It’s the question on everyone’s mind. Well, anyone with even a passing interest in American politics, which these days constitutes just about everyone in America.
Will the 2024 presidential election be a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump?
Now, I hate to break this to all of you, but I don’t actually know the answer.
What I can tell you, though, is that such a match-up is not inevitable. Neither would it necessarily be unprecedented. As a matter of fact, such scenarios are far from rare.
In the early days of the American Republic, when only a few dozen electors decided presidential elections, rematches were actually quite common. Once the convention system developed in the mid-19th Century, however, repeats became more difficult feats. In fact, post-Civil War it happened exactly three times: Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and 1892; William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan in 1896 and 1900; Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956.
Nor is the prospect of a potential rematch an inconceivable phenomenon in recent history. In a Gallup poll after the 1978 midterms, Gerald Ford was leading Ronald Reagan in a hypothetical contest for the 1980 Republican nomination. While Ford ultimately passed on a second run, there’s another example that’s even more analogous to our current situation.
In the fall of 2002, Al Gore was sitting atop the polls for the 2004 Democratic nomination. Even so, a TIME poll found him trailing George W. Bush by 17 points in a head-to-head matchup. After Republicans won the midterms, and Democratic Party leaders made their own displeasure with Gore known, the ex-Vice President decided to pass and stay politically retired.
Donald Trump, of course, won’t be swayed by what party leaders prefer. What remains to be seen is whether he’ll have to contend with a serious primary challenger.
You have to give Ron DeSantis this, no one else in his position has lasted this long. Previously, the most successful GOP primary challenger to Trump was Ben Carson, who briefly took the front-runner spot in November 2015. Whereas Carson’s rise only lasted a few weeks, however, DeSantis has steadily built his support over the past two years.
The Florida Governor achieved this by finding an opening few others saw to Trump’s right on cultural issues. Since last year, DeSantis’ unleashed unceasing attacks on conservative bugaboos like masking, transgender student athletes and critical race theory. This crusade earned him an ever-expanding share of media attention and conservative admirers.
As a result, DeSantis has become the de facto candidate for those GOP power brokers who would not-so-secretly like to move on from the Trump Era. Among the most influential members of this group are Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch.
The primary problem for DeSantis, though, is that his rise has come almost in spite of Trump. While he’s for the most part carefully avoided genuflecting to the former President, he hasn’t directly taken him on either. Even if Trump and DeSantis never meet on a debate stage, the Governor’s road to the White House will involve going head-on against the 45th President. In short, the only way to beat Trump is to go through him.
So the question becomes whether DeSantis can manage that task. Those who’ve watched the Floridian most closely are skeptical he has the charisma to best Trump one-on-one. The Atlantic’s Mark Leibovich probably put it best when asked about DeSantis’ chances against Trump.
“Trump makes absolute sport of people who are not comfortable in their own skin,” Leibovich observed. “People who are not entertaining. People who are Ron DeSantis-like, to be perfectly blunt.”
Unless and until DeSantis can prove he can hold his own in tit-for-tat sparring with Trump, we shouldn’t assume he can take the 2024 Republican nomination from the 2016 and 2020 nominee.
Biden and the One-Term Myth
Meanwhile, over on the Democratic side, there are more than a few who’d prefer it if their party turned to a new nominee in 2024 too. Even some voices in the media have tired of the plodding political styles of President Joe Biden. The man himself, of course, has shown absolutely no interest in such a prospect. Biden deliberately rejected the idea of a one-term pledge during his 2020 campaign, and consistently contends that he’ll run for a second term.
Despite this, several point to a March 2020 remark, where Biden described himself as “a bridge” to a new generation of party leaders. Yet, as Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin recount in their book “This Will Not Pass”, this idea was a suggestion that Cory Booker made to Biden on the ride over to the event. Biden was merely complimenting the trio of young Democratic officials who were there to endorse him (Booker, Kamala Harris and Gretchen Whitmer), not expressing any desire to be a one-and-done Chief Executive.
Frankly, the idea was always far-fetched. Biden spent about half a century seeking the Presidency, he was never going to abandon it to satisfy the desires of others. Indeed, there’s only one way Biden wouldn’t seek a second term. Which brings us to the most uncomfortable aspect of all this.
The Health Factor
Joe Biden is a few months away from his 80th birthday, Donald Trump turned 76 a few months ago. They are respectively the oldest and second-oldest Presidents in American history. So there are obviously questions about whether these two men will even be able to serve as their party’s nominees two years from now.
Herein lies the danger with political prognosticating. Every indication over the course of several years can point to an outcome, yet a single event can suddenly upend everything on a moment’s notice. Speaking of which, there’s one other variable that could derail a potential Biden-Trump re-match.
Trump’s Legal Trouble
After all, it would be quite arduous (yet not impossible) to run for President from prison. In case you haven’t watched any cable news in the past two years, Donald Trump is currently under three separate potentially criminal investigations. There’s the case in Fulton County, Georgia concerning his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, as well as a pair of Justice Department investigations into his role in the January 6th insurrection and his handling of government documents.
Nevertheless, many Trump supporters and foes still believe he’ll emerge unscathed. Perhaps you’re familiar with the well-known meme. The fact that both Robert Mueller and the New York City District Attorneys office refused to indict Trump, and the two efforts to impeach him came up short, seems to have solidified this notion.
The past, however, may not be a reliable guide in this instance. Attorney General Merrick Garland and/or the Fulton DA may still choose to pursue their cases. Furthermore, while the documents investigation is taking place on Trump’s home turf in South Florida, Atlanta and D.C. will likely be much less hospitable to him.
Similar to a health scare, a Trump indictment (and/or guilty verdict) would instantly turn this race upside down and cause all us analysts to go back to the drawing board.
Conclusion: Get Ready
As established, nothing in life is certain, especially something with as many variables as a presidential election. Nonetheless, a presidential match-up has rarely appeared more obvious two years ahead of time.
Such a reality would suggest some stagnation in our politics, although not necessarily a lack of enthusiasm. In every example of the aforementioned Presidential re-matches, the second match-up saw a higher total turnout than the first one. The heightened interest in this year’s midterms suggests this trend will continue.
Either way, we’ll get our best early look at 2024 when voters nationwide have their voices heard on November 8th.