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Biden, Beto, or Biden-Beto Is the GOP’s Worst Nightmare

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
March 14, 2019
Biden, Beto, or Biden-Beto Is the GOP’s Worst Nightmare
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Beto O’Rourke is running for president.

Joe Biden might join the field as soon as next week.

I would give it even-money odds that one of these two will be the Democratic nominee and it’s entirely possible (let’s say 1-in-6) that they will both be on the Democratic ticket.

Let’s try to put our arms around how dangerous Biden, Beto, or Biden-Beto would be for Trump.

The Trump theory of reelection is essentially this:

  • He starts out 3 million votes in the hole.
  • He gets lucky and draws a challenger who is either a radical leftist, deeply unlikeable, or both.
  • He holds his 2016 states with similar margins.
  • Maybe he flips New Hampshire.

That’s it. That’s the plan. The guy with the approval rating that’s never gone over 46 percent in the RealClear average and who is at -10 approve/disapprove on his good weeks doesn’t have a lot of options. Trump hanging tough and maybe splitting the popular vote close to even and eking out another Electoral College victory is the best-case scenario for Republicans.

If either Biden or Beto is the Democratic nominee, this game plan is toast. Because here’s everything you need for how much trouble Trump would be in with either of them:

  • In 2016, Trump won South Carolina by 16 points. In heads-up polling against Beto, he’s +12. Against Biden +4.
  • Trump won Texas by +9 against HRC. Heads-up against either Biden or Beto there he’s +1.
  • Trump won Arizona by +3. He and Biden are tied there.
  • Trump won North Carolina by +3, too. Heads up against Beto he’s +1. Against Biden he’s -5.
  • Trump won Michigan by a handful of votes. Against Biden, he’s -8 even with Howard Schultz in the race.

All in all, Biden is currently +10 against Trump in the general election. Beto is +6. And this is all happening while Trump is having one of the best stretches of his term. He’s currently hovering near his best-ever approval rating where he’s “only” -10.

What are those numbers going to look like when he’s having one of his bad weeks?

Or think about it this way: Trump’s reelect hinges upon him holding all of his 2016 states and praying for an inside straight again. His chances of flipping anything other than New Hampshire are awfully small.

On the other hand, if either Biden or Beto is the nominee, Michigan, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas—Texas!—are all live propositions for the Democrats.

And that’s before we even start talking about Florida or Ohio.

That’s a very, very, very bad map for the Republican party.

Anything can happen. Anything will happen. Maybe the Dems will nominate Bernie Sanders and maybe Trump can squeak through.

That’s the Republican upside.

The downside is that if Democrats pick either Biden or Beto they start out in an incredibly strong position. And because of the uniqueness of Biden’s proposition—an old-guy former vp who’s running with an implicit promise of one term in order to restore normality to America’s politics—Democrats might even luck into presenting voters with the best of both worlds: The steady-hand moderate stability and the implicit promise of the charismatic, next-generation heir-apparent on the same ticket.

If you stare at 2020 and squint, you can see how Trump survives his reelect. But you don’t have to look real hard to see how Democrats could sweep into the White House in a huge—maybe even realigning—majority.

And the Republican party as it existed under Trump could be nothing more than a memory.

When people have tried to warn Republicans about generational change and mistaking Trump’s rear-guard election as some sort of new alignment, this is what they were talking about.

We’re less than a year out from Iowa. The future will be here sooner than you think.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.