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Douglas Schoen: The risks of a second Biden term

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President Biden’s road to a second term may have become a touch easier on Tuesday night, as Donald Trump largely separated himself from any doubts that Nikki Haley would be the GOP nominee, and despite leading President Biden in recent national and swing state polls, Trump is likely the easiest candidate for Biden to beat in a general election matchup.

Thus, it is worth asking what risks lie ahead should Biden once again defeat Donald Trump. What would a second Biden term mean for our economy, foreign policy, and confidence in government?

With inflation and unemployment rates declining, there is speculation over whether or not Biden’s economy will stick the soft landing and avoid what experts once deemed an inevitable recession. As inflation has come down below 3%, the Federal Reserve’s next step will be cutting interest rates.

These much-anticipated rate cuts will likely take place this spring and summer and could fuel another inflation shock. However, Americans may not be able to feel the effects of this shock – or the recession it may cause – until one year into a second Biden term.

While inflation could come back under whoever our next president is, tax-and-spend policies favored by Biden and Democrats would fuel a surge of government spending, injecting large amounts of cash into an economy, causing inflation to read its ugly head once again.

Moreover, Trump’s promises to shake up the Fed and desire for American energy independence could keep a lid on energy prices, a major contributor to inflation.

Further, there are major international and foreign policy risks to a second Biden term. Biden is often perceived as a leader who ‘talks loudly but carries a weak stick’ as he has often done with Russia, China, and Iran.

There’s no question –  given the decline in his poll numbers which have never recovered – that an embarrassing withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan gave rise to this perception of Biden, both at home and abroad. And while he’s had flashes of diplomatic and bipartisan success, such as leading a surprisingly united NATO through the first two years of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the continued conflicts in Europe, the Middle East, and most importantly, China-Taiwan, are just further examples of the geopolitical chaos that have marked Biden’s time in office.

Put another way, these conflicts would likely only get worse, especially as other leaders involved such as Presidents Xi and Putin, as well as Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei are not likely to depart their leadership posts anytime soon. Therefore, they would be well positioned to take advantage of a perceived weakened president whose moral clarity in speeches does not always match the ineffective policies he aims to implement abroad.

Closer to home, it remains to be seen whether or not Biden would be willing – or able – to take the much needed steps to securing the Southern Border, which is in utter chaos. And while Biden may not be as left-leaning on the border as many in his party, progressives would have more influence with Biden in office than Trump, reducing the likelihood that any comprehensive border or immigration reform is passed.

In that same vein, the administration’s inability to set up a well-respected, established team to handle foreign policy and the economy has left voters, regardless of party, skeptical about the advisors the president surrounds himself with.

To that point, on foreign policy, Biden’s national security team has been remarkably ineffective in preventing or ending the two major conflicts the U.S. is involved in – Ukraine and Israel-Hamas – nor has Biden been able to stop the war in the Middle East from spreading, as shown by America’s direct military intervention in Yemen.

And on the economy, it is not that Biden’s policies have necessarily been the issue, but rather how they are communicated to the American public, evidenced by his dismal 31% approval rating on the issue, per a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll.

Biden’s age and physical infirmities further reinforce fears that he will not make it through a second term, or be forced to step-aside, propelling Vice President Kamala Harris into the White House. This is a particular vulnerability for Democrats, given Harris’ dismal polling numbers, inexperience, and the likelihood that she will be even less feared and respected on the international stage than Biden.

Additionally, if Harris struggled as president, it would rob the party of its ostensible leader in 2028 and beyond.

For their part, Republicans will continue to hammer Biden on his age and declining mental cognition, tying it directly to a Kamala Harris presidency. While true that Democrat’s best shot to beat Donald Trump is incumbent-President Joe Biden who has done it once before, a race framed as being between Kamala Harris and Donald Trump is sure to swing in the Republicans favor.

Ultimately, these risks, in particular the ones surrounding Harris, have contributed to the persistent speculation that a politician like California Governor Gavin Newsom is subtly trying to position himself as a ‘break the glass in case of emergency’ candidate.

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To be clear, Newsom himself has denied that this is the case, and it is virtually impossible to imagine that Democrats would be okay with Biden either replacing Harris as VP or quietly tapping Newsom as a successor, given Democrats’ fixation on identity politics. Alternatively, Newsom may be content to sit out 2024 and postpone the eventual showdown with Harris until 2028.

Importantly, this is not to say the potential risks of a second Biden term outweigh the risks of a second Trump term, as the former president has already vowed that he would use four more years in office to prosecute his personal feuds. Rather, it is to point out that while many people may see Biden as the “least risky” candidate in an election which two-thirds (67%) of Americans say they do not want, according to Reuters, there are still very real risks that we must acknowledge and be prepared to confront as a country, should Biden win.

Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.

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