Opinion | Trump May Not Need a Coup This Time

Gail Collins: Bret, I know you’re busy writing about your reporting trip to Israel, and I am looking forward to reading all your thoughts. But, gee, can we talk about the Times/Siena poll on the presidential race that came out on Sunday? Donald Trump is ahead in almost all the critical states.

Yow. Pardon me while I pour myself a drink.

Bret Stephens: Nice to be home. Please pour me one while you’re at it.

For readers who don’t know the gory details of the poll, here they are: Across six battleground states, Trump leads President Biden 48 percent to 44 percent among registered voters. In the crucial swing states that Biden won last time, Trump is ahead in five — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania — while Biden leads only in Wisconsin. Biden is losing support from young voters, Hispanic voters, Black voters — constituencies Democrats have depended on for decades to overcome the longstanding Republican advantage among whites.

Women voters favor Biden by eight percentage points, 50 percent to 42 percent, but men favor Trump by a far wider 18-point spread: 55 percent to 37 percent. (I guess that’s another definition for the term “manspreading.”) On the economy, voters prefer Trump over Biden by a 22-point margin. And a whopping 71 percent think Biden is too old to be president, as opposed to just 39 percent for Trump.

Gail: Whimper, whimper.

Bret: Basically, this poll is to Biden’s second-term ambitions what sunlight is to morning fog. Isn’t it time for him to bow out gracefully and focus his remaining energies on the crises of the moment, particularly Ukraine and the Middle East, instead of gearing up for a punishing campaign while setting the country up for Trump’s catastrophic comeback?

Gail: Well, you and I both hoped he wouldn’t run for re-election. But he did, and he is — and as I’ve said nine million times, he’s only three years older than Donald Trump and appears to be in much better physical condition.

Bret: For all we know, Biden may be physically fitter than Alex Honnold and mentally sharper than Garry Kasparov, even if he’s hiding it well. But this poll is pretty much voters yelling, “We don’t think so.” Ignore it at your peril.

How about putting in a good word for Dean Phillips, the Minnesota representative challenging Biden? Or at least urging the Biden team to lose Kamala Harris in favor of a veep pick more Americans would feel confident about as a potential president, like Lloyd Austin, the defense secretary?

Gail: I’m not gonna argue about perfect-world scenarios. Harris might not be your ideal potential president — or mine — but dumping her from the ticket would suggest some historic degree of bad performance. And she really hasn’t done anything wrong.

Bret: Harris could well be the best vice president ever, though she’s also hiding it well. But the point here is that voters are underwhelmed, and her presence on the ticket compounds Biden’s already abysmal numbers.

Gail: I’m tormented by this whole national vision of Biden as an aging dolt while Trump plays the energetic orator. As our colleagues Michael Bender and Michael Gold pointed out recently, Trump’s had “a string of unforced gaffes, garble and general disjointedness” in his speeches lately.

Bret: Trump has always been the Tsar Bomba of idiocy. But too many people seem more impressed by his rhetorical force than appalled by his moral and ideological destructiveness.

Gail: Why does Biden have this terrible image while Trump’s his old, fun-under-multiple-indictments self?

Bret: That’s a great question. As a matter of law, I think Trump belongs in jail. The political problem is that the indictments help him, because they play to his outlaw appeal. He wants to cast himself as the Josey Wales of American politics. His entire argument is that “the system” — particularly the Justice Department — is broken, biased and corrupt, so anything the system does against him is proof of its corruption rather than of his. And tens of millions of people agree with him.

Gail: This is the world that grew up around us when the Riddler was more fun than Batman.

Bret: Perfectly said. The good news in the Times/Siena poll is that Trump’s negatives are also very high. They’re just not as high as Biden’s. Which means Democrats could easily hold the White House with another candidate. But you seem reluctant to push the idea.

Gail: Yeah, since Biden is very, very definitely running, I don’t see any point in whining about the fact that I wish he wasn’t. He’d still be 10 times a better president than Trump.

Bret: I just refuse to believe Biden’s candidacy is inevitable. Democrats seem to have talked themselves into thinking that any primary challenge to Biden just guarantees an eventual Republican victory, since that’s what tends to happen to incumbent presidents, like George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. But the alternative is to watch Biden risk his single greatest accomplishment — defeating an incumbent Trump in the first place — by heedlessly running in the face of overwhelming public skepticism.

Gail: What’s so frustrating is — Biden has a really fine record. The economy has picked up. He’s gotten a huge program passed for infrastructure projects like better roads and bridges. He’s always got the fight against global warming on his agenda. He stands up firmly for social issues most Americans support, like abortion rights.

Bret: All the more reason for him to rest on his laurels and pass the baton to a younger generation. I can think of a half-dozen Democrats, particularly governors, who would trounce Trump in a general election just by showing up to the debate with a pulse and a brain. Let me just start with four: Gretchen Whitmer, Josh Shapiro, Jared Polis, Wes Moore. …

Gail: I know Trump appears more energetic, but he’s really only a whole lot louder. Either way, his multitudinous defects in character and policy really should make the difference.

Bret: Hope you’re right. Fear you’re not.

Gail: Sigh. Let’s change the subject. You’re in charge of Republicans — what’s your party going to do about the dreaded Senator Tommy Tuberville?

Bret: For the record, I quit the G.O.P. more than five years ago.

As for Tuberville, who is holding some 370 senior military promotions hostage because he objects to Pentagon policies on abortion, I suggest he should have a look at what just happened in Israel. The country just paid a dreadful price in lives in part because far-right politicians ignored the degradation of the country’s military readiness while they pursued their ideological fixations. I hope defense hawks like Lindsey Graham join forces with the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, to change Senate rules and move the nominations to a vote.

Speaking of Congress, your thoughts on the effort to censure Representative Rashida Tlaib over some of her rhetoric?

Gail: Well, Representative Tlaib accused Israel of committing genocide. She’s also said that President Biden “supported” genocide of the Palestinians, a comment that was offensive to Biden while also, I think, hurting the Palestinian cause. But I wouldn’t want to see members of Congress distracted from the deeply serious issues at hand with a squabble about censorship, particularly one championed by folks like the dreaded Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Bret: Readers won’t be surprised to know that I find Tlaib’s views wrong and repellent. Like Taylor Greene, she’s an embarrassment to her party and the House. But that’s exactly the reason I oppose efforts to censure her. One of the things that distinguishes free societies like America and Israel from dictatorships like Hamas’s in Gaza is that we stand for freedom of speech as a matter of course, while they suppress it. The right censure for Tlaib would be to get voted out of office, not muzzled by her colleagues.

Gail: But let’s get back to that poll for a minute. I was fascinated by the fact that only 6 percent of the respondents identified themselves as union members. I think the unions have done great things for the working class and middle class in this country and I’m very much saddened by their dwindling influence.

Bret: I’ve always been pro-union. They’re a powerful force for greater automation and an argument for free trade.

Gail: Hissss …

Bret: OK, that was my inner Alex P. Keaton speaking. But union leaders should at least stop to ask themselves why, if they’re so terrific, so many American workers are reluctant to join them. I feel that way about certain other self-regarding institutions, including much of the news media, that are so full of their own wonderfulness that they can’t figure out why people keep fleeing in droves.

Gail: Bret, we’ve entered the November holiday season — really did enjoy the trick-or-treaters last week and was pleased to notice that the popular costumes in our neighborhood seemed to go more toward skeletons and ghosts than celebrities and pop culture heroes. On to Thanksgiving and then I’m gonna challenge you to come up with a list of things in the public world you’re thankful for.

Bret: Pumpkin-spice lattes. Just kidding.

Gail: Meanwhile, this is Republican debate week, featuring several people nobody’s really heard of and an absent Donald Trump. I guess your fave, Nikki Haley, is near the head of the pack, such as it is. Think she still has a whisper of a chance?

Bret: Not sure. But you’ve somehow reminded me of a lovely poem by Adrienne Rich, which seems to capture both Haley’s candidacy and my daily struggles with coherent prose.

You see a man
trying to think.

You want to say
to everything:
Keep off! Give him room!
But you only watch,
the old consolations
will get him at last
like a fish
half-dead from flopping
and almost crawling
across the shingle,
almost breathing
the raw, agonizing
till a wave
pulls it back blind into the triumphant

It’s called “Ghost of a Chance.” Here’s me hoping Haley’s got more than that.

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