December 18, 2023 - 6:05pm

Joe Biden’s sinking poll numbers are inciting panic among Democratic Party insiders, not to mention the progressive tech oligarchs who bankrolled his 2020 campaign. As the President rages about his poor ratings, even sympathisers in the media are no longer casting him as the next FDR; more, they’re increasingly pleading for him to exit the race for the White House.

Biden appears unaffected, though, and has just raised a large amount of money from Hollywood players. Part of the problem may be the lack of viable alternatives. Vice President Kamala Harris polls about as poorly as her boss, while other Democratic candidates, usually from the gubernatorial class, have economic records that do not even measure up to Biden’s .  

California’s Gavin Newsom, anointed by some in the press as the future of the party, now suffers his highest disapproval level ever. His claim about the Golden State’s “peerless economy”, made in his debate with Florida’s Ron DeSantis, reflects either calculated dishonesty or utter delusion. Despite California’s historic allure, far more Americans prefer the hurricane swamp of Florida to the Golden State’s natural majesty.  

California has among the highest unemployment rates in the US, is one of the slowest growing states, and continues to suffer a huge outmigration of companies and people. It now has a remarkable $68 billion budget deficit, brought about in part by an unprecedented exodus of wealthy residents. The deficit complicates Newsom’s policy of extending largesse to his biggest backers, the public employee unions. He has ceded support for his backing of social policies such allowing children to change genders without parental approval, all while fostering the highest crime rate in a decade.   

Damaged though Newsom’s appeal might be, the other big Democrat pushing for the White House, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, arguably has an even worse record. Like California, his state has fallen behind on unemployment, performing well below its Midwestern neighbours. Due to excessive expenditures and weak incomes, Illinois now places 49th in US News fiscal rankings. 

Both the state and its dominant city, Chicago, are in demographic and economic free-fall. In 2022 over 80% of Illinois communities lost residents, with Chicago shrinking by more than 30,000 people. The state is also losing its tax base. Over the past year alone, Illinois has lost three major companies — Boeing, Caterpillar and Ken Griffin’s Citadel hedge fund. 

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer might make a worthier case for a White House run. But she too has baggage, some of it tied to her authoritarian Covid policies, which were among the most extreme nationally. Even her own husband violated the rules she set. Whitmer has not been able to resuscitate Michigan’s long-suffering economy, compounded by low levels of population growth. Her bets on the electric car industry have been undermined by slower than expected growth, and the industry is now experiencing a spate of white-collar layoffs while EV and battery production continues to cluster in non-union sunbelt locations. The state’s dominant city, Detroit, continues to shrink and remains among the country’s most dangerous places.

Whitmer is also in a plainly difficult position when it comes to the Middle East. Her state has a significant, and an increasingly alienated, Muslim population, amid broader global tensions. Yet Jews have long been and continue to be a prominent force in the state’s Democratic Party. If she were to run for president, Whitmer would have to be careful not to alienate Jewish voters in key states like New York, California, and New Jersey, while avoiding the wrath of Muslim voters in her home state. 

Then there is New Jersey’s junior senator, Cory Booker. He may not have a budget deficit to worry about, at least outside of the obscene one in Washington, but he has squandered much goodwill among moderates with his “Spartacus” posturing in recent years. He also carries the burden of being the former mayor of Newark, which still suffers a poverty rate three times that of New Jersey overall, and remains among the most crime-ridden places in the country. Although he made a bold attempt to fix schools, with a $100 million gift from Mark Zuckerberg, little has changed, and the reforms are widely believed to have failed. 

What to make of all this? If Biden is a poor candidate, it would seem his potential replacements are hardly any better. Democrats should be careful what they wish for.


Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)

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