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Ford, the former congressman, and Jennings, a former aide to President George W. Bush, discussed big issues, President Biden's struggles and the likely rematch with Donald Trump.
SAN DIEGO - Harold Ford Jr. and Scott Jennings come from different political parties, but both say Democrats facing difficulty in the mid-term elections, and President Biden and Donald Trump are headed for a 2024 rematch, even if that’s not what America wants.
Ford and Jennings discussed the political landscape in a town hall as part of the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit, which is kicking off today. Both are well-known among those following politics. Ford, a former Democratic congressman from Tennessee, is a regular co-host on “The Five” on Fox News. Jennings, a Republican and a key player in President George W. Bush’s administration, is an on-air contributor for CNN.
The two political experts offered differing thoughts on the fall elections, Biden’s troubles and the 2024 election.
Both Jennings and Ford see a difficult fall election for Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections this fall. Every seat in the House of Representatives is up for grabs, along with half of the U.S. Senate.
Many analysts have predicted that Republicans are likely to regain the majority in the House in the fall. In the House, Jennings said, “I think it’s a mortal lock Republicans are going to win.”
Mid-term elections are historically tough for the party in power, Ford and Jennings agreed.
However, the Senate could go either way, Jennings and Ford. “I think Democrats have a better chance of holding if not expanding their lead in the Senate” than in the House, Ford said.
Republicans have “candidate quality issues” that could keep them from reclaiming the Senate, Jennings said. He pointed to the GOP nominating former football star Herschel Walker in a highly watched race against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Jennings said Warnock is “pretty good…he’s going to be difficult to beat.”
In assessing the Republicans, Jennings said, “It’s far more possible they will squander the Senate than the House.”
With inflation rising and anxiety about the economy growing, Republicans are well-positioned in the fall races if they stay focused on pocketbook issues.
“There’s an easy way to screw it up,” Jennings said, and that’s by talking about other issues besides the economy and inflation. That’s a mistake former President Donald Trump makes regularly, he said.
Ford and Jennings differed slightly on the role that the abortion issue could play in the election, in light of the Supreme Court ruling that upended abortion rights. While both noted only 5% of voters call abortion their top issue, Ford said that group could be very motivated to show up in November.
“That could very well be what makes the difference in some of these districts,” Ford said.
However, the House investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol isn’t likely to make a difference in the mid-term elections. Right or wrong, it’s not likely to be a big factor in the fall elections, Jennings said.
Democrats could have a bit more momentum. Ford cited a recent New York Times poll that found a slender majority wanted Democrats to regain control of Congress (41% to 40%).
Still, it’s a thin lead that should give Democrats little comfort. More disturbing for Democrats is their struggles with working-class voters and their drop in support among Latino voters, Ford said.
Trouble for Biden
Biden’s struggles with both the public at large and even those within his own parties seems to differ from the woes of other presidents, both Jennings and Ford concurred.
While former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush suffered low approval ratings at times, they didn’t face as much public consternation from members of their own party. Some progressives have been dissatisfied with Biden's performance, they said.
Ford said Biden needs to frame a better message around inflation. While dealing with challenging economic difficulties, Ford said, “he’s responsible for his own message.”
People would be far less focused on Biden’s occasional gaffes “if the policies were working,” Ford said.
Democrats have not fully come forward to champion Biden, even when he has scored victories.
“His own party’s failure to rally around him at critical times … it’s stunning to watch,” Jennings said.
In 2024, voters should expect to see Biden battling for a second term in a rematch with Trump, Jennings and Ford said.
Even with some Democrats saying they’d prefer a different candidate in Biden in 2024, no Democrat has stepped up to challenge Biden. While Trump remains the leader of the GOP, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been competitive with Trump in polls outlining hypothetical primaries, which Jennings said would have been unthinkable a short time ago.
Still, Jennings said, "I do believe Donald Trump is running for re-election. I think he might file soon.”
Trump could announce soon out of a belief that it “might insulate him from indictment,” Jennings said. With Biden overseeing the Justice Department, Trump may perceive that Biden would be more reluctant to have federal authorities prosecute an opposing candidate, Jennings said.
If Biden opts against running for re-election, Vice President Kamala Harris would be the front-runner for the nomination, Jennings said.
While Biden doesn’t have any rivals making noise, Jennings and Ford said the calculation could change if Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia decided to challenge for the nomination. Manchin has opposed some of Biden’s key priorities, including his Build Back Better plan.
Ford described himself as a “great fan” of Manchin. “I think Joe Manchin is the most powerful Joe in politics,” Ford said.
The likely rematch of Biden and Trump comes even as most Americans would probably prefer to see two other nominees representing the major parties.
“People are crying out for two new candidates,” Jennings said.