A lacklustre American presidential race in the making

Democrats and Republicans have to brace themselves for soul searching and painful decision-making before 2024

Updated - July 18, 2022 01:51 pm IST

Published - July 18, 2022 12:08 am IST

Joe Biden

Joe Biden | Photo Credit: AFP

The American presidential election of 2024 promises to be a rare treat for all those interested in politics and political campaigning. Both Democrats and Republicans have to brace themselves not only for some soul searching but also for painful decisions. The conventional norm is that a sitting President is not challenged in the primaries should he choose to run for re-election. And the Democratic incumbent, Joseph Biden, has made it amply clear that he is running for re-election.

Which way the wind blows

But here is the problem: two thirds of Democrats in a recent poll do not want him to run; and 94% of Democrats under the age of 30 want someone besides Mr. Biden on the ticket. Only 26% in the survey conducted by The New York Times and Siena College want Mr. Biden in 2024. For those who are opposed to the President within the party, 33% cite his age (he is 79 years old) and 32% because of job performance.

Forget the polling among the Democrats. A Gallup Poll showed historic low approval ratings for Mr. Biden with 33% saying that he deserves to be re-elected and 67% opining otherwise. Worse, only 13% believe that the country is headed in the right direction with a whopping 77% saying that it is on the wrong path. Analysts have not forgotten to point out that Mr. Biden’s current standing is four points lower than the level of support for President Donald Trump in an April 2018 survey.

Mr. Biden’s sorry state of affairs in polls does not mean good news for the Republican Party or for Mr. Trump, who has expressed interest in contesting again in 2024. The New York Times/Siena College poll also shows that nearly 50% of Republican primary voters are not looking at Mr. Trump but a new candidate in the next presidential election. What would come as a jolt to the supporters of the 45th President (Mr. Trump) is that 64% of those under 35 years and 65% of those who are college educated are against the re-election of Mr. Trump.

In a Republican Party stack of hopefuls, Mr. Trump still leads the pack with the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis coming in second; but other possibilities such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the former Vice-President, Mike Pence, the former Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, and the former Congressman and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, all having support only in single digits. Mr. Trump is not only a problem for the Republican Party but also for himself, given the civil cases and potential criminal charges that the Justice Department could think about once the Congressional investigations into the January 6 rioting and instigation at Capitol Hill come to a close. Prominent Republicans may say that they are not glued to the television, but the committee investigating the riots has seen testimonies from former Trump aides of the potentially criminal role of the former President.

Biden versus Trump

Perhaps the only bright spot for Mr. Biden is that among registered voters he gets the better of Mr. Trump, but only narrowly — 44% to 41%; and his refrain that 92% of Democrats support him if he ran in 2024 is misleading. This 92% of Democrats would vote for him if his opponent was Donald Trump, the poll showed. The problem for the Democratic Party is how to get the Biden White House re-organised for a real showdown in 2024 with or without Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden is already being compared with the Presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) and the last thing the Democrats want is a bruising primary along the lines of the show put up by Senator Edward Kennedy in 1980 with delegates nearly coming to blows at the party convention.

Issue for the Republicans

The Republicans have a different problem: privately, it would seem that a good majority of the party conservatives and elders have no stomach for Mr. Trump and his antics; but very few of them seem to have the courage to tell the former President off. In fact, senior Republicans are hoping that Mr. Trump does not make his presidential announcement before the mid-terms of November 8, where the Grand Old Party is expected to make huge inroads in the House of Representatives and perhaps even take control of the Senate. The Republicans are banking on making the most of a perceived-to-be fumbling Biden presidency on the economy, fuel prices and inflation; rather than get side-tracked on re-runs of outrageous and bogus claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The Republican Party wants a Biden focus for the midterms, not on Mr. Trump.

November 2024 might seem a long way off but certainly not for the two major parties that will be striving to hold themselves together in the face of internal challenges. Should President Biden suddenly decide not to run for re-election or face a primary challenge, it could be worse than a re-run of the Carter era, with Vice-President Kamala Harris not necessarily being the front runner. Right now her standing in the polls is as good or worse than that of her President; and not many Democrats will be convinced that she is a strong candidate.

It is not the revolving door presidency that scares the Republicans when they think of a return of Donald Trump to the White House. It is in a Republican Party Pool that will enable the former President to come away on top as it happened in 2016; or a miffed Mr. Trump running as an independent in case the party musters the courage to tell him to back down. In more ways than one, the showdown some 18 months down the line will be a turning point for both the Democrats and Republicans as they make a choice for the future of America; not continue with worn-out debates and conspiracy theories over winning and losing.

Sridhar Krishnaswami was a senior journalist in Washington for 14 years covering North America and the United Nations

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