2024 US Presidential Election Won’t Be For The Faint-Hearted – OpEd


By Yossi Mekelberg

It has been a long time since any US elections have been simultaneously so crucial for the future of the country and the world, but equally uninspiring, generating little hope, and a source of universal concern over who will occupy Capitol Hill and the White House as a result of the votes on Nov. 5 this year. As always, it will be the presidential election that attracts the most attention, yet whoever controls Congress will also strongly influence the direction the US will take until almost the end of the current decade.

At this point, less than a year before the election, a rerun of the 2020 presidential race between the incumbent Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump looks almost inevitable. In the aftermath of the previous round between them, very few would have expected that either would be their party’s nominee for this year’s election, let alone both.

The former is already the oldest ever to do this extremely demanding job and the latter departed the White House with hardly any credibility attached to his name. Both are living proof of politicians finding it impossible to call it a day. More worrying, however, is the inability of either the Democrats or the Republicans to produce an alternative cadre of potential leaders capable of capturing the country’s imagination at a time when the world is rapidly changing and the US is united by name only.

Although this election year is still in its infancy, there is a sense that campaigning has been going on for a long time, arguably ever since the result of the 2020 election was followed by the most grotesque challenges from the losing candidate, both in the courts and by the unprecedented Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, which is still under investigation and whose implications are still resonating and will continue to do so until polling day.

With so many skeletons in his closet, it is surprising that Trump is even being considered as a Grand Old Party presidential candidate, never mind the leading one. But in the current feverish atmosphere, hardcore Republican supporters either dismiss all of Trump’s legal entanglements as merely part of a conspiracy by the “deep state” to bring him and his allies down or their hate for Biden and everything liberal America represents eclipses their judgment.

These issues are going to dominate the headlines in the lead-up to the election and, in the case of Trump, his legal problems will follow him all the way to polling day. These will include the recent decision by two states, Colorado and Maine, to bar him from their primary ballot over his role in the attack on the US Capitol, which he has appealed against to the Supreme Court.

All of this has done Trump no harm among Republican supporters, who see him as a warrior against the establishment, and his near-60 percent lead in the polls for the Republican nomination looks at this point to be unassailable. That is unless more states bar him from participating in the primaries or he is convicted in one or more of his court cases, events which might lead at least some of the more moderate Republicans to jump ship.

This is a tragic state of affairs for a country that is supposed to be a leader of the liberal-democratic world. Ultimately, this coming election is not only about the usual problems that beset the country, but also about the very survival of the liberal-democratic system itself and the country’s leadership position in world affairs.

More 30 years ago, James Carville, strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign, coined the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid,” pointing out that this was the issue on which elections were won or lost. This might have been true then, but it is definitely not the case now. If it were, Biden would have a comfortable lead in the opinion polls.

America’s economy did better than expected in 2023, with an annualized growth rate of 4.9 percent in the third quarter, alongside low unemployment and the Dow hitting all-time highs. But this year’s election is not going to be strictly about the economy. Instead, we can expect a long, negative campaign about the character of the country, with issues such as immigration, race-based affirmative action and abortion, let alone personal attacks, taking center stage. Each party will portray the other as unfit to govern, of betraying core American principles and of being too weak, clueless even, to deal with the immense challenges posed, for instance, by China, Russia or the fast-deteriorating situation in the Middle East.

In a speech marking the third anniversary of the 2021 insurrection on Saturday, Biden warned the American people of the parlous task ahead. “Whether democracy is still America’s sacred cause is the most urgent question of our time,” he declared, before outlining a litany of Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 election. He defined the central theme of his 2024 campaign as the “preservation of American democracy.” Not surprisingly, Trump’s response was another tirade of insults.

Much of this election campaign will, rightly, be about whether Trump can be trusted with the highest office in the land and the future of America’s democracy. That is because he constantly and consistently seeks to undermine the democratic process itself and, should he win, will likely do everything in his power to save his skin from all the criminal charges he faces.

For those of us who are not eligible to vote in US elections but are heavily impacted by their results, we can only watch this unpleasant election campaign with great anticipation and dread, waiting for the American people to pass their verdict.

  • Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at international affairs think thank Chatham House. X: @YMekelberg

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