Feehery: Biden is no Reagan, but he can win like him

Joe Biden is no Ronald Reagan. 

Some Biden partisans are trying to link the conservative icon with our current bumbling president and, of course, there is no comparison. 

Reagan was a gifted communicator. Biden is in the malapropist hall of fame. Reagan had a set of deep and unyielding beliefs. Biden blows with the wind. Reagan was a staunch anti-communist. Biden? Not so much.  

But no matter how dissimilar Biden is from Reagan, Biden can still pull a Reagan. He can come back from a bumpy first two years and win reelection.  

Indeed, recent history would suggest that the current president is slightly favored to win a second term, should he decide that he wants to run.  

Bill Clinton’s first two years were even more discouraging to the general public than Mr. Biden’s. Barack Obama may have inspired his own fan base and among wealthy Democrats, but his first two years were no picnic. George W. Bush started his presidency with a series of missteps, but the 9/11 attacks and a weak opponent in then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) helped him to win a second term.  

Here are five ways that Joe Biden can win a second term. 

1) The economy rebounds strongly. Whether we are in a recession or not right now doesn’t matter for Biden’s second term. What matters is where we are, fiscally and economically, in 2024. Americans tend to have a short-term memory. Reagan’s recession hurt congressional Republicans in 1982, but with inflation tamed, with interest rates falling back to earth and with burgeoning economic growth, thanks to the president’s pro-growth tax cuts, it was all morning in America by the 1984 elections. If the economy gets worse for the next two years, Joe Biden is toast. But if it comes back (and it usually comes back) Biden could stay in the driver’s seat. 

2) The Republicans over-reach. It seems pretty likely that the GOP will take back both the House and the Senate in November. That was the best thing that ever happened to Bill Clinton in the 1994 elections. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) proved to be a media superstar and took all the attention away from the thoroughly dysfunctional Clinton White House. Republicans were also able to get America’s economic house in order, by insisting on a balanced budget and pro-growth tax cuts, all of which Clinton ran on to win reelection. By insisting on a government shutdown and by losing control of the narrative, Republicans were perceived as being too extreme — and that helped to position Clinton as a centrist.  

3) The Republicans can run a flawed candidate. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), the 1996 nominee, was a great hero and statesman, but a terrible presidential candidate. In 2012, conservatives simply didn’t believe that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was a severe-enough conservative and they found his campaign uninspiring. In 1984, former Vice President Walter Mondale promised the American people that he would raise their taxes, a dubious promise that fell flat with the tax-paying public. Kerry was easy to portray as an out-of-touch elitist in 2004. Should Donald Trump decide to run again, he could definitely inspire his political base, but at what cost to the rest of the party? And what Republican can possibly run, beat Trump in a primary and get the Trump voters to jump on his or her bandwagon? It’s not as easy as it sounds. 

4) A third party forms. Robust third parties are usually bad for incumbents, but they are especially bad for the Republican Party. When Ross Perot ran in 1992, he took the lion’s share of votes away from George H.W. Bush. In 1980, Rep. John Anderson’s (R-Ill.) efforts to run a third-party campaign against Reagan turned out to be nothing more than an annoyance, but at the time, the media played it up as a real threat. When Pat Buchanan ran under the Reform Party banner in 2000, he almost tipped the scales to Vice President Gore. A new third party is being formed as we speak by disaffected former Republican office-holders. Could it become a real factor in 2024? It’s hard to say, but if it doesn’t, it will most likely split Republican voters.  

5) Democrats don’t have anybody serious to challenge Biden. The reason Biden is in the White House right now is because the Democrats had nobody else who could plausibly run and win. Kamala Harris hasn’t exactly covered herself in glory so far as vice president. Pete Buttigieg? Give me a break. Gavin Newsom? I don’t think so. The only Democrat who could plausibly win the White House in 2024, outside of Biden, is Joe Manchin, and I don’t see him getting through a Democratic primary.  

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).