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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Martin Pengelly in Washington

Biden says in rare print interview he’ll beat Trump but polls say otherwise

Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House on 1 March.
Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House on 1 March. Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

In a rare print interview, Joe Biden addressed fears over his chances of victory in the coming US presidential election and said he was “the only one who has ever beat” his likely Republican challenger, Donald Trump, adding: “And I’ll beat him again.”

But the president was voicing a conviction at odds with most polling, in which clear majorities think that at 81 he is too old for a second term and narrow majorities put Trump ahead in a general election match-up.

Biden was in conversation with Evan Osnos of the New Yorker, whose short biography of Biden was published in 2020, the year the former senator and vice-president secured the Democratic nomination at his third attempt and then beat Trump.

Osnos wrote: “Now, having reached the apex of power, [Biden] gives off a conviction that borders on serenity – a bit too much serenity for Democrats who wonder if he can still beat the man with whom his legacy will be forever entwined.

“Given the doubts, I asked, wasn’t it a risk to say, ‘I’m the one to do it’?

“He shook his head and said: ‘No. I’m the only one who has ever beat him. And I’ll beat him again.’”

Poised to secure the Republican nomination after the Super Tuesday primaries this week, Trump is only three and a half years Biden’s junior. But even amid public slips and gaffes every bit as glaring as those by Biden, fewer Americans think Trump is too old to return to office.

Trump also faces unprecedented legal jeopardy, arising from his conduct in business, on the campaign trail and in office.

Of 91 criminal charges, 17 concern election subversion, 40 arise from Trump’s retention of classified information and 34 are related to hush-money payments to an adult film star who claimed an affair.

Trump also faces multimillion-dollar civil fines, over his business affairs and a rape allegation a judge called “substantially true”. Attempts to keep him off the ballot for inciting the January 6 insurrection, by supporters of his lie about electoral fraud in his defeat by Biden, failed on Monday with the rejection by the US supreme court of a case in Colorado.

Osnos noted that regardless of such unprecedented challenges for a (near-certain) presidential challenger, “by the usual measures” on which incumbents are judged – falling violent crime, unemployment below 4%, record stock-market highs – “Biden should be cruising to re-election”.

And yet, even amid warnings from pundits that conventional polling means little so far out from election day, Trump is generally ahead.

This weekend, a rash of polls made bad reading for Biden, though some said the same for Trump.

  • The New York Times and Siena College put Trump up 48%-43% and said Democrats were split on whether Biden should be their nominee, with young voters, likely to disapprove of Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, expressing particular doubt.

  • CBS News and YouGov said most voters favoured Trump on the economy, regardless of such conditions as outlined by Osnos and also Trump’s record, thanks to Covid-19, of leaving office 2.9m jobs down and with unemployment at 6.3%.

  • Fox News put Trump up two points in a general election match-up and ahead with voters on the economy and immigration, the latter issue one on which he recently forced congressional Republicans to tank a hardline bipartisan deal.

  • The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research said 60% of respondents were “not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president”, up from about 50% in January 2022. Nearly 60% said the same of Trump.

Biden became a senator in 1973 and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008. He was vice-president to Barack Obama between 2009 and 2017 before securing the presidential nomination in 2020 with a campaign built on the threat he said Trump posed to American democracy itself.

Such messaging has been central to Biden’s re-election bid but David Axelrod, formerly chief strategist to Obama and a prominent Biden critic, told Osnos: “I’m pretty certain in Scranton [Pennsylvania, Biden’s home town] they’re not sitting around their dinner table talking about democracy every night.”

“The Republican message is: the world’s out of control and Biden’s not in command. That’s the entire message – Trump, the strongman, is the solution. I think you have to be thinking about how you counter that, and how you deal with fears about Biden’s condition.”

Calls for Biden to step aside for a younger candidate have been rejected by the White House and most progressive pundits. In conversation with Osnos, Biden remained resolute.

For the president, Osnos wrote, “the offense of the contested election [in 2020] was clearly personal. Trump had not just tried to steal the presidency – he had tried to steal it from him.”

Biden said: “I’d ask a rhetorical question. If you thought you were best positioned to beat someone who, if they won, would change the nature of America, what would you do?’

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