By Julian Herbst
London, United Kingdom
The January 6 attack on the Capitol / (Colin Lloyd via Unsplash)
Although the presidential elections are only in November next year, the Democratic and Republican primaries are already at the forefront of discourse. In 2024, a polarised American public will have to decide on issues ranging from aid to Ukraine, to the “war on woke” and how to manage a US economy on the verge of recession. In fact, even American institutions are at stake, with the danger of political violence at the forefront of policymakers’ minds after the Capitol Riot and a July 2022 poll showing 20% of voters believe political violence is justified. Even the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, one of three balances in the US, is at risk after much attempted court-packing on both sides of the Aisle.
Democrats have emerged from the past three years bloodied, but intact. Joe Biden has publicly announced his run for presidency, hoping to draw on an incumbent’s advantage. He has seen legislative success with his CHIPS and Science Act, and Inflation Reduction Act, as well as electoral success with his surprising 2022 mid-term turnaround, but also oversaw the fall of Afghanistan and the current soaring inflation. VP Kamala Harris has also recently shored up support among black voters and mainstream Democrats, and Biden has amassed support among midwestern swing voters after protectionist policies, as well as a considerable war chest.
His main problem is his age. After multiple gaffes and memes, such as him falling off a bike, people are worried that he, currently 80 years old, will die in office, and he is additionally viewed as being simply mentally incapable of being the Leader of the Free World. Only 37% of Democrats, as polled by the Associated Press, support him running again, and a recession or unlikely debt ceiling crisis could still damage his support further. He does face potential challengers as well, such as last time’s Iowa caucus winner Pete Buttigieg and progressive firebrand Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, but they have not yet organised campaigns and may well bide their time for 2028 or 2032 due to their relative political inexperience. Though more united on the surface than the GOP, the Democratic Party is still split between progressives and moderates on potentially inflationary policies such as infrastructure spending. However, Biden has pitched himself as the only one capable of defeating Trump and the man to “finish the job”, and it seems that Democrats will unite under his banner against a common enemy in 2024.
On the Republican side, things look more uncertain. Donald Trump has a majority in the polls for the primaries, but he faces some opposition, principally from Florida Governor Ron Desantis. Trump has not particularly changed since 2020, maintaining a strong grassroots base, but the dullness of his “rigged” election claims, arrest at Fulton County Jail, and absence at the first GOP debate have pushed away others. The midterms were also extremely damaging to him after almost all his candidates were rejected, and 28% of voters listed his extremism as the reason they voted against the Republican party, most probably due to the more widespread opposition to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
DeSantis is Trump’s opposite number. He cruised to reelection in the midterms by 20 points and has the support of previous Trump backers, including the Koch brothers, Hedgie Ken Griffin and probably Fox News. His policies are both economically conservative, supporting tax cuts, and socially conservative, backing gun rights, abortion restrictions, and the “war on woke”, as well as implementing his controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill to hinder sexual education. However, he is an apparent introvert and has failed to generate the same buzz with retail voters that Trump did in 2016, partially due to flip-flopping on issues such as the Ukraine war. Critics say he is failing at the Herculean task of trying to out-Trump Trump personality-wise, and not alienating Trump supporters while undermining Trump. He poses as the no-nonsense version of Trump, but this may come with less popular support, something that is evident in recent polls where his numbers have been steadily decreasing.
Another hopeful is Vivek Ramaswamy. A second generation immigrant, self-made multimillionaire, and unapologetic Trump supporter, Ramaswamy has surged due to DeSantis’s lack of on-screen charisma (what some call “electile dysfunction”) and his own strong performance in the recent GOP debate in Wisconsin. If Trump is suddenly convicted and the MAGA movement swings to Ramaswamy, he could clinch the Republican nomination. At the time of writing, he is drawing at 6.3% to Nikki Haley. The former US ambassador to the UN during Trump’s term, she has positioned herself as a non-Maga no-nonsense traditional conservative with a wealth of foreign policy experience.
As it currently stands, we will once again have a runoff between Biden and Trump, with Biden set to win, but much can change in the coming year. The last landslide in the popular vote was in 1984 for Reagan, and with such an evenly divided public, it is likely that the ultimate election will be all but neck-to-neck.