What Kind of President Do Republicans Want? | Opinion

The Biden presidency is a disappointment to Americans. That goes for people who voted for him—who thought he'd do a better job—and people who, even as they voted against him, did not believe he could make as much of a hash of things as he has.

The list of problems is long and growing longer. More COVID-19 cases than there were under Donald Trump. Inflation like we haven't seen since the Carter years. Rapidly rising interest rates. Shortages. The debacle in Afghanistan. War in Ukraine. It's no wonder a growing majority of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

According to a new Associated Press-NORC survey, 85 percent of American adults—including more than 7 in 10 Democrats—say the country is not on the right track. Almost two-thirds—60 percent—blame the president for that, with just 39 percent of those participating in the survey saying they approve of his overall presidential leadership. As if that were not bad enough, 69 percent of those surveyed, including 43 percent of the Democrats who responded, rated his handling of the economy "poor."

Democrats need to face facts. If the president's age is not an argument against his seeking a second term, his poll numbers are. Support for him has dropped to his predecessor's level. Trump, at least, benefited from a highly motivated, energized bloc of diehard supporters upon whom he could always count. Biden was always a compromise choice about whom no one was truly enthusiastic.

As of now, the president's numbers are more likely to get worse than they are to get better. It is much easier, as a friend of mine likes to observe, for his approval rating to fall deeper into the 30s than to get back above 50 percent. This is good news for the Republicans, because it makes it increasingly likely the GOP will win back control of one or both congressional chambers in November, all but guaranteeing the Biden agenda, such as it is, will grind to a full stop.

That may not put the Republicans in charge of the government, but it would effectively make Biden a "lame duck." He won't be able to get anything major through and won't have anything on which to campaign for a second term. Recognizing that, GOP leaders need to be extremely strategic in deciding who they want to run in 2024.

Joe Biden
MADRID, SPAIN - JUNE 30: US President Joe Biden holds his press conference at the NATO Summit on June 30, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. During the summit in Madrid, on June 30 NATO leaders will make the historic decision whether to increase the number of high-readiness troops above 300,000 to face the Russian threat. Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The likely choice, most polls say, is Donald Trump. He'd be the easy winner—in a race against Biden. But what if the Democrats nominate someone else? What if Trump decides not to run? What then? It's a puzzle, and one that's not easily solved.

Biden has set the bar so low that it would not be too hard to find a better president among the list of potential GOP nominees—which extends well beyond the list currently being bandied about. The challenge is to find the best president, the one who will right the ship of state the current administration sent headlong into a typhoon.

The GOP needs a nominee who doesn't just say he or she will put America's interests first and is on the right side on critical issues like economic growth, taxes and spending, guns, abortion, and school choice, but who has demonstrated leadership on those issues. Someone who has a dynamic vision of the future most all Americans can embrace with enthusiasm.

These people do exist. The best candidates to be "the best president" are out there now, in the U.S. Senate and running the red states. In the next campaign, their records will be what matters most. What a candidate says he wants to do needs to be measured against what he's accomplished—or at least tried to accomplish. That goes for candidates' record building the party as well. Did they help expand the party and its representation in Congress and the state legislatures? How many Senate, House, and gubernatorial candidates did they help? How much money did they help raise for others compared to how much they raised to fuel their own ambitions? Do they adhere to Reagan's 11th Commandment ("thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican"), or do they resort to sharp elbows and cutting remarks against foes who should be considered friends? In short, what kind of leader do Republicans want for the next four, and perhaps eight, years?

The answer is not obvious, even for those who've already decided to back Trump again. He accomplished much. It's fair to say he delivered on his promise to "Make America Great Again"—at least before the lockdowns started. His commitment to keeping his word on judges is directly responsible for the overturning of the constitutionally suspect 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which was bad law no matter which side of the issue you were on.

Trump was right for his time—but is he right for the future? He'll get a chance to make his case after November if he chooses to run. Whether he does or doesn't, the others who want the job will get the same chance. The Republicans who are tasked with choosing the candidate in 2024 need to keep their options open and think seriously about who can best get the country where it needs to go. If they want to win, they need to make the candidates come to them.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics and the American experience for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and other publications. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheRoffDraft

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.