In Washington these days, it’s all about the conditional tense. Joe Biden could announce his presidential candidacy for the 2024 elections on Tuesday. Donald Trump’s chances at becoming the Republican candidate for the White House could be their best since the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. And it would be better for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who for months has been selling himself as the only person capable of convincing conservative voters to move on from Trump, to wait another four years before throwing himself into the ring of national politics since poll after poll shows him trailing Trump.
The 2024 presidential campaign is at a very early stage, but even amid the lack of concretion, all signs are pointing to the same conclusion. At this point, a sequel to the 2020 Biden-Trump showdown is the most likely scenario.
The prediction that Joe Biden could run for re-election is the safest bet. Last week, U.S. media confirmed with sources from his administration that he plans to make an announcement on Tuesday, which is the fourth anniversary of the day in which he launched his 2020 White House run. Scheduled for that day is one of Biden’s favorite activities: meeting with unions to tout his Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which secured historic investment from Congress. Just as he did in 2019, the president is also thinking of announcing his re-election bid with a video.
On that occasion, Biden based his message on the 2017 white supremacist protest in Charlottesville — the city of Thomas Jefferson — which ended with the death of a woman, who was part of a peaceful counterprotest. To justify his decision to run, Biden recalled that, after the attack, Trump claimed there were “very fine people, on both sides.”
Trump’s refusal to denounce the white nationalists sparked outrage across the political spectrum, but it did not make the Republican any less popular among his loyal supporters. Nor did the first impeachment vote over Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, nor did the second impeachment over the attack on the U.S. Capitol, nor more recently, his indictment and arrest in relation to hush money paid to the porn star Storm Daniels. Trump’s popularity has also remained intact despite the numerous cases pending against him, including the rape allegations filed by journalist E. Jean Carroll, which goes to trial this week. Indeed, the opposite has happened: the latest scandals have only boosted his chances of winning the Republican presidential primary.
The dustbin of history
If Trump is chosen as the Republican candidate, it would be his third White House run since he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016. That victory was followed by a series of election defeats: Trump lost the 2018 midterm elections, the 2020 presidential election (although he insists, without proof, that the vote was rigged against him), and in the 2022 midterm elections, the candidates he supported lost their races. That was when focus shifted to DeSantis, who won Florida with by an overwhelming majority and was tipped to send Trump to the dustbin of history.
But in six months, the 44-year-old politician has still not confirmed whether he will run for the White House. And he now looks like Trump did last November: a candidate with no hope of winning. After his sensational results in the midterms, DeSantis has fallen victim to his extremist policies on issues such as abortion, education and book bans, with many Republican donors withdrawing their support out of fear that this agenda will scare away voters outside of Florida. The governor has also been targeted by Trump, who is skilled in the art of character attacks. For now, Trump is also beating him on his home ground: the real estate tycoon is winning more support than DeSantis among Florida state legislators.
Meanwhile, Biden — who is also under investigation for his handling of classified documents from his time as vice president, and is dealing with the legal troubles of his son, Hunter — has been sitting back and watching the Republicans attack one another.
For a long time, the question in Washington has not been if Biden would run for re-election, but rather when he would make the announcement — a point highlighted by the fact that no serious Democratic opponent has jumped into the ring (the only two who have stepped forward so far are writer Marianne Wilson and environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr, the nephew of John F. Kennedy). Indeed, some of Biden’s potential rivals have already thrown their support behind him. The thinking is if Biden could beat Trump once, he could do it again.
Biden has never been one to rush into a White House race, and on several occasions he has toyed with the idea before deciding not to run — as happened in 1980, 1984 and 2016. But according to The Washington Post, the president has decided to run — a decision he reportedly made on April 15, while flying back from a trip to Ireland. “We’ll announce it relatively soon,” Biden reportedly told the newspaper.
That same weekend, filming began on the video to announce Biden’s White House campaign. The video is expected to be short, no more than two minutes long. Work also began on a website, which is key to fundraising. Once Biden formally becomes a candidate, he will legally be allowed to ask donors for money. According to The Washington Post, the Biden campaign is hoping to raise up to $2 billion.
It’s an expensive undertaking. What’s more, Biden doesn’t elicit waves of enthusiasm. His popularity ratings have been stuck at an admittedly meager 40% since the summer of 2021, when he announced the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. That ended his honeymoon (or rather, his grace period) with the country. The idea of another Biden presidency doesn’t even excite Democrat voters: only 47% want him to run again, according to the latest Associated Press poll.
The age problem
The main issue is age. At 80, Biden is already the oldest president in history and, if re-elected, he would be 86 by the end of his second term. Aging is not an exact science, but — as The New York Times pointed out in its editorial on Sunday — it is reasonable for there to be concerns about whether he will be fit to act as president at that age.
“Concerns about age — both in terms of fitness for office and being out of touch with the moment — are legitimate,” the editorial board wrote, arguing that Biden must openly address these worries and stop avoiding questions about his age. “He has held fewer news conferences and media interviews than most of his modern predecessors. Since 1923, only Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan took fewer questions per month from reporters, and neither represents a model of presidential openness that Mr. Biden should want to emulate.”
While age may not work in his favor, Biden at least has history on his side. The incumbent president has traditionally easily won a second term (with the exception of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr. and Trump). But in a country where defeat comes with great stigma, it’s rare to see the same presidential race twice. The last time this happened was when Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson faced off in 1952 and 1956, with Eisenhower winning both elections by a wide margin.
The only thing that seems certain is that the result is likely to be much closer, regardless of who wins. Last week, a poll conducted by The Wall Street Journal found that in a repeat of the 2020 race, Biden would narrowly beat Trump with 45-48% of the vote. Trump — who will launch a book of correspondence this week — was quick to dismiss the survey. “In the Polls, I am beating Biden everywhere, by a lot, except in the Globalist inspired Wall Street Journal, one of the worst, and most partisan, media outlets anywhere,” Trump posted on his social network Truth Social. “Don’t buy their Bull…. They are FAKE NEWS!!!”
If the rhetoric sounds familiar, brace yourself: 2024 is shaping up to have a lot of déjà vu moments.
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