A Biden-Trump Rematch Is No Reason To Panic
The 2024 election may be a hot mess, but the country is strong and wise enough to withstand another Trump or Biden term
Tomorrow, with the Iowa Caucuses, the 2024 presidential primary season officially begins. Iowa has a history of upsetting political apple carts, so who knows? Maybe we’ll look back to January 15 as the day when former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis changed the dynamic of the race on his or her way to the Republican presidential nomination.
But if the polls are to be believed, such an upset seems unlikely. Both national and Iowa surveys of the state of the GOP race show Donald Trump with a seemingly insurmountable lead (of 51% and 33%, respectively) over rivals. Meanwhile, President Biden and the DNC have stripped Iowa and New Hampshire of their traditional roles as the first and second states in the Democratic Party nominating process so that the president can begin his march toward another term in the much friendlier terrain of South Carolina, the state where he turned around his floundering campaign in 2020.
This doesn’t mean a Trump-Biden rematch is absolutely certain. A number of factors from Biden’s age to Trump’s many indictments could force either candidate out the race. Also, while a Haley or DeSantis upset in the early primary states is unlikely, it’s not impossible. And a younger GOP nominee not named Trump could increase the pressure on Biden to step aside and allow a fresher face to carry the torch for Democrats in 2024.
But as things stand, the most likely outcome involves the former president facing off against the current president, a choice that, as poll after poll shows, most Americans don’t want. The prospect of such a rematch has already produced much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the pundit class. And while much of their concern is justified, there is also cause for hope that not only will American democracy survive, but the country will emerge from the chaos and lunacy of the recent and coming years in a stronger and more resilient place.
But first, the bad news.
It is beyond stating the obvious to say that both men currently favored to lead their parties into the next presidential election are deeply flawed individuals.
After a shambolic first term, Trump refused to accept his defeat in the 2020 election, leading to a series of what I’ll charitably call irregularities aimed at changing the result and culminating in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. And while it’s hard to know for certain if then-President Trump intended his supporters to overturn the election by ransacking the home of a coequal branch of government, the fact that he sat by and watched it happen without lifting a finger to stop it should be enough to disqualify him from any public office, let alone the country’s highest one.
Meanwhile, Biden ran for the presidency promising to unite the country and return our politics to a better, more stable and normal place. He has done neither. The president routinely demonizes his political opponents, using words like “semi-fascism” to describe them. More importantly, often in the name of saving our democratic institutions, he has grievously abused them. For example, the Biden administration has pressed social media companies to censor opponents, made profound changes on student loan policies and in other areas when he clearly doesn’t have the legal authority to do so, and floated or even tried to implement authoritarian-like schemes, from plans to “pack” the Supreme Court to the creation (and subsequent disbanding) of the Orwellian-sounding “Disinformation Governance Board.”
What I’ve just described concerning both men is the tip of a very large iceberg. There is so much I could point to, from Trump’s promise to be his supporters’ “retribution” if reelected to Biden and his allies’ abuse of federal prosecutorial authority to, at least in some instances, unfairly criminally indict Trump while at the same time attempting to wave away criminal allegations against the president’s son, Hunter Biden, on tax evasion and other matters.
So, why the optimism?
First, while partisans on both sides talk about dictatorial and criminal behavior on the part of both men and others in their orbit, America’s institutions, while themselves flawed, remain strong enough to keep our democracy secure. Recall that the Jan. 6 riot delayed but did not stop Congress from certifying the election results, leading to the peaceful transfer of power from Trump to Biden. Likewise, President Biden’s unauthorized effort to forgive student loans was overturned in the courts. These examples also represent the tip of an iceberg, as institutions from the courts to civil society to even the press have helped control the more damaging instincts and behavior of both men. Indeed, our founders designed our republican system to prevent overreach, and so far, it has largely worked.
But a more important cause for hope is the presence of what my mother used to call “horse sense”—in this case, the horse sense of the American people. Yes, Trump’s and Biden’s grip on their parties mean that, despite what most people say they want, we may soon be faced with a choice between two deeply unpopular, uninspiring candidates. But history shows us that the electorate has a tendency to eventually correct its mistakes. After all, following the ineffective tenures of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, the American people elected Abraham Lincoln. And the post-Watergate malaise of the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter years was followed by the two-term presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Predicting the future is generally a fool’s errand, and I don’t know who the next president not named Trump or Biden will be. But I do feel confident that the soundness of our fundamental political and civil institutions will largely insulate us over the long term from what may be coming and that the common sense and intelligence of the American people will soon produce a political course correction that takes us in a better direction.
What I’m watching: The feast of the Epiphany is not only the official end of the Christmas season, it’s also the day in my house when we traditionally watch John Huston’s film adaptation of James Joyce’s masterful short story, “The Dead.” Set in Dublin on the Epiphany (Jan. 6) in 1904, the story and film recount the few hours just before, during and after a large and lively dinner party at the home of two elderly sisters. Joining them are a group of colorful characters that include an ardent Irish nationalist, an opera singer, a journalist and a poet. The evening is full of good company, good food and music and good cheer. But, this being Joyce, “The Dead” is also a beautiful meditation on love and loss and the epiphanic moments that define us for the rest of our days.
“The Dead” was the last film made by director Huston, who died a few months before its release in 1987. But for the man who made such great movies as “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “Key Largo” and many others, “The Dead” is a fitting coda. It’s also a love letter to Ireland, a country Huston lived in for a time.
The movie is a bit of a family affair as well. The screenplay was written by Huston’s son, Tony. And his daughter, the actress Anjelica Huston, stars alongside a wonderful cast of Irish actors that includes Donal McCann, Helena Carroll and Donal Donnelly. What’s more, the opera singer is played by the great Irish tenor Frank Patterson, who sings so beautifully near the closing of the story that you’ll likely hold your breath until he’s done.
And while I’m at it: If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to tackle “Ulysses” or “Finnegans Wake” and sworn never to read Joyce again, may I beg you to reconsider. “The Dead,” contained in a collection of short stories entitled “Dubliners,” is not written in the difficult (at least for me) stream-of-consciousness style that characterized the author’s more famous works. In fact, the tale unfolds in beautiful, clear prose. “The Dead” is one of the greatest short stories ever written and, like the film, well worth your time.
Finally: Next week, our director of communications (and my boss), Kate De Lanoy, will occupy the Editor’s Corner—our first guest contributor, but likely not our last. Until then, wishing everyone a great week.
Robert Tracinski, “Welcome to the Vibeconomy”
Maarten Boudry, “Despite Climate Change, Today Is the Best Time To Be Born”
Timothy Sandefur, “Good Fences and Civility”
Michael Puttré, “Who Made You Boss of the Universe?”
Mollie Johnson, “Does Social Media Make Us More Human, or Less?”
From the Archives
Seth Moskowitz, “Trump’s Inevitability Is Fake News”
Veronique de Rugy, “The Greatness of Growth”
Rachel S. Ferguson, “The Case for Pro-Black Conservatism”