ANDREW NEIL: Jacked-Up Joe gave a fiery speech but the Democrats’ best hope is still that a ‘health event’ knocks him out of the running

President Biden used his annual State of the Union address to Congress on Thursday evening to kick off the 2024 US presidential election with a barnstorming speech intended to confront the clear majority of Americans – including a majority in his own Democratic Party – head-on to grab. I think he’s too old to run again.

The spirited speech and its incendiary content had one overriding purpose: to defy his army of critics by leaving them in no doubt that he’s not going anywhere, that he plans to seek re-election in November and seek a second term. win, even if By the end he will be 86.

By that standard it was a success.

The growing rumblings from Democratic election strategists that it was time for Biden, who has become increasingly blundering and unreliable in public, to make way for a younger man or woman has been silenced, at least for now. The White House thinks an incipient ‘Dump Biden’ movement is dead.

Biden confused critics with his spirited delivery and stirring content

But a heckler shouts to interrupt President Joe Biden as he delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress

But a heckler shouts to interrupt President Joe Biden as he delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress

With Donald Trump unstoppable as the rival candidate after taking control (bar Vermont) in the Super Tuesday series of Republican primaries, America is heading for the rematch between Biden and Trump that most voters don’t want – where they even be appalled at it.

The State of the Union address is usually a quite dignified, somewhat bipartisan affair, in which the president speaks as head of state, and not just as the political leader of the ruling party.

But there was nothing dignified about Biden’s performance Thursday night. From the start, it was a highly partisan, divisive speech more suited to the campaign trail than to a president meant to speak to the nation about the State of the Union.

It was decidedly non-presidential and more akin to the highly political speeches that British party leaders make at their annual party conferences.

But it was delivered with verve and force (even if it sometimes veered into the unintelligible as he slurred words that came out of his mouth too quickly), and that’s why Democrats were happy with it.

He even gave as good as he got when taunting Republican hecklers, without managing to lose his seat. Sleepy Joe had the evening off. This was “Jacked-Up Joe,” as one American TV pundit put it.

Biden had no choice but to show there was still life in the old dog, because his poll numbers are truly terrible. His approval rating is underwater at less than 40 percent.

No American president has been re-elected with such a low approval rating at this stage of the political cycle. Only Jimmy Carter’s ratings were as bad, and he was the last one-term Democratic president, defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980.

A January poll for NBC News, which is virtually the Democrats’ broadcast arm, found that 73 percent of voters think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Only 19 percent think their children will fare better than they do, which is bleak for a country built on optimism.

According to a recent New York Times poll, Trump is leading over Biden on all issues that will determine the election outcome.

Biden triumphed over the economy, but voters do not share his rosy view

Biden triumphed over the economy, but voters do not share his rosy view

The president poses for a selfie after his final speech before the November elections

The president poses for a selfie after his final speech before the November elections

He has a 57 to 22 percent lead on securing the border (illegal, out-of-control immigration is now the biggest issue for most voters); 55 to 33 percent think he will help the economy better; 46 percent to 23 percent see him as more qualified for the job than Biden; and 50 to 22 percent believe he will do better on crime, which has reportedly been allowed to fester under Biden.

When I arrived in New York on Wednesday evening, news was just breaking that the state’s governor would deploy the National Guard to help the NYPD tackle the crime epidemic in the city’s subway system.

When a Republican senator proposed deploying the Guard to address widespread urban unrest and crime in the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020, Democrats flew into a fit of fear, saying such an idea was unimaginable.

Now it is the policy of a Democratic governor in the largest Democratic city in the country.

It all plays into Trump’s agenda: a sense that the fabric of American society is fraying on so many fronts under the tutelage of a political elite that doesn’t seem to care. Shoplifting has become a scourge, with perpetrators able to steal with apparent impunity.

Go into a pharmacy to make a few purchases, as I did yesterday morning, and you quickly discover that everything of value is under lock and key. To get there, you pass streets populated by homeless people, many of whom suffer from serious mental illness. Some city centers are littered with tent complexes.

The Biden administration’s inability to control the southern border as millions of illegal migrants arrive adds to the sense of decay and threat.

It explains why the country is in a gloomy mood, despite its economy being in better shape than any other major market economy in the West.

Biden was triumphalist about the economy on Thursday, but voters do not share his rosy view. Biden’s people cannot understand why a strong economy doesn’t boost his re-election chances.

The main reason is that inflation is still hurting. Yes, it has fallen far and fast, but previous price increases are baked in. Prices aren’t falling – they’re just not rising as fast as they were. On average, they are still 19 percent higher than when Biden came to power. Food is 24 percent more expensive, the price of filling up your car is still high by American standards, and housing rental costs are up 30 percent since the pandemic.

That’s why voters don’t quite see the economy the same way Biden does. Most think things were better under Trump. Even a growing number of blacks and Hispanics agree.

Yet it is not all going Trump’s way. Although he dismissed his rival Republican candidate, Nikki Haley, without breaking a sweat, exit polls showed that a good portion of registered Republicans who voted for her will not vote for Trump in November.

Normally, once a candidate has won the party’s nomination, he moves toward the center to pick up exactly these types of voters. But that’s not Trump’s way. He likes to stay in the comfort zone of his MAGA cult.

Democrats console themselves with the fact that Trump’s vote has a ceiling — and it’s less than 50 percent, largely because a clear majority of suburban women, the country’s largest swing demographic, won’t vote for him.

But this ignores the fact that Trump does not need 50 percent of the national vote to win. He just needs to win a majority of the six swing states that will determine the election – and right now he is ahead in all of them.

Trump campaign managers welcomed Biden’s performance Thursday as they believe it solidifies his grip on the Democratic nomination — and they are confident he is the candidate they can beat.

Trump's campaign managers think Biden's performance will consolidate his hold on the Democratic nomination, and they are confident he is the candidate they can beat

Trump’s campaign managers think Biden’s performance will consolidate his grip on the Democratic nomination — and they’re confident he’s the candidate they can beat

Their worst nightmare is that for some reason — perhaps because of what is euphemistically called a “health event” — Biden will resign before the Democratic convention in Chicago in August.

This would then be a so-called mediated convention, which would likely be very messy, but from which a new, younger candidate (almost certainly not Kamala Harris) would emerge.

By then it would be too late for the Republicans (whose convention is in July) to ditch their own seniors and go for someone younger themselves.

As things stand, there is no sign that Biden is inclined to remove himself from the fray. Thursday evening will have given him the courage to stay the course. But it cannot be ruled out if events occur that are beyond his control.

A mediated Democratic convention would really throw a spanner in the works. All bets on the outcome in November would be void.

But without such a development, this week will have proven crucial: Super Tuesday and the State of the Union address provided the defining factor for the 2024 US election. It’s a bleak prospect.