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OPINION - Don't believe the Donald Trump hype, Joe Biden's poll numbers are rising

 (AP)
(AP)

Whisper it gently, but Joe Biden may be on the verge of a comeback. His polling remains anaemic but is ticking upwards. The unloved president has few ardent champions, but fear of Donald Trump’s return to the White House is concentrating minds. While Trump is attracting hardcore supporters like iron filings to a magnet, others are being repelled. If Biden is to have a chance of a second term in office, it is by virtue of being the “Stop Trump” candidate.

If you are a Democrat, there are reasons to be cheerful. First, the numbers. The Economist polling tracker has just put Biden and Trump neck and neck on 44 per cent for the first time since September. At the beginning of this year, Trump led Biden by three points. Bloomberg also released a poll yesterday showing Biden gaining ground in six out of seven crucial swing states. Don’t break out the bubbly yet! Again, these numbers show Biden tied or barely a squeak ahead. It may all be a “blue” (Democratic) mirage.

Call it the margin of error, if you will, but I think something is going on. Looking back at the 2020 election, nobody wanted to vote for Biden any more than they do today. In fact, Biden trailed almost every other Democratic candidate in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary at the start of that election year before picking up steam. He went on to beat the far-left Bernie Sanders before triumphing over Trump.

Nearly half of Biden voters in a recent poll said they were voting against Trump rather than for Biden

Biden has a typically folksy story to account for this success. “My dad used to say, ‘Joey, don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.’” Nearly half of Biden voters in the Bloomberg poll said they were voting against Trump, rather than positively for Biden. Trump’s negatives remain high: 53 per cent of US voters disapprove of him, according to the polling organisation FiveThirtyEight. Could the message be getting through that, like it or not, Biden is all that stands between America and Trump’s remorseless return?

Trump is not bothering to hide who he is. With Easter approaching, the former president is being his shameless self, flogging bibles for $59.99 apiece. “Happy Holy Week! Let’s Make America Pray Again,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “I encourage you to get a copy of the God Bless the USA Bible.” Good lord! If his luck holds, he might not even need this chump change. On Monday, a New York appeals court threw Trump a lifeline by giving him 10 days to post a reduced bond of $175 million while he contests a fine of nearly half a billion dollars for fraudulently inflating his property wealth.

Yesterday, Trump launched Trump Media, the parent company of his social media platform, on the Nasdaq, netting him a staggering $4.6 billion (on paper, at least). Overall, the new company is worth 2,000 times its estimated annual revenue, according to the New York Times. The start-up is either an example of Trump’s financial savvy or it’s a rip-off of his own credulous supporters, with all the volatility of a meme stock. More likely, it’s both.

But while Trump is busy raising money for himself, Biden has been dropping $30 million on TV and digital ads in battleground states following his surprisingly peppy, adrenalin-fuelled March 7 State of the Union address. The modest polling uplift suggests they are having an impact.

A seasoned Democratic operative recently predicted privately that Biden would win the election convincingly with 52 to 53 per cent of the vote. In a big upset for the Republicans last night, a Democratic candidate in Huntsville, Alabama, outperformed the polls by beating her Make America Great Again opponent by 25 points, flipping the seat from red to blue after running on a platform defending abortion rights. It confirmed a pattern of success on this issue for the Democrats.

Others fear a well-financed third-party candidate such as Robert F Kennedy Jr will split the Democrats and hand Trump victory. For now, RFK Jr’s famous lineage is serving the little-known eco-campaigner well. Last week, a Harvard Harris poll placed his support at 17 per cent, with Trump on 43 per cent and Biden lagging behind on 39 per cent. However, Kennedy is a wacky conspiracy theorist and Covid-denier, who has been disowned by the Kennedy clan. As the election nears, I would expect his vote to be squeezed, with more going to Biden than Trump.

Walter Shapiro, a veteran political columnist for the left-leaning New Republic, has covered the last 12 presidential election campaigns. “I’m slightly optimistic based on the conviction that no undecided voter is going to wake up and say, ‘I really miss Donald Trump,’” he told me. But he has several concerns. “I worry about number one: Biden’s health. Number two: Biden’s health. Number three: Biden’s health. Number four? I guess that is where the economy is going to be in November.”

With Easter approaching, the former president is being his shameless self, flogging bibles for $59.99 apiece

Shapiro reminded me how taxing presidential campaigns can be. Trump was hospitalised with Covid 19 only four weeks before the 2020 election and was closer to dying than aides dared to let on. Hillary Clinton briefly fainted two months before the 2016 election before finally admitting she had pneumonia. She was 69 on polling day, a stripling compared to Biden. Trump supporters spread the word she was terminally ill.

Biden, 81, looks frail. “If anything happens to him, Trump will say, ‘He’s had a stroke, he’s almost dead, and Kamala Harris is running the country,” Shapiro added. New crises could break out. Covid emerged in March 2020 and upended Trump’s chances. The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 led to the financial crash, paving the way for Barack Obama’s victory two months later.

For now, though, inflation is down at 3.2 per cent, GDP is up by a similar percentage, the stock market is roaring and the US is pumping out oil and gas. Interest rates remain high, but may be falling by the autumn. If the good news lasts, Americans might finally feel better off under Biden.

A final observation. Trump is his own worst enemy. He has been railing against mail-in ballots and claiming the election is being rigged again. “If you have mail-in voting, you automatically have fraud,” Trump said at a Fox News town hall meeting. This is folly. Encouraging his supporters to vote in-person on the day of the 2020 election gave the Biden camp a huge head-start with mail-in ballots. If Trump repeats this mistake, he is inviting defeat.

Sarah Baxter is director of the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting