Nearly two years since the last presidential election, Joe Biden and Donald Trump remain the leaders of their respective parties. At this point, they are the odds-on favorites to be the Democratic and Republican standard-bearers again in another two years’ time.
And yet, as this fall’s midterm elections draw closer, candidates in tough races would rather they fade into the background.
CNN’s Melanie Zanona recently reported that Tom Emmer, the chairman of the House Republicans’ campaign arm, is advising battleground candidates to not be distracted by Trump and focus on issues that matter to voters.
“I don’t say his name, ever. I just avoid saying his name generally,” one Republican lawmaker in a competitive race said of Trump. “I talk about the policies of his that I like.”
Similarly, vulnerable Democrats on the November ballot aren’t exactly embracing Biden with open arms. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that aired Sunday, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona didn’t directly say he wanted the President to join him on the campaign trail.
“I will welcome anybody to come to Arizona, travel around the state at any time. As long as I’m here, if I’m not up in Washington in session, and talk about what Arizona needs,” Kelly said.
Kelly isn’t alone: As The Washington Post reported over the weekend, few Democratic candidates have come out and said they want Biden to campaign with them this fall.
Given that both Biden and Trump remain broadly unpopular with the electorate, this is not necessarily a surprising development. A fresh NBC News poll found that 40% of voters view Biden favorably, while 36% view Trump favorably.
For his part, Biden has kept his direct involvement in the midterm elections to a minimum, having endorsed just three candidates in 2022. While the first midterm of a president’s term almost always results in losses for the party in power, Biden’s approval rating, which has been mired in the low 40s (or worse) going on a year now, and high inflation have only made the Democrats’ path more unfavorable.
Democrats are hopeful Biden may be starting to turn the corner after racking up a series of political wins, which was capped by signing a climate, tax and health care bill into law last week. But until there’s evidence those accomplishments are breaking through with the public, Democrats in tight races will continue to keep at least an arm’s length from the President.
The dynamic between Trump and GOP candidates, however, has been markedly different. For much of the election cycle, Republicans across the board were fighting tooth and nail for the former President’s endorsement, knowing that having the most influential person in the party in their corner would be the surest ticket to victory in most primaries. Trump ended up issuing more than 200 endorsements, in many cases to candidates who embraced his unfounded election fraud claims.
But what was once an asset for Republican candidates is quickly turning into a liability in battleground states and districts, especially as the public’s attention turns to Trump’s growing legal problems. The NBC poll showed that 57% of voters said the investigations into alleged wrongdoing by Trump should continue, and that threats to democracy were rising up voters’ priority list.
And several of the GOP candidates Trump helped push through primaries are now struggling to appeal to a general electorate.
The Point: As much as candidates in both parties would like to keep their distance from Biden and Trump, they can’t avoid the reality that their fates will be at least partially tied to their standing with the public. And as Biden and Trump look ahead to a potential rematch in 2024, they won’t be eager to cede much of the spotlight.