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2024 US ELECTIONS

Biden and Trump fend off competitors while potential White House rematch looms

Biden and Trump fend off competitors while potential White House rematch looms
From left: US President Joe Biden. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images); Former US President Donald Trump. (Photo: Jeff Swensen / Getty Images)

If it’s down to a Biden-Trump contest redux come November 2024, perhaps we shall be subjected to the unedifying public spectacle of duelling cognitive capability test results, to prove which old man deserves one more shot at the White House.

The American electoral process is moving forward, in parallel with the legal travails Donald Trump has brought down upon himself. Including Trump, more than a dozen Republicans want the job he once held. Meanwhile, incumbent President Joe Biden has his own hurdles to surmount in his bid for re-election. Here is our update. 

Looking at the upcoming potential train smash of a 2024 election, at least among Republicans, Americans might easily be forgiven for thinking they had wandered into a script conference for a new Cosa Nostra film. The dynamic among Democrats is somewhat different, but still troubling, as they hold the presidency and a narrow margin in the Senate. The challenge is whether the film script will be a comedy of errors or a tragedy – or, something much worse and much darker.

Among Republicans, there are now some 13 declared candidates for the nomination, including some few in South Africa have ever heard of, such as a former congressman from Texas, Will Hurd.

The collection includes a clutch of former governors (Chris Christie, Nikki Haley and Asa Hutchinson), former vice president Mike Pence, an incumbent governor or two (Florida’s Ron DeSantis and North Dakota’s Doug Burgum), the inevitable political neophyte and IT millionaire (Vivek Ramaswamy), and, of course, that former president.

Besides long-shot Chris Christie, Hurd, an even longer long shot, has been one of the few prepared to tackle Donald Trump head-on, calling for him to be retired from consideration owing to his inability to win a general election.

For his forthrightness, Hurd was booed lustily at a Republican candidates’ event in Iowa the other night. This was a “cattle call” featuring most of these declared candidates, who each gave short speeches explaining why they should be nominated – and, thus, become the party’s presidential candidate.

Another Iowa event in August will be a debate among the candidates, but participation will be limited to those who have raised a minimum amount of campaign cash from among a bottom-floor number of individual contributors.

The former vice president, in fact, is in trouble on that score, and he may not be allowed on that stage. Amazing, that outcome. The castigation of him by his former boss still looms large among many of the party faithful, it seems. That opinion may be even more important than the fact he is a quintessentially boring public speaker.

The Republican front runner

At this moment, former President Donald Trump remains the favoured flavour of the Republicans likely to vote in the various primaries and caucus meetings coming up in the various states. These begin six months from now in January 2024, with the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary vote, then events in South Carolina and Nevada, followed by the rest of the states.

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Supporters listen to former US President Donald Trump address a political rally at Erie Insurance Arena on 29 July 2023 in Erie, Pennsylvania, while campaigning for the Republican Party nomination in the 2024 US election. (Photo by Jeff Swensen / Getty Images)

The true perversity of things political in America these days is, at least up to now, each time Trump is indicted for a new criminal act (and there are more coming, almost certainly), his support among Republicans seems to increase.

This is happening even as support for his strongest challenger, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, continues to ebb away. There seem to be various reasons for the decline, but pre-eminent among them may be that his “war on ‘woke’” plus his assertion that he is the real Maga candidate but without Trump’s legal baggage, even as he ignores other issues, have earned him little support — and have probably alienated still more potential supporters from the edges of the Trumpian universe.

Read more in Daily Maverick: DeSaster? Ron DeSantis wants to preside over Trumpism without Trump

Trump, by contrast, has absolutely perfected the pitch (he made his mark as a pitch man for various businesses he either founded or fronted, regardless of their viability or even their honesty, after all) that each time a new legal proceeding is added to a growing charge sheet, it just demonstrates how vicious and desperate the Democrats, the so-called “deep state”, a “weaponised” Justice Department and FBI, most of the media and the rest of the establishment really are in itching to do him in.

Regardless of their efforts, he will prevail, goes his argument. But even if he does go down fighting, he will become a symbol and a powerful martyr to his supporters’ cause – whatever that is.

That cause, he insists, is that he stands for those who are overlooked and forgotten by the comfortable “swells” and sniggering coastal elites (so different from his own millionaire’s status, apparently). He is, in his view, the champion of people with a grudge against all those arrogant, evil characters, and he is the true representative of those who deeply resent favoured special populations such as the LGBTI community or those racial or ethnic minorities and their presumed lawless ways. 

As he has told his crowds of Maga hat-wearing supporters this time around, “I am your retribution”. What that retribution actually consists of is totally unclear, although what is increasingly clear is that a whole network of conservative think tanks have been pulling together position papers and first-order-of-business action memorandums for a Trump v2.0 presidency, should it come to pass.

This new administration would be able to make the policy and administrative changes of direction Trump has been alluding to in his public statements and in online rants right from day one in this campaign, unlike the chaos of January 2017.

More charges, more support

As things stand now, Trump’s legal woes include a range of pending tax charges, and an indictment in New York City for abusing campaign funds governance in order to pay an adult film star, with whom he reportedly had a brief affair years ago, for her silence. Then there is the second instalment of the E Jean Carroll saga, in which she is now suing him for defamation after he lost a civil proceeding over her accusations of his sexual assault of her in a department store dressing room. 

Meanwhile, federal special prosecutor Jack Smith has moved forward on two indictments, first filed in Florida, listing several dozen charges regarding the mishandling of a whole passel of highly classified documents, and then repeatedly trying to elude efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration – the rightful custodian of presidential (as opposed to personal) documents – to retrieve those materials.

Then, most recently, the special prosecutor filed additional charges in this case, now charging that the former president had effectively ordered his minions at his Mar-a-Lago club to delete the security camera video recordings that would have shown how some of the boxes containing classified documents had been moved hither and thither to avoid their being found by the authorities and thus preclude their being handed over to the feds.

Now, for good measure, the low-level hoplites who were instructed to delete the recordings (in vague, dismissive instructions from Trump that could ostensibly be denied in wording that could have come from one of those gangster film scripts) are now also under indictment.

Still to come, almost certainly, is yet another set of indictments for charges related to Trump’s role in inciting and encouraging the insurrection at the Capitol Building on 6 January 2021. Trump’s efforts there represented what was effectively an effort to overturn the election of Joe Biden and to subvert the formal process of confirming that election, instructing the vice president not to certify the formal electoral vote count.

Such an indictment – assuming it arrives – will surely set the cat among the political pigeons since it would go directly to the heart of an unprecedented, violent effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a result of an election. Trump’s words immediately followed his 6 January rally on the Mall in downtown Washington.

Those charges (as well as those other indictments) may well result in convictions and actual punishment of a former president who is currently running to be renominated and then re-elected to the country’s highest elected office.

Yet to be formally charged are efforts by Trump to suborn the vote count in Georgia to his favour. He had implored that state’s officials to somehow dig up 11,780 new votes from somewhere, so he could win Georgia’s electoral vote and thus move him that much closer to overturning Biden’s ostensible victory. If, or when, such an indictment comes forward, there will be the rather awkward matter of a recording of Trump actually asking officials to cheat – words his gaggle of lawyers will need to address. 

As each of these indictments become courtroom dramas, Donald Trump’s dance card will begin to fill up with a plethora of appearances in the various courts across the country. The trial in Florida over the documents has been set for May 2024. (Importantly, in criminal proceedings, the defendant is supposed to be present to face his accusers rather than rely upon his lawyers to argue for him while he is absent from the trial.)

How all those court appointments will square with efforts to campaign across the country in the various primaries and caucuses will be a scheduler’s nightmare.

In his favour is the fact that there probably is not a single voter left in America who is unfamiliar with Trump. And most of those probably also believe they understand what he stands for as a candidate. They either love him for that or loathe him in every way possible. So there is that fact.

Then, too, there is the point that at each court appearance, he will present himself as the No 1 star victim, pursued by any means possible by all those evil forces in the country (see above) standing in his (and his supporters’) path of a triumphal march to glory.

The Incumbent

Among Democrats, meanwhile, the incumbent president, Joe Biden, is running for renomination for a second four-year term of office, amid continuing unease among his party about his age (he is already 80 years old). The persistent, nagging worry is that he has lost a step or two or three and is maybe simply no longer capable of holding down one of the toughest jobs on the planet.

(Vladimir Putin’s job is probably more problematic still, but his challenges are largely of his own making, including a war of choice against Ukraine that is not going well at all, and the question of what to do about the Wagner Group of hired guns and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.)

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Supporters cheer as US President Joe Biden addresses union workers on 17 June 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Mark Makela / Getty Images)

This eventuality would mean voters will be confronted with the choice between Biden and Trump, again. It would be a battle between two old bulls whose best days were behind them, a situation unlikely to please a significant number of voters.

Read more in Daily Maverick: US public sours on a Biden-Trump election rematch in 2024

This is leading to a bit of media buzz about a third or even a fourth party candidacy. The non-party No Label effort is trying to formulate a kind of radical centrist movement, although they have been unable to coalesce around any particular candidate.

Meanwhile, radical academic Cornel West has declared his candidacy in line with previous efforts by consumer activist Ralph Nader and Dr Jill Stein, both of whom, it is argued, cost the Democratic Party two close elections. While West or Mr/Ms No Label X will not win an election, they could pull sufficient votes from the Democratic Party to toss the win to Trump.

Biden’s only opponent, though, is former congressman and conspiracy theorist/anti-vaxxer/ethnic and racial rabble rouser Robert F Kennedy Jr. Kennedy is the scion of a legendary political family, but his views and attitudes are so far out of the mainstream of his ostensible party that the chances Biden would actually lose to him in any primary remain close to nil.

Having said that, the anti-Vietnam War Senator Eugene McCarthy, while ultimately losing to President Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary of 1968, came close enough to winning that contest that Johnson decided not to pursue a second elected term after all. Initial primaries and caucuses can produce unexpected political outcomes.

Bidenomics

Still, on purely economic (and foreign policy) grounds, President Biden should be riding much higher in polling than he is now, where his support levels hover around 40%. Unemployment is around the magic number of 3.5%, and inflation has dropped significantly from its immediate post-Covid highs as well.

Moreover, the Biden administration can claim the creation of more than 13 million new jobs (including nearly a million in real manufacturing) since coming into office. The rush of federal spending, much of it in infrastructure, is starting to filter into the economy, especially in areas hit hard by earlier job losses from deindustrialisation.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Biden leads Trump in would-be 2024 election rematch in NBC poll

Perhaps some of the dissatisfaction towards a Biden presidency is rooted in fears of the wave of migrants fleeing Central and South America – although that number is now actually down significantly from earlier levels.  

Biden’s team has fixed on the formula of calling this overall set of economic policies “Bidenomics” and – importantly – a foreign policy for the middle class. In regard to the latter, Biden can point to the rallying of the entire Nato alliance in support of Ukraine against the Russian invasion, building up a series of tacit alliances – the Quad and Aukus – linking nations from India through to Japan, and attempts to evolve a more proactive, protectionist stance towards China, but without the near-racial overtones that were conspicuous in the Trump years.

As far as Africa goes, there has also been a rush to rebuild relationships sullied by the previous administration, although there remains some important business to carry out, including how best to protect (and renew) duty-free access to the US market for African products under Agoa (the African Growth and Opportunity Act).

But for the Biden campaign generally, there still seems to be work to be done to lock down the sale as well as to reassure voters that Biden’s verbal fumbles do not reflect diminished capacity. If the election comes down to a Biden-Trump contest redux, come November 2024, perhaps we shall be subjected to the unedifying public spectacle of duelling cognitive capability test results, in addition to the more usual debates and snit fights over proposed policies, in order to prove which old man deserves one more shot at the White House.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Biden leads Trump in would-be 2024 election rematch in NBC poll

As soon as all the indictments are in place, perhaps even before the actual trials take place and, assuming Trump is the apparent nominee, the pollsters will be busy asking voters whom they prefer between Trump and Biden.

Much will depend on the state of the economy in the rest of 2023, the circumstances of the war in Ukraine and the way the immigration crisis along the southern border either intensifies or lessens. And, of course, how well the two men – Trump and Biden – manage to cope with their stresses at their respective ages. The verdict? It is still too soon to tell. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ian hurst says:

    I don’t get it. Another article that completely ignores the overwhelming evidence of Biden’s criminal activities. Here is the comment I made on 11th July (which has not been published by DM – yet)
    WOW! Another article by Brooke without a single mention of the credible accusations against the Biden Crime Family, which, even if only partly true, would mean that Sleepy Joe is sent to jail, and is not just impeached. The accusations are based on The Laptop From Hell (which has been around for years, and is now accepted as real by the FBI) and the many shell companies through which foreign (Chinese) money was paid to the Biden family, and emails showing The Big Guy was present while Hunter attempted to shake down some Chinese officials.
    Things have moved on since then. Devon Archer, a Biden confidant, testified that Joe Biden had conference calls with sleazy foreigners, who sought favours from the then Vice President, and paid millions to Biden family members.
    Is the Daily Maverick complicit in some some form of censorship? An innocuous comment I made about Biden on 29th May has still not been printed.
    Why the silence about the big news that the Pesident of the United States is involved with corruption?

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