An article by: Greg Erlandson

The U.S. presidential election will be held in November 2024, and it seems increasingly likely that a Biden-Trump clash will be repeated, just as it was in 2020. The televised debates of the Republican candidates in the primaries have been deserted by the former president who seems unbeatable at the moment. But in politics one must always expect the unexpected.

Far from hurting his reputation, the trials are causing Trump’s supporters to rally around him

With more than a year to go before the 2024 general election for the next president of the United States, the contest today looks to be a replay of 2020, with Joseph Biden to face off once again with his predecessor, Donald Trump.
But there are at least seven Republican candidates who would beg to differ. Unfortunately, if the 2024 general election looks to be a reprise of the 2020, the 2024 primary competition for the Republican nomination looks to be a reprise of 2016.
In 2016, 16 candidates ran for office, including well-known scions of the Republican establishment such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Donald Trump was the brash upstart, with no experience but a great deal of media savvy and name recognition. He drew most of the media attention while his opponents were left fuming.
In the lead up to the 2024 election, there are again a plethora of Republican candidates, but once again, Trump dominates the news coverage. His four criminal cases and assorted civil cases guarantee him extravagant media coverage for the next year. Far from hurting his reputation, the trials are causing Trump’s supporters to rally around him, and once again his opponents are left fuming.
Interest in the second Republican presidential debate September 27 was so lackluster that Fox News, which was televising the debate, reportedly slashed its advertising rates by more than half. With Trump having boycotted both debates, the Republican candidates were left to fight among themselves, damaging each other but not the front runner.
Some observers suggest that the Republican primary debates are really for second place: Who will become Donald Trump’s vice-presidential nominee?
Seven candidates qualified to participate in the second debate. The candidates can be divided between the anti-Trump faction, the pro-Trump faction, and the faction of those trying to thread the needle – not alienating Trump’s voters (an estimated 60 percent of the likely Republican primary voters) while trying to suggest his time is over.
In the anti-Trump faction would be ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has aggressively challenged the former president in multiple venues. Also included would have to be Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence. Pence boasts of the accomplishments of the Trump-Pence years, but has made it clear that he views Trump’s efforts to block the recognition of the Biden victory as unconstitutional. Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas, has also strongly criticized Trump’s character, but he did not qualify for the second debate.
In the pro-Trump faction would be Vivek Ramaswamy, who has promised to pardon Trump if he is convicted of the various charges he is being prosecuted for. Ramaswamy is a political neophyte and the youngest candidate. He has also attracted the active dislike of some of his fellow candidates.
The majority of the candidates are trying to thread the needle, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott, and long-shot North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
The most attention has been focused on DeSantis, who is in some ways trying to out-Trump Trump. In the latest debate, he criticized Trump for not being prolife enough (Trump has criticized Florida’s six-week abortion ban) and for adding to $7.8 trillion to the national debt during his four years in office.)
Nikki Haley has received good marks for her debate presence and willingness to attack her rivals. She is particularly scornful of Ramaswamy’s foreign policy positions. She is the only woman in the race, and half of Republican voters are women. However, she has alternately criticized Trump and walked back those criticisms, particularly regarding the January 6th attack on Congress.
Tim Scott is African-American and running as a kind of “Happy Warrior,” the “nice guy” version of Trump, who has attracted donors but not yet voters.
It doesn’t take a political pundit to recognize that Trump today has a commanding lead in the Republican primaries. And if the election were to be held today, he would be a shoo-in. But there are reasons not to name him the winner just yet.
There is still time until the primaries: The first primary caucus is not until January 15, 2024 (Iowa), and the bulk of the primaries will be in the spring. They will likely be coinciding with one or more of Trump’s trials. How quickly those trials unfold, and what is revealed in them are significant unknowns. What it means for voters deciding on a candidate who may be convicted of serious crimes is unknown as well.

Everyone is predicting Trump will win it all, he cannot afford to look as if he’s weakening his hold on the voters

What about the Independent voters: While the Republican base is for now largely supportive of Trump, and the Democratic base is fiercely opposed, independent voters are a wild card. They may be tired of all the drama and what some describe as the nastiness surrounding Trump, but they are also concerned about inflation and immigration and are not sold on “Bidenomics.” Both in the primaries and the general election, independents may find themselves voting for who they dislike least.
The surprise upset: There is a long tradition of primary upsets that shift the momentum of a candidate. In 2020, Joe Biden seemed to be struggling till his win in South Carolina pushed him to the lead. An upset, or even a strong second in one of the early primary states could cause voters to give that candidate a second look. Because everyone is predicting Trump will win it all, he cannot afford to look as if he’s weakening his hold on the voters.
These guys are old: Perhaps too much is being made of the ages of both Biden (80) and Trump (77), although the news media are endlessly discussing this issue. However, it is also true that neither man is immortal. Neither Biden’s bicycling nor Trump’s golf are guarantees they will stay healthy. Fate may deal either man an unexpected blow.
When it comes to politics, the unexpected is to be expected. And right now, Trump’s Republican rivals must be hoping for the unexpected. Otherwise, 2024 will look a lot like 2020.


Greg Erlandson