Home News The Trump-Biden Rematch Is Here. Americans Are Processing.

The Trump-Biden Rematch Is Here. Americans Are Processing.

The Trump-Biden Rematch Is Here. Americans Are Processing.


After weeks of campaign ads, political speeches and voting in more than two dozen primary contests, Americans are coming to terms with a reality that many have tried to avoid: a rematch.

For months, large swaths of Democratic, independent and moderate Republican voters have moved through familiar emotional stages, processing the prospect of President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump fighting it out, once again, for months. They have dealt with denial, believing other candidates would emerge, and bargaining, entertaining fantasies about last-minute entrants, nationally viable third-party candidates and speedy legal prosecutions. They have fought depression, as options failed to materialize.

And now, slowly but surely, acceptance has begun to arrive.

“You ever hear people say, ‘You’re picking, but that’s not the choice you want’?” said Shalonda Horton, 50, as she walked into a polling place in Austin, Texas, to vote for Mr. Biden on Tuesday. “When I get in there, I’ll say, ‘Lord, help me.’”

In Los Angeles, Jason Kohler, who calls himself a progressive Democrat, said he was casting his ballot for Mr. Biden only with resignation. But he has made his peace.

“Lesser of two evils at this point, you know?” said Mr. Kohler, 47. “Voting is enough of a duty for a citizen, so I feel like you got to do it.”

Complaints about politicians are as old as American politics itself. But pollsters and strategists believe something different is happening this year. Rarely have so many Americans been so unhappy with the direction of the country for so long. Rarely have so many voters said for so long that they want different leaders. The voters who dislike both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are talked about so often that they now have their own political moniker: double haters.

And yet, as the primary calendar marches forward, it is becoming increasingly clear that these voters can single, double, even triple hate, and still their choices will not change. After racking up delegates on Tuesday evening, and with Nikki Haley, Mr. Trump’s last remaining rival for the nomination, out of the race, the rematch is here.

Many Republicans, of course, cheered. Mr. Trump has maintained a devoted following among his party’s primary voters, with polls showing that nearly half of the party feels enthusiastic about his nomination. Only about a quarter of Democratic primary voters said the same about Mr. Biden, in the most recent survey by The New York Times and Siena College.

But if not quite enthusiastic, Democrats do appear to be warming to Mr. Biden. Forty-five percent of Democratic primary voters said he should not be their party’s nominee, the poll found, compared with 50 percent who expressed that view in July.

The signs of resistance melting away have come from across the political world.

A series of high-profile Democrats and Republicans turned down No Labels, a group trying to organize a third-party ticket. “Saturday Night Live” has moved from sketches parodying Democrats’ desires to find an alternative to Mr. Biden to skewering the party’s response to concerns about his age.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who once said that Mr. Trump had provoked the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, endorsed Mr. Trump on Wednesday.

Even Representative Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota, seemed to mock his own failed attempt to become the alternative to Mr. Biden.

“Congratulations to Joe Biden, Uncommitted, Marianne Williamson, and Nikki Haley for demonstrating more appeal to Democratic Party loyalists than me,” he wrote on X as votes were being counted on Tuesday night, before sending a second post mentioning Jason Palmer, a Baltimore entrepreneur who beat Mr. Biden by 11 votes in the Democratic caucus in American Samoa. Mr. Phillips formally ended his bid the next day.

Far more worrisome pockets of discontent exist for both candidates. In North Carolina, a key battleground state, Ms. Haley captured nearly a quarter of Republican primary voters and “no preference” won 13 percent from Democrats. Efforts encouraging Democratic voters to withhold support for Mr. Biden by voting “uncommitted” pulled in nearly one in five primary voters in Minnesota.

Joaquin Villanueva, 43, was among them. A college professor in Minneapolis, he is worried that Mr. Biden is not doing enough to combat the possibility of another Trump term and wanted to send a message. He describes his current mood about the election as “feeling a little bit trapped” by the options.

And then there is a familiar, sinking feeling that Democrats are marching toward another loss: “It feels like we’re reliving 2016 again, in a way.”

Mr. Villanueva isn’t alone: Nineteen percent of registered voters in a New York Times/Siena College poll said they had an unfavorable view of both candidates. That number is higher than in 2020, but on par with the 18 percent who expressed negative views of both Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, in 2016.

Historians reach further back for more examples of such widespread apathy toward the party front-runners. Lindsay M. Chervinsky, a presidential historian and a senior fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, pointed to the elections of 1888 and 1892, when Senator Benjamin Harrison, of Indiana, ran against President Grover Cleveland. In 1888, Mr. Harrison won. Four years later, former President Cleveland defeated President Harrison.

“They were so uninspiring as candidates went. They were compromise figures that offended no one,” she said. “The offending no one is not a great parallel. But in terms of the lack of enthusiasm, that’s about as close as we get.”

Psychologists say the looming rematch is prompting intense feelings of powerlessness and unease among Americans. Steven Stosny, a couples therapist who coined the phrase “election stress disorder” to describe the feelings of anxiety and dread many voters felt during the past two presidential elections, says the race between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump will be “election stress disorder on steroids” — a race with all the baggage of 2020 along with new stressors over issues including the economy, immigration, the future of democracy and abortion rights.

“The human brain tries to avoid thinking of unpleasant things from the past,” he said. “Now that we can no longer deny or wish, the anxiety and resentment will come crashing back.”

Even without the flashbacks, voters will have reason to stress. Recent presidential contests have been decided by narrow margins in just a few states, and there is no reason to think that this one will be different. Democrats are particularly worried about third-party and independent candidates who could throw a tight race to Mr. Trump by capturing a few percentage points.

And then there is the intense political division, misinformation and familial rifts that surface in the run-up to a presidential election. Not to mention the threat of violence that has loomed over U.S. politics since Mr. Trump’s supporters rioted at the Capitol.

“It will be weird,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who is not working for any of the presidential candidates. “It will be unusual and not particularly uplifting or enlightening.”

Sarah Longwell, a Republican political consultant who has spent years combating Mr. Trump, said she had watched voters in her focus groups move through the phrases of electoral grief.

“We’re not quite at acceptance yet. We’re in depression. Maybe full acceptance is when they accept the nomination this summer,” she said.

Ms. Longwell plans to turn her attention to assisting Mr. Biden: “Acceptance. I’ve been in acceptance longer.”


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