The presidential rematch many Americans say they don’t want is coming closer to reality: President Biden vs. former President Trump in 2024.
Biden is expected to make his reelection bid official on Tuesday in a video announcement, and he is widely anticipated to be his party’s nominee next year.
Trump faces a tougher road to winning his party’s nomination, with a field of primary challengers taking shape and expected to grow. But he so far is the clear front-runner despite a host of legal troubles, leading the pack in some polls by double-digits a few months out from the first scheduled debate.
The rematch would be a replay of one of the most negative and divisive elections in American history, culminating in Trump’s refusal to concede and a riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol that forced the evacuation of Congress.
“There aren’t going to be that many people excited about a rematch because there aren’t that many people who want both of these people running for president,” said David Hopkins, an author and political science professor at Boston College.
An NBC News poll published Sunday found 70 percent of Americans and 51 percent of Democrats don’t think Biden should run for reelection in 2024. The same poll found 60 percent of Americans and roughly one-third of Republicans do not think Trump should run again.
An Associated Press poll published Friday found 65 percent of adults said they would probably or definitely not support Trump in a general election, compared to 56 percent who said the same about Biden.
Experts and strategists believe there are several factors contributing to the public’s lack of desire to see Trump and Biden face each other for a second time.
“Often, when you ask people, ‘Would you like someone else,’ it’s easy to conjure a hypothetical alternative candidate,” Hopkins said. “But when you ask people about flesh and blood alternatives, they tend to be less popular.”
For Biden, questions about his age continue to weigh on voters’ minds. Biden, who is 80, was the oldest president ever to be sworn in two years ago, and he would be 86 at the end of a full second term.
The NBC News poll found that of those who said Biden should not run again, 48 percent cited his age as a major reason.
It is not unusual for an incumbent president to seek another term. What is unusual is a former president seeking to win back the White House while retaining his hold on the party, especially one like Trump who has been at the center of numerous unprecedented controversies for the past eight years, including two impeachments and a recent arrest in New York City.
“Some people aren’t happy with that matchup because anything with Donald Trump’s name attached to it, they’re not happy,” said Jim Kessler, co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way.
A Trump-Biden rematch would carry echoes of a particularly brutal 2020 presidential campaign that was set against the backdrop of the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It featured vitriolic personal attacks, particularly from Trump’s team against Hunter Biden, and was marred by Trump’s refusal to accept the results and the subsequent attack on the Capitol.
There have been times over the past two years when a Biden-Trump rematch did not seem as inevitable as it may now.
Republican leaders sought to distance themselves from Trump early in the aftermath of the violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which was fueled by the former president’s repeated claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent and stolen from him.
Biden, meanwhile, faced skepticism throughout 2022 from Democrats about whether he warranted a second term given his age and concerns about rampant inflation.
Democrats have since rallied behind Biden, who is not facing a serious primary challenge, after a stronger-than-expected showing in last November’s midterms, a raft of bipartisan legislation passed last year and the president’s handling of the war in Ukraine.
At the same time, Trump has solidified his grip on the GOP, earning a slew of endorsements from members of Congress in recent weeks. Sunday’s NBC News poll found Trump leading a hypothetical GOP primary with 46 percent support, with his next closest competition Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who polled at 31 percent.
National polls have consistently shown Trump with a double-digit lead on DeSantis and other would-be challengers, though state-level polls show a closer race, and in some cases have the Florida governor narrowly leading the former president.
For Biden and his team, the possibility of a rematch with Trump is “top of mind,” said Jen Psaki, the former White House press secretary, Sunday on her MSNBC show.
“A race against Trump is definitely not a battle of policy ideas … which is why the comparison that the White House is focused on is not entirely on policy differences,” Psaki said. “It’s between a competent president and a chaotic Republican Party. Competence versus chaos. As of now, that contrast is kind of playing out on its own.”
“Biden did beat Trump last time, but he still has an incredibly tough fight ahead of him,” she added.
While polls have underscored the sense of national fatigue at the prospect of a Trump-Biden rematch, recent election cycles have indicated voters are as engaged as ever.
More than 158 million Americans cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election, a record for turnout.
The 2022 elections saw the second-highest voter turnout for a midterm since 2002, with roughly 107 million votes cast. The highest turnout came in 2018, when Trump was in office.
With Trump a big driver of turnout for Republicans who support him and Democrats who oppose him — and issues like abortion likely to be key for voters in 2024 — it’s expected that even those who’d rather see other candidates atop the ballot will still head to the polls next November.
“Anger is a great motivator in politics, and dissatisfaction can actually stimulate people to be more engaged with politics rather than to be apathetic,” said Hopkins. “That seems to be a big part of the story of why in our polarized age we’re seeing a surge in political activity. A lot of people are very strongly motivated by their dislike of at least one of the parties or at least one of the candidates.”
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