If you thought we would never have to live through a repeat of the 2020 presidential campaign, buckle up. It’s looking increasingly likely that’s exactly what we’re in for next year.
For all the handwringing about President Joe Biden’s age and all the legal problems clinging to Donald Trump, right now both men are the prohibitive front runners for their party’s nominations. With his announcement last week, Biden put an end to the silly inside-the-Beltway game of listing would-be replacements should he choose not to run. (Sorry, Pete.) In fact, it was always clear that Biden was planning on running for re-election.
In Trump’s case, his fortune has benefited from the sheer perversity of his situation. Being indicted has made him a martyr in the eyes of his hard-core followers. After months of seeming that the party had passed him by, Trump is once again the party leader. Everyone – whether they like it or not – has to come to his support through his legal woes or risk being considered a heretic. It proves that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Of course, Trump has gotten a mighty assist from the truly lousy performance of the establishment’s designated savior, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). DeSantis’ flaws have long been in view, but Republicans desperate for an alternative chose to ignore them. DeSantis is seeing his campaign implode before he even announces he’s running.
That’s reflected in the polls. In a recent Emerson poll of GOP primary voters, DeSantis got just 16 percent, compared to 62 percent for Trump, a drop of nine percentage points since February.
DeSantis could still mount a credible challenge to Trump. It’s possible that Trump’s legal troubles could overwhelm him. Perhaps the GOP establishment will rally and fulfill their prediction that Trump will never win the nomination.
Any of these things could happen. How likely they are to happen is another question entirely. Right now, all the momentum is on Trump’s side. His one weakness is having alienated the religious right by arguing (correctly) that the emphasis on abortion restrictions is hurting Republicans at the ballot box. But he’s making up for it by pledging to protect entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, something that distinguishes Trump not only from DeSantis but practically every other living Republican leader.
Biden’s path is much easier. He will face nominal opposition in the primary, with Marianne Williamson running again. There’s also Robert Kennedy Jr., the anti-vax, anti-trans Democrat with the golden family name. Kennedy, who is beloved by right-wingers like Steve Bannon and Alex Jones, seems to be competing for the Tulsi Gabbard slot in this cycle’s campaign.
Biden made it clear that he is ready to confront Republican extremism head-on. You would think, given the drubbing that the GOP took in the midterms, that his re-election chances would be pretty good.
But a race between Biden and Trump might be another nail-biter. A lot of progressives aren’t exactly thrilled by Biden, and Black voters, who were key to his securing the nomination last time, are feeling disillusioned. An unenthusiastic base could harm Biden in the battleground states he needs to win.
On the other hand, Trump is very good at whipping up his base. The problem is that, in doing so, he alienates others who are inclined to vote Republican, like suburban women and college graduates. He can handily win the GOP nomination, but that doesn’t translate into widespread voter appeal since the GOP is as much a cult as a party at this point.
The only thing we will be guaranteed is a vicious fight. Trump will pull out all the stops to erase the humiliation of his 2020 defeat. He will pander to the basest bigotry, knowing that hatred translates into action. Biden will exercise his considerable political skills to navigate through the wreckage.
But if we are in for a rematch, we should be prepared for a brutal fight where attacks on our rights will be commonplace. Sadly, knowing how Trump feeds his followers, the attacks won’t just be confined to our rights.