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Why won’t Biden or Trump talk about the $2 trillion deficit?

Prepare to get even more exhausted by the 2024 presidential race. Credit: Getty

September 5, 2023 - 1:30pm

A popular trope in contemporary American politics is the idea of an “exhausted majority”, a cluster of voters who are worn out by escalating political conflict. A new Wall Street Journal poll of the 2024 presidential race has a message for these voters: prepare to get even more exhausted.

The poll has brutal numbers for President Joe Biden and ex-president Donald Trump, who is currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. The candidate flaws highlighted in the poll could dominate the presidential race — at the expense of many policy issues. Both men have a meagre 39% favourability rating, while 73% of voters (and two-thirds of Democrats) think that Biden, the oldest president in American history, is too old to run for re-election. Yet 47% of voters think the same of Trump, who would himself be an octogenarian by the end of a second term.

While voters have significant reservations about the characters of both men, Biden tends to come out somewhat better on that front. Two-thirds of respondents think Trump isn’t likeable, while 48% feel the same way about Biden. Only 45% of voters think that Biden is honest — which is higher than Trump’s figure (38%). Trump comes across as slightly stronger on having a “vision for the future” and on his record as president, though both of those numbers are in the low 50s.

This poll provides yet more evidence that voters are far from thrilled at the idea of a Biden-Trump rematch. So far, both men have kept their distance from the campaign trail. Gone are the days when Trump rallies crisscrossed the country — the former president has not had an in-person campaign stop since August 12. Biden has only had a single campaign rally since announcing his re-election bid.

A campaign dominated by Trump and Biden’s personal flaws could crowd out a discussion of other issues. For instance, the federal deficit is projected to double this year to $2 trillion, about twice what it was last year. Former Obama economic advisor Jason Furman called this magnitude of deficit-spending “stunning” in a time without a major national crisis.

Deficits are projected to trend upward, threatening the sustainability of many federal programs. But a Biden-Trump grudge match may leave this challenge unaddressed. Further, both Biden and Trump have political incentives to avoid discussing the hard trade-offs — especially for federal entitlements — that bending the curve on deficit spending would require.

With the passage of the infrastructure and CHIPS bills, Joe Biden has stolen some of Trump’s thunder on industrial policy. While Trump highlighted a clear policy contrast in 2016 with Hillary Clinton’s neoliberalism, the differences with Biden, while real, are often more subtle — whether, for instance, CHIPS does enough to “decouple” from China. However, a race-to-the-bottom presidential contest does not seem like an apt opportunity to explain those distinctions.

Both men have a flair for existential politics. In the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, Biden denounced his political opponents as “a threat to this country”. And perhaps the central message of Trump’s 2024 campaign has been “I am your retribution”. This is the quintessential reduction of politics to the friend/enemy distinction.

It may be a sign of political exhaustion, when questions of national interest become lost in the swirl of personal enmity. Factions in both the Republican and Democratic parties seem to be groping for some other way. Trump still faces challengers for the Republican nomination. While the Democratic establishment seems firmly entrenched in support of Biden, whispers that he should step aside persist. Whether any of those efforts will succeed remains, of course, an open question.


Fred Bauer is a writer from New England.

fredbauerblog

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AC Harper
AC Harper
10 months ago

In Jonathan Swift‘s 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels struldbrugg is the name given to those humans in the nation of Luggnagg who are born seemingly normal, but are in fact immortal.
But as soon as the struldbruggs turn eighty they are declared formally dead and their heirs inherit. And, perhaps more importantly, they are prohibited from working or holding elected office.
How would the world be if the elderly were disenfanchised? Shortly no more Trump, no more Biden. Already no more Soros. Tony Blair and Bill Gates would be on their last laps.
I speak as one who has already reached the final turn myself, but I can’t help wondering if the world wouldn’t be a better place if the myth of the Elder Statesman was put to rest.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
10 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I think that the elderly should be disenfranchised, I agree. But I also believe that the right to vote should never be given to anyone under-18.
It’s quite logical really because young and old don’t have real views of life as it is today. Below 18 years people can talk the talk, send videos, play at life – but they’ve never had real responsibility for themselves and others. Over, say, 75 years people tend to look back on how things were and often can’t see the logic of new ideas.
Also, the maximum age for MPs and other forms of government officials should be about 70 years. This might seem surprising because people seem more wise and careful as they get older – but this is a sham because what they really do is to try to imagine what young people will want in the future. There is no evidence that these imagined views have any relevance.
BUT, somehow these age restrictions have to be cast in concrete. You can image middle-aged people agreeing wholeheartedly in order to get power but when they reach 70 their ideas will change.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
10 months ago

You should qualify to vote by passing a threshold of tax paid. You should lose the vote when you are taking more than you have contributed.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

That would leave very few voters since you have to earn £48K pa to be a net contributor

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
10 months ago

Blimey – no wonder we’re in the sh!t.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

It is truly depressing

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
10 months ago

Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore suggested giving parents a vote for each of their children. Personally I still think this is a great idea, since in democracies with declining birthrates (and higher voter participation rates with older voters), it can offset a bias against prioritising the interests of the young. I’ve always wondered why no-one (not least Singapore itself) has to my knowledge tried it.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
10 months ago

Reading it as an American, I’d say that this article gets the mood in this country right. People in general are sick to death of the political stunts, lies and personal failings of both the “leading” candidates, yet somehow, inexplicably, this message doesn’t seem to be getting through to the delegates who will nominate their party’s candidate at the conventions. What seems incandescently clear to the average American seems to be a mystery to party delegates. We smell a rat. Or, better put, we smell a whole convention of rats.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
10 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Arcuri

Two conventions of rats.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
10 months ago

For the same reason nobody else does. To 95% of people it’s a number that doesn’t affect them in any way. It’s been huge and growing for as long as a lot of us can even remember. If it could be tied to something tangible that people notice, like inflation, some people might listen, but last generation’s Republicans blew that angle. Republicans of the 90’s/00’s were not far from their Democrat counterparts on policy, so they picked a big intimidating number, emphasized how big it is and how much it’s growing, to try to get a few votes, when they knew or should have known that the temporary boon of cost cutting by corporations replacing American and European workers with cheap foreign laborers would keep prices of most things low despite suicidal financial policy, but of course they supported those policies, both the outsourcing and the profligate government spending, and in many cases profited directly from them. Robbers tend not to notify the people they are robbing or explain the process. Better to point at a big deficit number and hope to scare a few voters into picking the tails side of the uniparty. Now, there are no more costs to be cut to stave off inflation and a significant portion of the stuff we use as Americans is made in a country we might well be at war with five years from now. We don’t even know what will happen if the dollar is replaced as the world’s reserve currency (probably more inflation). The failure of neoliberal globalism is so total and fixing things is such a daunting task that no politician talks about it. Even if they did, there’s no point. Short of a Caesar-like figure emerging from nowhere to upend the entire system, there’s no political force sufficient to stop the locomotive. It will derail/explode/collapse at some point of course. Then, there will be a reckoning, and probably some hell to pay, but no politician has much incentive to hurry the process along.

Last edited 10 months ago by Steve Jolly
Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

The politician’s prayer: “Please,God, let the shit hit the fan after I leave office.”

Jane H
Jane H
10 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Wagner

…. and Anthony Fauci’s

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
10 months ago

If I’ve learned anything from watching the first two-thirds of the MC Hammer Behind The Music, it’s that the money never runs out.

D Walsh
D Walsh
10 months ago

Biden’s campaign slogan should be “Hey kids never trust anyone over the age of 90”

He better move fast or the Donald might use it

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
10 months ago

“Only 45% of voters think that Biden is honest.”
Despite 5 decades of public lying. What does that tell you about the media in the U.S.?
As far as the deficit is concerned, we are now at a whopping 7% of GDP and no one seems to care. When it reached 3.5% under Reagan, when unemployment was rampant and after funding military growth which helped end communism, the MSM went apoplectic over it.

j watson
j watson
10 months ago

GOP junks the narcissistic, sexual predator, Criminal, and Biden soon after withdraws from the race, whether on his own volition or from Democrat immediate encouragement. He can’t win against a decent Republican.
Saw a Poll where 70% of Americans want neither. Here’s where memberships/pressure groups drive Countries to extremes.
On the deficit – US GDP c$24trillion p.a? Or something like that. Plus as the World’s reserve currency, despite the notion the BRICs might do something different to counter it ain’t happening quickly, gives US the ability to run such a deficit others couldn’t. Needs reducing of course, but just another reason 70% don’t want another 2020. Think Trump going to give any real intelligent thought to how as he moves from Court house to Court house next 12mths?
Thus at what point do the MAGAs grasp they are Biden’s route back to the White House? One suspects v slowly at best. Always amazes doesn’t it how much anger and indignation clouds judgment. Trump knows that too of course.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
10 months ago

I am an American. I am disgusted with the idea of a Trump-Biden rematch. If it occurs, I intend to vote No for President, i.e. leave that box on the ballot unchecked. It’s the least I can do.

Steve Houseman
Steve Houseman
10 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Wagner

What if only 3 people voted?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
10 months ago

The most powerful country in the world and these are your choices for leader. Two eighty year old sex pests, one senile and the other a crook