With the fight for the 2020 election appearing in the rearview, it is tempting to look at how the landscape sizes up in 2024. Will Trump run again to avenge a razor thin margin in swing states that cost him the Electoral College? Will life as a private citizen make him complacent since he is primed for a very lucrative cable TV career?
One thing remains a constant even if he is does not run, the 2024 candidate will need Donald Trump's endorsement in order to be the Republican nominee. He is the Kingmaker.
Now that the Trump team has started cooperating with the transition to a Biden presidency, it appears fairly certain we will have a president Biden on January 20. We are a little over two years from candidates announcing their intentions for a White House run, but a lot can happen in that time.
Given the unique nature of the pandemic-altered 2020 campaign, it appears that Joe Biden was able to avoid the scrutiny most candidates endure by campaigning mostly via choreographed interviews from his basement (where he was caught reading from a teleprompter during an interview). Right-wing media lambasted this approach, claiming the DNC was protecting a candidate who had lost a step and was suffering from senility.
Biden turned 78 on November 20th, and not every 78-year-old is the same. He displayed some cringeworthy moments on the campaign trail prior to COVID-related shutdowns at town hall events. Taking on the most strenuous job of any politician's life at his advanced age will not fare well given the current state of his mental faculties.
This is not an indictment of people in their late 70s or ageism. Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders are both older than Biden, and they appear more mentally vibrant.
With that said, if Biden runs again, I think Trump will run again with little opposition given his ability to draw primary voters. Avenging his loss in 2020 with a comeback story will be too enticing for Trump to turn down.
I actually don't think Biden runs for reelection. He called his candidacy a bridge to the next generation at its outset. Who knows what kind of senior moments we are in for over the next two to three years? Will Obama have to sit him down in two years and explain it's time to gracefully bow out?
If Biden doesn't run, and it's a Harris/Buttigieg or Harris/Booker ticket, does Trump feel the same retribution and decide to run again?
If Trump stays in the private sector, then what roll does he play in 2024? He will be the most important person in Republican politics besides the head of the ticket in 2024, that's what. He gained more voters than any Republican in modern history, and he made big strides with voters who cobble together the Democrat's base (I wrote about that here last week: Republican Autopsy of 2020 and Their Golden Opportunity Ahead). He had 10 million more votes than were cast for him than in 2016, when he won the Electoral College handily.
Trump's biggest weapon for or against prospective GOP candidates in 2024 will be his ability to rally his base. As per FiveThirtyEight, Trump's primary picks have gone on to win an astounding 98% of the time in 2020 (111 endorsements resulting in 109 wins). This is no light achievement. Trump's people listen to Trump, and it would seem his future endorsement in 2024 would crown the favorite to win the primary and face the Harris/XYZ hypothetical ticket.
No one in politics today has the ability to bring out people on a campaign trail like Trump does. If he actively campaigns with a chosen candidate and the "Non-Politician Rockstar" tour resumes, then there is no oxygen left for any other candidate.
Trump is someone who demands loyalty. That means you have Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, and maybe Ron Desantis of Florida (another fairly unknown who rode a Trump endorsement to become governor.) It's difficult to see a Rubio or Cruz breaking through given the contentious relationship that Trump has had with them.
The question becomes, who is willing to kiss the ring of Trump to get the nod? Politics makes interesting bedfellows, so all of them will pucker their lips — but who does Trump take to the dance? Trump is an interesting phenomenon in American politics … even in defeat his shadow looms large enough to hand-pick his Republican successor.
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