Typically, the conclusion of Labor Day weekend would signal the beginning of a mad dash to the Iowa caucuses by candidates vying for their party’s presidential nomination. But as the 2024 campaign comes into greater focus, the usual hysteria is yielding to a sense of inevitability.
Donald Trump dominates the Republican primary field, outpacing competitors with credentials of governors, diplomats, and entrepreneurs that would ordinarily be persuasive. Despite — or perhaps because of — multiple criminal indictments that threaten to overshadow any meaningful debate about the country’s future, the former president’s position remains strong. And for the time being, the tens of millions of dollars that Trump’s Republican rivals are investing into the campaign are doing little to diminish his stature, fueling the fears of Trump’s GOP detractors that the primary is effectively over before it even begins.
As a troubled Republican front-runner consolidates his hold on the nomination, President Joe Biden is cruising to victory on the Democratic side. The 80-year-old incumbent faces only nominal opposition for the Democratic nomination, despite widespread concerns within his own party regarding his age and performance.
Whether voters like it or not, a Trump-Biden rematch may be on the horizon, raising the possibility of a highly uncertain election season that will only exacerbate the political divide in the United States. Already, Trump is avoiding the presidential debates of his own party, and his court appearances garner more attention than his campaign visits. And Biden has only just begun his campaign while facing concerns about his age and his son’s legal troubles.
“I simply cannot foresee significant change. In an interview, Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom praised Joe Biden’s record of accomplishments while cautioning his party against underestimating Donald Trump’s political strength.
Concerns about Biden’s age, according to Newsom, “are fair game, and the White House knows it.”
“But if age equals results,” he continued, “I’m looking forward to his 85th birthday.”
On the Republican side, some donors and party leaders who hoped conservative voters would move past Trump in light of the January 6 attack on the Capitol he inspired and his significant legal challenges are becoming increasingly anxious.
“A rematch between Trump and Biden would be disastrous for the country. Bobbie Kilberg, a prominent Republican donor who supports former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, stated, “I’m very depressed about it.” She stated that it is “scary” that so many party members continue to support the former president. “I refuse to believe that Trump is our inevitable nominee.”
There is still time for the landscape of 2024 to evolve.
Four months remain until the first ballots are cast in the Iowa caucuses, and more than a year remain until the general election. And the recent past is replete with examples of overlooked and seemingly outclassed candidates who disproved conventional wisdom. Trump and Biden are both present.
Additionally, there are significant variables.
Even in Republican strongholds such as Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio, voters continue to deny Republican efforts to restrict access to the procedure. As the courts examine access to a commonly used abortion medication, it is conceivable for opposition to increase.
And Trump is facing 91 felony allegations in Washington, New York, Miami, and Atlanta criminal proceedings. They include his management of classified information, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and his coordination of hush money payments to a pornographic actor.
The former president could be convicted of a felony before November’s general election is decided. Nonetheless, party leaders, including the majority of his Republican primary opponents, have pledged to support him if he is convicted. And the Constitution does not prohibit felons from acquiring the presidency.
At the same time, Democratic officials are extremely concerned about the possibility of a third-party candidacy under the banner of No Labels, a centrist organization with a $70 million budget that is actively working to secure a spot on the 2016 presidential ballot in at least 20 states.
It appears increasingly probable that Trump and Biden will win their respective primaries, but group leaders insist they will only nominate a candidate in the spring of 2016 as “insurance.” No Labels would proceed only if it is certain that its presidential nominee would not unwittingly assist Trump win re-election.
Democratic leaders are skeptical.
Several current and former elected officials, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, are in direct contact with the organization. In a recent interview, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican who says he endorses the mission of No Labels, did not rule out standing as a presidential candidate for No Labels.
“I do not desire that No Labels promote a candidate. “I want the two parties to respond responsibly to the challenges we face,” said Cassidy, implying he would not support Trump or Biden. A presidential campaign under the No Labels banner was a hypothetical that he declined to comment on.
In ruling out Trump, the Louisiana Republican cited the criminal charges against the Republican former president, questions about his viability in the general election, and the former president’s refusal to “be honest with the American people” about looming budget shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare.
As a physician, Cassidy also expressed concern for Biden’s physical and mental health. “He’s just so obviously declining,” he stated.
Indeed, both Trump and Biden have glaring liabilities, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Biden is “old” and “confused,” whereas Trump is “corrupt” and “dishonest.” These are among the most frequently used adjectives by Americans when asked to describe the main presidential candidates of each party.
However, leaders from both parties are prepared to overlook these issues.
Young Democrats of America President Quentin Wathum-Ocama concedes that young voters aren’t necessarily enthusiastic about a Trump-Biden rematch, but he hopes that Trump’s polarizing candidacy will give Wathum-Ocama’s party the energy Biden cannot.
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“Yes, the public desires a new generation of legislators. We’ve always talked about Joe Biden as — even he’s said — as a transitional figure in our political life,” he said. ”As much as we’re seeing folks, for whatever reason, may not be excited or whatever, to me, it comes back to democracy is on the line.”
With virtually no exceptions, Democratic officials in Congress and in key states are publicly rallying behind Biden’s reelection.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Biden’s strongest challenger in the 2020 Democratic primary, endorsed Biden’s reelection bid hours after it was announced this spring. Biden enlisted other would-be rivals for his national advisory board. The group includes Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Newsom.
Republicans have delighted in suggesting that Newsom plans to launch a primary challenge against Biden, something the California governor has repeatedly ruled out. That’s even as Newsom teases the possibility of a high-profile debate against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is among Trump’s top Republican challengers.
Newsom said there would be a debate with the Florida governor, perhaps in November, although the camps are still working out the details.
“I get to do the one thing I look forward to doing more than anything else, and that’s make the case for Joe Biden and what he’s accomplished — and to do that one on one,” he said of a DeSantis debate. “That’s an opportunity, a platform I don’t want to walk away from.”
Meanwhile, in a show of confidence, the Trump campaign has already begun to pivot toward a general election matchup against Biden.
His team says he currently plans to skip all Republican presidential debates, sensing few consequences for skipping the first one last month. DeSantis, once thought to be a potent threat, has struggled to live up to expectations.
Trump’s relationships across the party and his expansive political machine have made it extremely difficult for others to break through.
“The president benefits from having led the party for the last eight years,” said Brian Jack, Trump’s political director.
Trump is leading the fight for endorsements, winning the public backing of more members of Congress and statewide elected officials than the rest of the field combined.
The other candidates are also struggling to keep up with Trump’s quiet campaign to control the delegate selection rules for individual state primaries. For example, Trump officials successfully pushed California Republicans to award all of the state’s 169 delegates to the winner of their March 5 primary, instead of dolling out delegates to multiple candidates based on the proportion of their vote.
The payoff for that work became clear late last week when a pro-DeSantis super PAC scaled back its operations in Nevada and other states that host Republican primary contests in March, including California, North Carolina and Texas.
Given Trump’s overwhelming advantages, some of Trump’s powerful allies have begun to call for other Republican presidential candidates to give up. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez ended his short-lived White House bid last week after failing to qualify for the opening debate. But at least eight high-profile opponents remain.
“It has been clear for months that President Trump will be the Republican nominee,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican. “This election is the most important election in our lifetime, and I will continue to call on Republicans to coalesce our entire party apparatus behind President Trump’s campaign.”
While Trump remains the clear front-runner, he holds a wider margin nationally than he does in some of the early voting states. And influential Republicans there are aren’t ready to concede the nomination to Trump yet.
Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, which hosts the second Republican primary contest after Iowa, is working to boost Trump’s GOP rivals, warning that Trump is too flawed to win the general election.
Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who served as Trump’s ambassador to China, also has doubts about the former president’s chances in the general election given the legal challenges that will play out for much of next year.
“The focus of the election ought to be on Biden and his record,” Branstad said. “That’s the thing that bothers me. It plays into the hands of the Democrats.”
He added, “I think this thing is going to tighten up.”
Even Trump isn’t quite willing to say that he’s already locked up the Republican presidential nomination.
“I don’t want to say anything’s over cause I don’t say that,” Trump said Friday on WABC. “I’m not a believer until it’s over, right? As Yogi would say, ‘Ain’t over ’til it’s over.”