2024: A nightmare scenario

With every passing day, two things about the next presidential election are becoming clearer. One is that Democrats are unlikely to nominate Joe Biden for another term. The other is that Republicans are unlikely to nominate Donald Trump for another term. The reason is the same in both cases: Both men look like losers.  

What is not becoming clearer is what candidates the parties are likely to nominate. Trump may try to pre-empt the process by declaring his candidacy before this year’s midterm election, which traditionally marks the start of the presidential campaign. Trump is clearly annoyed by the fact that other Republican candidates — most conspicuously Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — are showing an interest in running for the 2024 GOP nomination. But an early Trump declaration may not have the effect of pre-empting other contenders. It could very well give a “Stop Trump” campaign more time to find a candidate.

Look at the polls. The New York Times-Siena College national poll shows President Biden with an overall negative favorability rating: 58 percent unfavorable and 39 percent favorable. And Trump? Just as bad: 57 percent unfavorable and 39 percent favorable. A race between the two of them right now would be very close: Biden 44 percent, Trump 41.

Only 26 percent of Democratic primary voters want to see Biden win their nomination; 64 percent of Democrats want their party to nominate “someone else.” (Among Democrats under 30, 94 percent want “someone else.”) On the Republican side, fewer than half of Republican primary voters (49 percent) want to see Trump win the Republican nomination. Right now, the only other potential Republican contender in double digits is DeSantis, with 25 percent. 

Joe Biden is a professional politician. Normally, American voters don’t like professional politicians. That’s why they support term limits. But a professional politician was exactly what the country wanted in 2020 after four years of Donald Trump, who has contempt for professional politicians — including professional Republican politicians like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whom Trump has called a “dumb son of a bitch” and an “old broken down crow.”   

You hire a professional because they know more than you do about solving a problem. You go to a professional doctor because he or she knows more than you do about what ails you. You go to a professional accountant because he or she knows more than you do about the tax code. A professional politician is supposed to know more than you do about solving policy problems. 

Professional politicians are good at making deals. That was seen as Biden’s strength after 36 years in the U.S. Senate. But deal-making is proving to be impossible in an intensely polarized political environment. Deal-making requires compromise, and hard-line partisans don’t go for compromise.

What Democrats are looking for now is a fighter. Under Trump, the Radical Right has taken over the Republican Party. Democrats aren’t looking for a leader to make deals with the Radical Right. They want a leader who will punch them in the face. 

After a shooter killed seven people at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill., Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Ill.) thrilled Democrats when he said on television, “If you’re angry today, I’m here to tell you: Be angry! I’m furious!” California Gov. Gavin Newsom instantly became a contender for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination by asking an angry question: “Where the hell’s my party?” Newsom even ran an attack ad against DeSantis in Florida warning that state’s voters, “Freedom, it’s under attack in your state. Your Republican leaders? They’re banning books. Making it harder to vote. Restricting speech in classrooms. Even criminalizing women and doctors.”

As Democratic strategist Matt Bennett put it, “Whoever we nominate, whether it’s the president or somebody else, is going to have to be ready to fight.”

Want a nightmare scenario for 2024? How’s this: Trump runs and loses the Republican nomination to, say, DeSantis; Trump claims the nomination was stolen by the Republican establishment. So, he decides to run as an independent “MAGA party” candidate.

Normally, that would mean splitting the Republican vote and ensuring a Democratic victory. But with the Democrats looking so weak under Biden and with Trump having the legitimacy of a former president, all three candidates could carry states and win electoral votes. You get all of a state’s electoral votes by winning a plurality of the state’s popular vote — still, you need a majority of the electoral college to win the election. What happens if none of the three candidates wins a majority of the electoral college?

Then the election goes into the House of Representatives, something that hasn’t happened since 1824. Each state gets one vote. Alaska, with one House member, one vote. California, with 52 House members, one vote. Implication: What happens in upcoming congressional elections — like the one this year — could very well determine the outcome of the next presidential contest.

Bill Schneider is an emeritus professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and author of “Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable” (Simon & Schuster).

Tags 2022 midterm elections 2024 presidential campaign 2024 presidential election 2024 presidential race Democratic Party Donald Trump Electoral College Gavin Newsom GOP J.B. Pritzker Joe Biden MAGA Mitch McConnell Primary challengers public opinion polls Ron DeSantis Third party trumpism United States House of Representatives

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