Trump and Biden: Two weak candidates for the White House

Despite a vibrant economy and low unemployment, Biden's approval ratings are also low, making a second Trump presidency a very real possibility

Doubts about Biden's age and his Gaza policy will likely hinder his campaign. Meanwhile, Trump has a serious cash problem. Al Majalla explains.
Doubts about Biden's age and his Gaza policy will likely hinder his campaign. Meanwhile, Trump has a serious cash problem. Al Majalla explains.

Trump and Biden: Two weak candidates for the White House

This is not a happy time for the Democratic Party. The American economy is growing, the stock market on Wall Street is high, and unemployment is low. But something else is low too: President Biden’s standing in multiple national opinion surveys.

The most important bad number is the 59% of registered voters in the late February New York Times/Siena poll who said they view Biden unfavourably.

Historically, presidential candidates rarely win elections when a majority of voters have an unfavourable opinion about them. Similarly, in this opinion survey, 65% of the voters said they think the United States is headed in the wrong direction.

When two-thirds of voters want a change in direction, the party in control of the White House usually loses. Like all other recent opinion surveys, about three-quarters of the voters in this survey said Joe Biden is too old to be an effective president.

Therefore, it is not a total surprise that all the recent national opinion surveys show that Donald Trump is slightly ahead of Biden among likely voters.

The margin is not very big. In the Times/Siena poll, Trump was leading 48% to 44% for Biden. A Wall Street Journal poll also from the last week of February showed Trump with 47% to Biden’s 45%.

Historically, presidential candidates rarely win elections when a majority of voters have an unfavourable opinion about them. Currently, Biden has a 59% disapproval rating.

A CBS News poll from the beginning of March saw 52% of voters supporting Trump compared to 48% for Biden. The polls also indicate consistently that Trump appears ahead of Biden in the key election states of Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

One analyst last week suggested that Trump's lead in Georgia and Arizona is growing steadily, making it vital that Biden succeed in November in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to keep the White House.

It appears that Michigan will be vital to Biden, and the Arab-American community's hesitation about Biden is a big problem. He won Michigan by 150,000 votes in 2020, but 100,000 Democrats in the Michigan primary election declined to endorse Biden.

It is unclear whether Biden will adjust his Gaza policy to convince 100,000 people to support him in November. Also causing worry among Democratic Party leaders are indications that some Black and Hispanic voters are gradually shifting to Trump.

For decades, these communities have been a vital element of the Democratic Party base. In the 2020 Democratic Party primary elections, black voters chose Biden over the other Democratic candidates. He depends on them.

In addition, younger voters turned out in huge numbers in 2020 to vote against Donald Trump and support Biden. Recent surveys and evidence on the ground in states like Michigan indicate that younger voters are unenthusiastic about Biden.

No alternative

Biden's campaign changed its tactics in response to protests about Gaza at his election rallies. NBC News reported on 1 March that Biden usually speaks at small gatherings with voters to avoid protests about Gaza.

Students demonstrate in support of the Palestinians at Columbia University in New York

The campaign will also send the president less often to universities where protests about Gaza have been frequent. This means that Biden will meet fewer voters in general and fewer younger voters than, for example, Hillary Clinton in 2016.

With the election almost eight months away, the Biden reelection campaign leaders respond that improving economic conditions will increase Biden's political standing, and the Democratic Party has no alternative to Biden now.

Congressman Dean Phillips competed against Biden in the primaries, but Biden won overwhelming victories. It is too late for a new candidate to start a campaign in the future election primaries. In the end, Biden wants to run again in 2024, and he will be the Democratic Party candidate.

Republican party problems

Biden's reelection campaign also claims that the Republican Party is "weak, without much cash and deeply divided." Indeed, the Republican Party has problems among some of its state organisations, including in the key states of Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan.

The Trump faction is fighting for control over the party organisations in these states against centrist Republicans, and gradually, the Trump faction is winning.

However, these divisions at the state level could hinder the Republican Party's efforts to raise money for the election campaigns of its congressional and state government candidates.

These state-level divisions will less affect Trump's national presidential campaign. For example, the Trump campaign directly raises its own funding, often by donations given online from Trump's base of loyal supporters.

Republican divisions at the state level could hinder the Party's efforts to fundraise for its congressional and state government candidates' campaigns.

The Biden campaign is, however, correct when it emphasises that Trump, the former businessman, has a cash problem. Trump's conviction in two civil law trials has led courts in New York to impose huge financial penalties.

There are two key court cases. The most important case is Trump's conviction of commercial fraud in New York. The judge in that case imposed on Trump $355mn in penalties plus another $98mn in interest charges for a total of almost $454mn.

The court has ordered Trump to pay the amount by 25 March. Every day up to 25 March costs Trump another $112,000.

In addition, a different court in New York issued a financial penalty against Trump of $83mn for his repeated verbal attacks against the character of female writer Jean Carroll.

Trump must pay that amount by 10 March. This means that within the next three weeks, Trump must find over half a billion dollars to pay these two court judgments.

Of course, Trump is appealing both the fraud and the Jean Carroll judgment. However, New York law requires that he submit the amounts of the two penalties to the courts first. In the Jean Carroll case, he must pay an extra 10%, so the total there is $91mn. 

Trump is a billionaire, but as one American financial analyst observed, neither Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, nor Donald Trump keeps half a billion dollars in cash in the bank.

In April 2023, Trump claimed he had about $400mn in cash but provided no evidence. In late February, his lawyers asked the judge in the fraud case to accept $104mn as an initial payment, but the judge rejected that request on 28 February, insisting Trump must pay the entire $454mn.

Former US President Trump appears on classified document charges after a federal indictment at Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. United States Courthouse in Miami, Florida, US, June 13, 2023, in a courtroom sketch.

At the same time, if Trump does not deposit $91mn by March 9 with the Jean Carroll case judge, New York law would allow her lawyers to begin seizing Trump's financial or property assets to pay the judgment. In March, Trump's business empire, largely centred on real estate, is facing an immediate cash problem.

In this scenario, Trump could try to sell some of his real estate assets, such as buildings in New York. However, he must sell quickly, and buyers first want to evaluate the building's value carefully.

In addition, Trump's need for a fast sale would give buyers an advantage in a negotiation. Trump could also try to deposit the amounts using borrowed money.

Trump's lawyers have admitted that the former president cannot pay the fines with cash and will instead try to post a bond. This bond is a guarantee from a finance company that the court judgment will be paid if Trump's judicial appeals are unsuccessful.

In return, the finance company will want from Trump assets that it can sell quickly, such as stocks, government and corporate bonds, and cash if, in the end, the financial company must pay the court.

The financial company might take conditional ownership of real estate properties, but the valuation will be questioned again. The financial company will charge a steep fee; a New York Times article on 1 March estimated the fee would be at least 3%.

As the size of this judgment bond is much higher than normal, the fee will likely be higher. Trump's lawyers claim that these huge fines will cause permanent damage to Trump's businesses.

Trump has a cash problem. His conviction in two civil law trials has led courts in New York to impose huge financial penalties of nearly half a billion dollars.

Beyond the damage to his business empire, the liquidity crisis also will damage Trump's presidential campaign.

Under American election law, Trump created a political action committee called Save America to finance his election campaign by taking donations, especially online.

It raised over $36mn in the last six months of 2023. However, Trump transferred $24mn from Save America to his legal teams for their expenses. 

Trump created a second political action committee called MAGA, which also receives donations online. According to the required report MAGA gave to the Federal Election Commission, in 2023, MAGA paid $43mn to Save America to help with the lawyer costs and spent $44mn on election campaign costs.

Trump is receiving political donations from his base and using a large portion for his legal expenses, which will likely grow.

So far, he has had only civil law court cases, but this year, he will face court hearings on four different criminal cases in Washington, New York, and Georgia.

It is worth noting that Trump uses his legal problems to claim that he is a victim of political persecution from the American judicial system and the Democratic administration, and his supporters believe this claim and continue to donate millions of dollars to help him. However, the legal problems are a huge burden on Trump's election campaign resources.

Doubts about Biden's age, his Gaza policy, and his inability to stop illegal immigration over the southern border likely will hinder his campaign.

It is worth noting that Trump just installed a loyalist at the head of the national party organisation.

His opponent in the Republican Party primaries, former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, warned Trump that he would use monies from the national Republican Party to help pay his lawyers instead of spending party funds only on the election campaign.

Of course, eight months is a long time in an American election campaign, and it's important to remember that American opinion polls are unreliable in predicting the exact outcome of elections. They can only indicate broad trends. Thus, Biden has time to launch his full-scale election campaign, including expensive advertising.

Doubts about his age, his Gaza policy, and his inability to stop illegal immigration over the southern border likely will hinder his campaign.

At the same time, Trump can take encouragement from the Supreme Court decision on 4 March that he can compete in all states in the presidential election despite his role in the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol building.

He appears strong in the key states at this early stage. However, Trump's money problems could grow, hindering his election campaign, and another challenge for him is to escape conviction in the four criminal cases now beginning.

Many Americans are not thrilled with the choice between Trump and Biden, but so far, no strong third-party candidate is emerging.

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