Finding America’s Next President – who is going to run in 2024?

(Photo: CCL)

By Sam Chapman – Regular Contributor

American election season, in some form or another, is only ever around the corner. Now that mid-terms are behind us, and a new Congress has been sworn in, focus turns to preparations for the November 2024 presidential election – specifically, who might partake. While this question is hotly-debated at the best of times, it is especially complicated for the upcoming campaign due to the deep unpopularity of incumbent Democrat Joe Biden, and the lack of cohesion within the opposing Republican Party. Even in such early days as these, it seems this election cycle will see the old guard of both parties face off against newer faces, with no guarantees on either side.

Ordinarily, there would be little doubt amongst the president’s party as to how the next year will go. A president in their first term typically announces their re-election campaign now, and spends the next twelve months planning their platform, ready for the race to heat up next summer. As yet, President Biden has not declared he seeks a second term, and commentators believe he could go either way. This fact alone is a damning indictment.

The last president to not seek re-election was Lyndon Johnson in 1968. His handling of the Vietnam War had lowered his approval rating below 40%, and many prominent Democrats were gearing up to challenge him. Things are not yet so dire for Joe Biden; no colleagues have openly opposed him, but there is little love for him nationwide, and his approval ratings make for grim fortune-telling.

The Democrats defied expectations in November’s mid-terms – losing fewer House seats than anticipated, and expanding their Senate majority– and this performance buoyed Joe Biden’s re-election hopes. Then, in mid-January, the Department of Justice opened a formal investigation into the president’s cavalier storage of classified documents in a privategarage, “next to his Corvette”. Although Biden has insisted this was a harmless error, it feeds the growing impression that the eighty-year-old is showing his age. If Biden declines to run again, this recent controversy can be held responsible.

The president standing aside would ordinarily pave the way for the Vice President to campaign alone: when Johnson backed out of 1968, VPHumphrey led the Democrats (albeit unsuccessfully.) However, current VP Kamala Harris – who made history in 2021 by being inaugurated as the first female in that office – carries the distinct dishonour of being among the few politicians less beloved than Biden himself. As Californian Attorney General, she oversaw large-scale imprisonment for marijuana possession, leaving a sour taste among Democrats, and moreover she is seen as impersonal, unproductive, and a little bit weird

Nor are there likely gems in Biden’s cabinet. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg (self-styled ‘Mayor Pete’) is the cabinet member most likely to run, becoming the first openly-gay candidate if successful. Regardless, his campaign would be dead-on-arrival. Buttigieg ran for president in 2020, coming far short of nomination, gaining the unfortunate nickname ‘Mayo Pete’, due to his inability to attract non-white voters. There is understanding in the party establishment that, if the Democrats are to win again, fresh faces must be presented.

Two candidates emerge. First, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whoserecent landslide victory in Michigan has made her one to watch. Herability to capture floating voters in her swing state, and warm them to progressive issues such as abortion access, has placed her in an electoral sweet spot. The only limitation is that she has indicated her plans to remain in Michigan for the foreseeable future. The more likely candidate is Governor Gavin Newsom of California. Younger, slicker, and far more popular than Biden, his achievements in the state include a $100 billion ‘California Comeback’ plan for pandemic recovery, free school meals, and widely-supported gun reform. In short, Newsom is providing the policies Biden supports, minus the blunders Biden suffers.

These are just two names among many. If Biden steps aside there willbe dozens vying for the nomination. Senators Warren and Klobuchar have implied interest; a not-insignificant number are hoping for a Michelle Obama candidacy, and Bernie Sanders may even dust off his mittens for one more stab at the top job. However, as of yet, not a single Democrat has declared. 

Things are different on the Republican side of the aisle. While the candidates are much clearer to see, it is increasingly obvious that thisnomination race will end in chaos. Surprising nobody, Donald Trump has already announced his 2024 bid, though to far less fanfare than he wanted. Almost without exception, Trump-endorsed candidates in the November mid-terms lost their races, and even some of his own supporters in Congress are privately admitting the man may haveoutlived his usefulness. Trump disagrees, and has already taken to blasting “disloyal” elements of his party, and such attacks will only heat up as the primaries get underway.

Once again, there is appetite for new blood in the party. Former South Carolina Governor and American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is one of the few Republicans to serve under Donald Trump and emerge with credibility intact. Her allure is her anonymity, giving her the ability to present herself however she wishes. She will likely announce her campaign soon, running as a traditional, small-state conservative, valuing low taxes and America-first diplomacy.

However, the Republicans’ not-so-secret weapon for 2024 is certainly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Storming his re-election in 2022 with a 1.5 million vote majority, he is being pushed by conservative media as Trump’s natural successor. More refined, more dignified (arguably more extreme), DeSantis’ mid-term success stood at stark contrast with overall Republican performance. He ran on a culture war platform, which briefly involved sanctioning Disney World over its alleged ‘wokeness.’ Therein lies DeSantis’ problem: Florida is on the fringe of America, both geographically and ideologically. While the ‘war on woke’ has landed well in Floridian households, it remains to be seen how viable a strategy it proves nationally, although polls suggest he has found his base. DeSantis’ present popularity has put him on a crash course with Trump, who believes the Governor owes his career to Trump’s endorsement. If the Republicans fail to capitalize on Democratic shortcomings, it will be due to this infighting.

That leaves us with a great deal of uncertainty as to 2024’s likely candidates. Ostensibly, there are two pairings: first, if the parties wish to put their best feet forward, Ron DeSantis, with Nikki Haley as his running mate, will take on Gavin Newsom. In this, Newsom ought to select a VP candidate unaffiliated with the Biden government. This would represent a clean split with the old guard of both parties, perhaps injecting America’s political system with enough new energy to move on from present stagnation.

Conversely, America could witness a depressing parody of 2020. An increasingly-unhinged Donald Trump facing off against a decreasingly-lucid Joe Biden is still very much on the cards. The only benefit to this pairing is that it would certainly open up a gap large enough for a third-party candidate to enter the race and scare Democrats and Republicans alike into getting their acts together.

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