The Democrats seem to be hoping rather than planning for a presidential victory in 2024. And the one thing those hopes seem to hang on is the fact that Biden already beat Trump in 2020. But did he?

And no, that’s not Trumpist denialism. I’m just saying that Biden didn’t win. Trump lost. He lost because of COVID. He lost because of his idiotic reaction to the pandemic and what that did to the country and its economy. Hell he might have even lost because the preponderance of those who died were his supporters, both because of their age and their views on COVID. As one grieving daughter famously put it, “My father’s only precondition was that he was a Trump supporter.”

And then there was how the pandemic affected the campaign, allowing Biden to hide in his basement, far from voters, and out of sight of the media and its prying eyes.

Hell, Joe Biden didn’t even win the Democratic primary. Instead he had it handed to him by Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. That’s why in his victory speech the night of that primary Biden looked as shocked as anyone to find himself standing there. Because in the previous three contests he’d run no better than a weak 2nd and as low as 5th – as the party’s former vice-president no less.

But this time he’s actually going to have to face the cameras and the voters, not to mention a long, stressful, arduous campaign – which he is clearly not up to.

So I’m not sure if the Democrats are in shock or denial or fantasy land. But any way you look at it they have a problem.

Because they are faced with a choice. Do they stick with the guy who’s likely to lose, or do the party leaders get their collective act together and do what Clyburn did in 2020, and use their clout to bail the party out of a difficult situation? And remember, during that campaign Biden was billed (and in some ways ran) as a White House caretaker – just there to defeat Trump and keep the seat warm for the next in line. But with his VP even lower in the polls than he is, the party is going to have to look elsewhere. And they have a big enough bench, that they should be able to find someone who can carry the flag and still garner enough independent votes to win it in November.

But making that choice will take real courage and fortitude and persistence and imagination and… well, a whole lot of attributes the Democratic establishment does not seem to posses. Yet that appears to be their only hope of keeping the White House and defeating Donald Trump.

The polls in the battleground states show Biden to be losing to Trump by at least 5 points in five of those six key states. The Democrats keep saying “it’s early.” But for those words to mean anything they have to show what could change, and more importantly, how they’re going to change it.

Short of that, what do they think is going to happen between now and next November? Biden is not going to get any younger. Nor is he likely to get any more popular. Because it’s not like he’s an unknown commodity which the public has to get to know. They already know him all too well. That’s the problem. In politics, perhaps even more than elsewhere in life, opinions don’t change. They only harden.

And Biden wears all this unpopularity even while presiding over an economy that’s in fairly decent shape, certainly compared to the rest of the planet. So they can’t hope for any real improvement on that front. If anything, the reverse is likely to happen. Because with the economies of most other countries struggling, combined with all the hotspots and other problems roiling the world, a downturn is a much more likely prospect.

Either way, it seems pretty clear that Biden is going to have to win it in 2024. Because Trump is not likely to lose it the way he did in 2020 – if only because he and his team are sure to have learned plenty from that experience – as any loser does, whether in sports or business or politics. And that defeat is informing every decision they’re making, as they learn how to deal with the strengths and weaknesses of their candidate.

Not so the Democrats, whose candidate is not yet in campaign mode. Which means Biden’s inabilities will not become truly evident until he’s personally challenged. And without a primary race, that won’t happen until the presidential debates in the fall of 2024, when it will be far too late to make a change.

And how can anyone think Biden is going to defeat Trump in the debates. Because Trump is certain not to try the same strategy as last time – that whole debate filibuster routine. This time he’s going to do his very best to shut the hell up and let Biden sink himself with his words and lack of energy and focus.

And this meme that Biden has always been a bit of a clutz with his words, but that somehow it doesn’t matter because he’s a policy guy – is not going to wash with the voters – or the media. Because it’s really not an answer. Rather, it’s an indication of another of his problems.

One of the reasons Trump can come across as so much more vigorous mentally, is because there’s nothing to clog up his brain. He’s just shooting from the hip. No complex policies or their details (or really much of anything) to get in the way.

But to be effective as a “policy guy,” Biden has to focus in a way that allows him to recall the facts and figures and timelines and contingencies of policies and issues and statutes – and get them straight. And he’s obviously not capable of doing that on anywhere near a consistent basis. So you can expect slip-ups to happen daily, if not hourly, as the campaign gets into gear. And unlike most other stale incumbents, a rigorous campaign is not going to sharpen his skills. It’s only going to dull them with fatigue.

And then after month upon month of gruelling campaigning, and Biden feeling pummelled and totally drained, he’s going to have to get up on that debate stage. And the side by side comparisons are going to be stark, to say the least. Remember that stunned look when Kamala Harris attacked him in the first Democratic primary debate. Well expect more of the same. Because you can be sure Trump’s people are going to be coming up with prosecutorial ambushes of their own, which are going to leave Biden standing there stunned, confused and muttering to himself.

Contrast that with what we’re seeing from Trump on the stump, and in his interviews. Just look at the way he’s able to thrust and parry and deflect when defending his idiotic and indefensible positions – as he did with Kristen Welker on NBC. He often displays a kind of mental gymnastics, not to mention fortitude, that Biden and the Democrats can only dream of. Which means trouble for Biden on the debate stage.

Meanwhile the Democrats keep bringing up the abortion issue as their one get out of jail free card. And sure it’s a winner for them. But there’s no way Trump and his campaign are going to allow themselves to get sucked into that debate this time around. They’re sure to have learned from the last couple of elections. And they have a head start in that direction, thanks to the fact that from the beginning Trump has been highly sceptical of making it an issue – one of those surprising indications of his unfathomable talent as a politician. From the moment of the Dobbs decision, he has been wary of abortion as an issue. So if the Democrats are dreaming of winning the election with it, they can forget it.

It only worked this year because the Republican candidates were forced to swing to the right on abortion in the primaries. But Trump doesn’t have to do that. All he needs to say to his base is that he’s the one who defeated Roe by packing the Supreme Court. From then on, he can dodge the issue by saying what every other sane Republican candidate is saying, that he doesn’t want a federal ban. Let the states decide it etc. etc. That takes it out of his hands in a way in which nothing else needs to be said.

Besides no one in his base is voting for Trump on the issues. They’re voting for him out of a desire to prove they were right in voting for him in the past – and to “prove” that he really did win in 2020. So for them, it’s all about vindication.

All of which means that Trump is not going to just go away. And if the Democrats still believe that his legal troubles are going to sink him, then we have to ask ourselves what they’re using to spike their morning lattes. Because those legal “troubles” only seem to be making him stronger.

Of course Trump is always going to be Trump. But who can say that doesn’t work for him. In fact that seems to be his strongest asset.

To be sure, the Democrats are always going to point to the fact that he’s locked in the past, constantly relitigating his 2020 defeat. But as I suggested earlier, the Democrats seem to be doing the same, by continuing to believe that Biden actually beat him. In fact that seems to be their only clearly-stated reason for sticking with him now. But my guess is that Trump denialism is going to prove far less problematic and a lot less fatal than Biden triumphalism. Because that triumphalism is causing the Democrats to continue to act in a way that is counter to the facts on the ground and the reality of their candidate.

Even the slickly prepared ads they rolled out in September couldn’t make Biden appear energetic, or even capable. In fact they had the opposite effect. They only proved that there’s nothing they can do to make him look like a winner. Which in turn only gave further evidence of how foggy-headed and doddering the man truly is. Just think about all the footage they had to work with, not just of him during his European trip, but elsewhere over the last several years. Yet out of all that material, they couldn’t come up with 30 seconds of footage that made him look as though he was remotely on top of his game.

So if slick advertising can’t fix the Democrats’ so-called messaging problem, what will? What is their plan going forward to change the narrative and the course of the election? They seem to have no idea.

Well I have one. Get your act together and pull a Clyburn. Select someone out of the potential pool of contenders. And if you choose the kind of person Biden should have picked as his VP – perhaps even using the same sort of process – then the potential of that candidate should be enough to convince Biden not to run again. And you need to do that before it really becomes too late. Because in my view, and I believe in the view of anyone who’s looking at this rationally, Joe Biden has very little chance, if any, of winning in 2024.