enough delegates Tuesday to win their parties’ nominations this summer, meaning we can now call them the “presumptive” nominees.

And that means it’s time for a reset about what lies ahead. I think a good way to look at that is isolating a few key X factors that go a long way to determining who wins in November.

Non-White voters

There is no question Democrats have lost ground with Black and Hispanic voters, especially among men; the question is how much — and whether it could be decisive.

Many polls show Trump with twice or even three times as much Black support as he got in 2016 (6 percent, according to Pew data) and 2020 (8 percent). If that actually happened — on top of Hispanics’ clear rightward shift in recent elections — it would significantly imperil Biden’s path to victory.

But you rarely see such a major, quick realignment in the American electorate. And there are reasons to be skeptical that’s what we’re about to see.

Still, it’s not just about whether Black or Hispanic voters support Trump; it’s also whether they intend to vote at all. Depressed turnout in the Democratic coalition could be Biden’s worst enemy.

Americans’ memories

Repeatedly in recent weeks, polling has shown Americans approve of Trump’s presidency more than they ever did when he was in office.

A case in point Wednesday was a USA Today/Suffolk University poll showing nearly half of registered voters did so. That’s despite then-President Trump’s approval rarely reaching beyond the low-40s and falling sharply in his closing days, after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

It’s normal for former presidents’ images to improve when they’re out of office. But that’s usually because they fade away and people forget what they disliked. There will be no fading away for Trump over the next eight months, as Democrats will do everything in their power to remind Americans why they disliked about him in the first place — with a potential assist from Trump’s court cases.

Authoritarianism

Related is just how much Americans have truly absorbed Trump’s increasingly authoritarian vision. Polling suggests they haven’t — not really. But that will surely change as Democrats seek to drive home Trump’s plans for his potential second term. He has, after all, talked about being a dictator for at least one day. Three-quarters of Republicans say that’s “probably” a good thing.

The question from there would become whether stuff like pardoning Jan. 6 defendants, demanding full presidential immunity and directly targeting his political foes for prosecution are deal-breakers for enough Americans.

But Americans already view Trump as extreme, and it’s not been a deal-breaker so far. A CNN poll last month showed that a full 63 percent of Americans labeled Trump “too extreme”; he still led Biden in a head-to-head matchup.

Age

The White House and the Biden campaign suggest this is a media construct, but it’s something the electorate has been very concerned about for a long time. As many as one-quarter of Biden 2020 voters say he’s too old to serve effectively, and 19 percent say it means he’s “not capable of handling the job of president.”

Biden’s State of the Union address last week didn’t appear to allay concerns as much as the left would like (see below).

The real danger here is not so much that it causes Biden voters to flip to Trump, but that it leads them to stay home or vote third-party. Perhaps the specter of Trump will ultimately be enough for these voters to ultimately pull the lever for Biden, but it’s a very significant complicating factor when voters don’t believe you have what it takes to actually do the job.

Immigration

This has clearly been Biden’s biggest policy liability. But Republicans gave Biden something to work last month with when they killed a bipartisan deal that could have significant shored up the border.

While early polling suggested Americans weren’t exactly clamoring for such a deal, a Wall Street Journal poll last week that described the legislation showed Americans supported it 59 percent to 34 percent.

Americans still strongly disapprove of Biden on immigration — about 2-to-1. And that poll showed they’re still more likely to blame the chaotic border on Biden’s reversal of Trump’s immigration executive orders (45 percent) than on the failure of the congressional deal (39 percent).

But that’s actually a pretty close margin. Given Americans have overwhelmingly favored the GOP on this issue, it suggests Biden could conceivably chip away at that advantage if he drives this issue home like he did in his State of the Union.

As for the actual election results on Tuesday?

Nikki Haley’s vote shares fell a week after she dropped out of the race, but she still took 22 percent in Washington state and 13 percent in Georgia.

The Post’s Scott Clement and Lenny Bronner note the Georgia results are something of a mirage. The latest data show Haley got just 7 percent of Election Day voters, compared to 20 percent of early voters. The early vote was overwhelmingly conducted when Haley was still a candidate, beginning Feb. 19 and ending Friday. (Haley also got 28 percent of absentee voters, a much smaller share of the electorate.)

That said, regardless of when the votes came in, Haley continued to do disproportionately well in metro areas and the suburbs, which loom as a potential problem for Trump. She took around 40 percent in Atlanta-based Fulton and DeKalb counties. She also got 34 percent in Seattle-based King County.

As for Biden, he ceded 7.5 percent of the vote in Washington state to “uncommitted,” the option critics of his stance on the war in Gaza have pushed. That’s a smaller share than he previously ceded in Hawaii (29 percent), Minnesota (19 percent), Michigan (13 percent) and Colorado (9 percent).

On Friday, I noted that all the hype surrounding Biden’s State of the Union address wasn’t really borne out in an instant CNN poll.

And now, more substantial polling would appear to confirm he got no real bump.

33 percent of those who watched at least some of the speech said it improved their view of Biden, the Suffolk poll shows.28 percent said the opposite. Independents were about evenly split.

Perhaps more troubling for Biden, a Yahoo/YouGov poll showed no real improvement on the issue many Biden supporters wagered he had mitigated with the speech: his age and mental acuity.

29 percent said Biden was fit to serve another term, unchanged from January. 51 percent said his age is a “big problem” that affects his fitness, unchanged from January. 17 percent who watched said Biden seemed “not as old” as expected.

Such questions can get bogged down in polarization. But tellingly, the poll suggests Biden didn’t even gain with Democrats on these issues. And both polls showed virtually no change in his image numbers.

Trump’s freewheeling speeches offer a dark vision of a second term (Washington Post)Trump takes control of the RNC with mass layoffs, restructuring (Washington Post)How Donald Trump switched to defending TikTok (Washington Post)Biden aims to repair places left broken by previous economic strategies (Washington Post)Five takeaways from the Hur special counsel hearing (Washington Post)The Biden-Trump Rerun: A Nation Craving Change Gets More of the Same (New York Times)Trump Courts Black Voters Even as He Traffics in Stereotypes (New York Times)

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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