Election Day 2024 is still 16 months away, but plenty has been revealed in the early months of the presidential campaign.
The Republican field looks set. President Biden is not facing a truly serious challenge for the Democratic nomination. And the Supreme Court keeps throwing curveballs.
There are many twists and turns still to come. But here are some of the things we know about the campaign right now.
Indictments aren’t hurting Trump with the GOP base
Trump has been twice impeached and twice indicted — and he’s the crystal-clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination.
His legal troubles are still developing.
He could yet face other charges pertaining to the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021 and, particularly, his attempts to pressure state-level officials to overturn the 2020 election. He continues to promote false claims that the election was stolen.
To the Republican base at least, none of it seems to matter.
On April 3, the day before Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced the first-ever criminal indictment of a former president, Trump led Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by approximately 24 points in the FiveThirtyEight national polling average.
Then came a second indictment, over the sensitive documents recovered from his Mar-a-Lago estate. In that case, Trump pleaded not guilty to all 37 charges against him on June 13.
Today, Trump’s lead is slightly larger — 28 points — than it was before any of this happened. He now commands the support of an outright majority of GOP voters, 52 percent, in the FiveThirtyEight average, an improvement from three months ago.
Of course there is the question of how Trump’s legal travails might affect him with the general public, with whom he is broadly unpopular already.
In an Economist/YouGov poll last week, 55 percent of Americans viewed the former president unfavorably against 43 percent who viewed him favorably.
Moreover, if Trump were actually to be convicted, that would throw an entirely new wrench into the race.
But for now, the two indictments pose no significant challenge to Trump’s quest for the GOP nomination.
Democrats don’t have a good answer to the question of Biden’s age
President Biden is already the oldest president in history. If he won a second term, and served until its conclusion, he would be 86 when he left office.
Voter concerns are made more acute when Biden suffers verbal miscues like referring to the war “in Iraq” when he clearly means “in Ukraine,” as he did last week.
A physical fall at an Air Force Academy graduation ceremony on June 1 did not do Biden’s image any good either.
Republicans emphasize these moments in the hope of casting Biden as unfit for office. But the concerns about the president’s age are not confined to GOP voters.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll in May found 63 percent of Americans did not think that Biden had the “mental sharpness it takes to serve effectively as president.” About one-in-five Democratic voters endorsed that view.
Biden himself admitted last October that “it’s a legitimate thing to be concerned about anyone’s age, including mine.”
But there’s nothing that can really be done to neutralize those concerns.
The best that can be hoped for, from the White House’s perspective, is that voters accept Biden’s pleas to be judged on his performance — and buy the argument that his age and experience make him wise.
If Trump ends up being Biden’s general election opponent, Democrats take some degree of comfort from the fact that there would be less than four years separating the two men’s ages.
A general election race between Biden, now 80, and DeSantis, 44, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, 51, or South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, 57, would be a different matter.
DeSantis has been underwhelming so far
DeSantis is almost six weeks into his campaign — and it hasn’t been very impressive.
The troubles began right away.
A Twitter Spaces launch event that the DeSantis campaign presumably believed would mark him out as an innovative disrupter was instead a glitch-ridden mess.
DeSantis, never the most natural of political campaigners, has faced new scrutiny for the perceived awkwardness of his interactions on the stump.
But the biggest problem is that polls provide virtually no evidence that DeSantis is capturing the imagination of GOP voters.
His poll ratings now are virtually indistinguishable from where they were before his campaign began.
As that perception of a struggling campaign grows, so too does the danger of Team DeSantis appearing desperate.
A bizarre video retweeted from an associated Twitter account last week, which assailed Trump for being too liberal on LGBTQ issues and sought to cast DeSantis in a hyper-macho light, was the most startling example to date.
It’s far too early to say that all is lost for DeSantis.
Other candidates have got off to stuttering starts only to triumph, most notably then-Sen. Barack Obama at the beginning of his 2008 Democratic primary battle against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Still, it’s been a very tepid beginning for DeSantis.
The Supreme Court is looming larger as an election issue
The Supreme Court ensured it would be a big 2024 election issue a year ago, when it issued the Dobbs decision that struck down Roe v. Wade after almost 50 years.
The abortion issue cost the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections, and the pro-abortion rights side has also won a number of state-wide ballot measures even in conservative terrain like Kansas and Montana.
But the Supreme Court is rising even further up the political agenda after the decisions announced last week.
In three huge cases, the court greatly restricted colleagues and universities from considering race as a qualification for admission; struck down Biden’s student-debt cancellation program that would have benefitted 43 million Americans; and backed a Christian Colorado website designer who wanted to avoid sanction for refusing to design sites celebrating same-sex marriage.
The decisions have outraged the left.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in a CNN interview Sunday, accused the Supreme Court justices of “far overreaching their authority” in the student loans case. Biden complained after the affirmative action decision that the current court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, is “not a normal court.”
Conservatives, for their part, contend that Democrats revered earlier, more liberal, iterations of the court but are whining now the shoe is on the other foot.
One way or another, the court is central in deciding some of the most potent and divisive issues in American life.
Its importance will be cited by both sides in the campaign to come.
No clear GOP alternative to Trump has emerged
For all of the failings of DeSantis’s campaign so far, he is at least remaining well clear of the chasing pack of candidates.
None of the other alternatives to Trump are making much headway at all.
In the FiveThirtyEight national average as of Tuesday afternoon, former Vice President Pence was third with just seven percent support, while Haley, Scott and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy were all effectively tied for fourth on four percent.
One of these candidates, or someone else trailing even further behind, could suddenly come to life in the fall.
Debate season, which is set to begin Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, will give every candidate the chance to land a potentially game-changing punch.
But right now, no-one has come close to sewing up the niche as the Not-Trump choice.
Source: The Hill