Talking Points

There is no such thing as a 'Generic Republican'

President Biden is in serious trouble in 2024 — if his opponent is Generic Republican.

A nameless, faceless Republican would beat Biden 46 percent to 37 percent, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll. But fill in the blanks with the real, live Republican presidential possibilities and the incumbent still has a shot.

Biden leads Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely viewed as the non-Donald Trump frontrunner, 44 percent to 39 percent. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the 2016 GOP runner-up, trails with 39 percent of the vote to 45 percent for the president. Biden would edge out former Vice President Mike Pence 44 percent to 42 percent. Former President Trump does best, taking 44 percent to Biden's 45 percent.

With these popular vote percentages, Trump or Pence could conceivably win the Electoral College and therefore the election. But it is still striking that in a political climate where less than 40 percent of voters would like to re-elect the incumbent president, no Republican can break 50 percent of the vote. Only Trump and Pence are in the 40s.

That probably won't matter in this year's midterm elections, when many people will feel they are pulling the lever for Generic Republican (though it is a reminder that candidate quality matters). But it shows that even with all of the headwinds facing Biden and the Democrats, none of the existing Republican leadership has really broken through with the American people. The GOP's best options still appear to be Trump and his erstwhile trusty sidekick. 

It's very early, and Trump has sky-high name identification that DeSantis and other Republicans don't. (Though Cruz should be a fairly familiar quantity by this point.) There is plenty of time to rectify the situation and the Democrats' fundamentals are not good. Still, as any good Electoral College abolitionist can remind you, Republican presidential candidates have won the popular vote only once since 1988. Winning by eking out battleground states by the narrowest of margins has undermined the legitimacy of our elections, not just by electing popular vote losers but also by giving 2016's Russia madness and 2020's "stop the steal" a level of superficial plausibility.

Republicans frequently compare Biden to Jimmy Carter. But they were able to beat Carter in 44 states and with a nearly 10-point national margin — with a challenger who wasn't a former president.