By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
The midterms are still five months away, but the 2024 presidential campaign is already well underway.
“The clock is ticking for anyone thinking about 2024,” Republican strategist Tucker Martin, a top advisor to former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, told Politico in March. “If you’re interested in the next cycle, you have to start defining yourself and your potential opponents.”
Actually, it’s always campaign season in the good ol’ U.S.A. and in my humble opinion, the next presidential race began on Inauguration Day 2021 when I first heard “Will Joe Biden and Donald Trump run again?” speculation in the media.
Politics in America is treated mostly like a combination of sports and entertainment. We can’t resist looking ahead and trying to predict the future, even if the dust from the last election has barely settled and the present is a cloudy mess.
Donald Trump is under investigation on several fronts for grievous activities such as business fraud and attempting to overturn the 2020 election. His allies, some of whom have their own presidential aspirations, are caught on the horns of a dilemma: how to suck up to Trump and please the GOP’s base while appearing independent enough to attract undecided voters should these non-Trumps secure the nomination, which still appears unlikely given the former president’s substantial popularity on the right.
That Trump is still a viable candidate shows just how insane our country has become. Be that as dismay, it’s a howling shame that in the best of times, the most crucial business of the people is left to those who must constantly traffic in spin, lies, hypocrisy and obstruction. The goal of the game is to gain and keep power, not to serve the country.
Poor Joe Biden. He’s now the Charlie Brown of politics. Well meaning and sincere, he’s tried to steer the country through turbulent, difficult times but has been mocked for his failures, foiled by foes, and undermined by events the way Lucy yanks the football away whenever Charlie tries to kick it.
Now Biden is flat on his back, with his approval ratings at a dismal 39.7 percent, which is below where Trump’s were at a similar point in his term. Even worse for Biden’s prospects, reports of Democrats souring on his re-election bid keep coming.
A New York Times story on June 12 cited dozens of party officials, members of Congress, and voters who don’t want Biden to run again. This after a YouGov poll in April found only 21% of voters who are inclined to vote for a Democrat named Biden as their pick.
So if not Biden, who? The Dems need an Obama — a fresh, younger face who can energize people across racial, gender and age lines with appealing, practical ideas and messages that inspire hope. None of the commonly cited favorites — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Gavin Newsom, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Roy Cooper, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke or Vice President Kamala Harris — generate excitement in a wide swath of the electorate on the left or in the middle. It’s probably safe to say there isn’t a Democrat on the planet who can turn a Trumper’s vote.
No matter who they choose, the Democrats won’t get anything done without a filibuster-proof majority in Congress. The Republicans, especially if Trump still has his hands on the party’s levers and Mitch McConnell is around, will simply block them. If the stories out of Georgia and New Mexico are any portent, the GOP may well litigate, or worse, to keep a Democratic winner from taking office in the first place.
Over on the GOP side, the candidate is likely to be Trump or one of the at least 15 possible challengers, among them Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, Tom Cotton, Greg Abbott, Josh Hawley, Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and Nikki Haley. They will probably have to out-Trump Trump to satisfy the base, which remains key to the nomination. In doing so, they will give their Democratic opponent plenty of ammunition while likely alienating crucial independents and moderates.
A sane party in a sane country would choose someone like Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who has remained popular enough in a blue state to serve two terms. Unfortunately, he is not seeking re-election and hasn’t expressed an interest in the presidency.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan comes close to Baker in willingness to focus on actually governing in a way that helps all people. But Hogan has spoken out against Trump and is therefore a RINO to the hard right, which seems to be mainly interested in revenge, continuing to fight over the 2020 election, and focusing on culture wars over things like LGBTQ+ rights and how racial issues are discussed in public schools.
There’s also the ongoing threat to democracy itself. As I pointed out last week, if you believe that if Trump is returned to the White House in 2024 he will willingly leave in 2028 or 2032, I have a tower in Moscow I’d like to sell you. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I fear we are entering an era of perpetual groundless charges of voter fraud, constant litigation, and likely violence over the outcomes of significant elections.
While I admire Joe Biden’s willingness to take this crazy country and world on his shoulders, given the fateful nature of the 2024 election and the monumental tasks that await the next president, I do think it is time for him to content himself with being a one-term caretaker who did the best he could under almost impossible circumstances. The Democrat who tries to succeed him will be in for hard, dark times.
That race will surely be fateful for this country.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.