February 25, 2024

What if something similar were to happen to Biden? A brain freeze of some sort, a bad fall on the steps of Air Force One, a speech that devolves into gibberish — any fresh sign of frailty would reinforce Americans’ impression that Biden is too old for the job. Biden’s doctor proclaimed him “fit for duty” in February, but voters have their own ideas of how a president should look, act and sound — and Biden isn’t measuring up on that score.

The White House has organized itself in ways that minimize the chances of a Biden stumble — physical or otherwise. It’s no coincidence that Biden is forsaking the long staircase on Air Force One for the shorter one that unfolds from the belly of the plane. 

But accidents happen. 

Biden thinks “he can cheat nature here and it’s really risky,” David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Barack Obama, told The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd last month.

An Elon Musk super-duper PAC?  

Elon Musk’s mom is mad — and that could be a problem for Biden.

Maye Musk took to her son’s social media platform on Dec. 13 to write that Elon Musk’s goal “is to make this world a better place.” But, she wrote, “@POTUS wants to stop him. Have you any idea how furious I am? People in other countries are proud of Elon and do not understand the US President’s motive.”

Elon Musk at the opening plenary at the AI safety summit in Buckinghamshire, England, on Nov. 1.Leon Neal / Press Association via AP

Her post was in response to Brendan Carr, a Republican commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, who insinuated that Biden wants to mobilize the federal bureaucracy against Musk, citing the FCC’s decision on Dec. 12 that affirmed a 2022 ruling denying Musk’s SpaceX satellite company nearly $900 million in rural broadband subsidies. 

The bad blood between Musk and Biden appears to date to a White House electric vehicle event early in the administration that excluded Musk’s Tesla. (The reason may have something to do with a pro-union White House not wanting to spotlight nonunion Tesla.)

“Biden has pointedly ignored Tesla at every turn and falsely stated to the public that GM leads the electric car industry,” Musk told CNBC in February 2022.

If the Musk family were to channel their rage into a campaign-year effort to unseat Biden, it could be a huge problem for the sitting president. Deploying even a fraction of his estimated $250 billion fortune could easily make Musk the biggest campaign donor of all time. And the famously unpredictable Musk is just impulsive enough to do it.  

Housing gridlock

A lot of pundits argue that inflation poses the biggest economic problem for Biden’s re-election bid. 

But there’s another economic story playing out that no one has really seen before — and represents an even bigger threat to the president’s political fortunes.

In the wake of Federal Reserve interest rate hikes, mortgage rates have skyrocketed to their highest levels in decades, peaking above 8% this fall. Although rates have come down since then, with average 30-year fixed mortgage rates hitting 7.07% in December, the cost of a mortgage is still much higher than it was just a couple short years ago. 

That, plus home prices spiking 47% since the start of the pandemic, means homes are much less affordable than ever. Making matters worse, the housing supply remains tight as owners with existing low-rate mortgages hold off on buying in a high-rate environment. 

A "for sale" sign sits in front of a home.
A “for sale” sign in front of a home in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 16.Brandon Bell / Getty Images file

The result? Severe housing gridlock. New buyers find themselves unable to get into the housing market, and homeowners who want to move up are stuck in place. Experts say it could be years before the market untangles and reverts to normal. 

The gridlock will come to a head in the traditional spring buying season — just as the general election campaign is coming into sharp focus. What’s the political impact of millions of homebuyers feeling stuck and frustrated? Voters tend to blame presidents for sour economic news. And there is no asset more economically or emotionally important to Americans than a home. None of that bodes well for Biden.

Axis of hackers 

Russian election meddling once seemed like something from a dystopian future. By next year, it may seem quaint. 

The 2024 election could feature attempted meddling by a variety of countries looking to shape American leadership to their liking.

In a November report, Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center wrote: “Election 2024 may be the first presidential election during which multiple authoritarian actors simultaneously attempt to interfere with and influence an election outcome.”

The usual suspects are Russia, Iran and China, but with tension rising in the Middle East, any number of Gulf states could also try to seize the opportunity this time around.

Russia hasn’t been standing still: Experts worry that new innovations could catch the U.S. unawares. Microsoft warns that Russian-affiliated actors have been working with novel artificial intelligence tools that didn’t exist in past elections.

“As the election cycle progresses, we expect these actors’ tradecraft will improve while the underlying technology becomes more capable,” the Threat Analysis Center wrote. 

Another U.S. adversary, Iran, launched influence operations designed to sow mistrust among American voters during the 2020 campaign. In 2024, Iran will be capable of combining cyberattacks and online campaigns to spread even more propaganda, experts warn.  

And China, which has historically focused much closer to home, has been testing the waters, too, perhaps in advance of its own campaign targeting U.S. voters.

NBC News recently reported that the U.S. intelligence community issued a report finding that senior leaders in China have given orders since 2020 to ramp up efforts to influence U.S. policy and public opinion. What’s more, the report concluded, China tried to sway the outcome of specific races in the 2022 midterm elections. 

Biden’s problem is that these actors are all likely to make him a target. By stoking division, instability and discord inside the U.S., they would be undermining the agenda of a president in the throes of a tough re-election fight.

It isn’t as if the disinformation efforts cancel each other out; instead, the mischief-makers could amplify one another and, together, reach more voters than if they were acting alone.