On Sunday Senator Tim Scott dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
So what? The winnowing has begun. Scott’s withdrawal is a step towards the point when anti-Trump Republicans could unite around one candidate to give him or her a chance of denying Trump the nomination. That point won’t come – if it ever does – until after the 15 January Iowa caucuses, but
- Florida’s Ron DeSantis flatlining in Iowa polls;
- so is Trump;
- and ex-governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley is emerging as his most serious challenger, with foreign policy experience in a time of war.
Meanwhile in Dem-land. Last week a well-connected US army lieutenant colonel came third in the election for mayor of Charleston, South Carolina.
Clay Middleton wasn’t expected to win, but he’s considered a key ally for anyone wanting to mobilise South Carolina’s African American voters who put Biden on a path to the White House in 2020. Which is why eyebrows were raised when two Democratic governors – JB Pritzker of Illinois and Gavin Newsom of California – donated to Middleton’s campaign.
There were two possible explanations:
- They were raising their national profiles with a view to White House runs in 2028; or
- They’re already on manoeuvres in case Biden drops out next year.
Either way, a former senior Republican strategist says, Trump 2.0 is inevitable “if the nominee of the Democratic party is Joe Biden”.
Bottom line: the Trump-Biden rematch that nearly three-quarters of Americans don’t want is still the most likely line-up for 2024, but it’s not inevitable.
The Biden problem. It’s not just that he’s old. It’s his “uniquely unpopular” vice president (Peggy Noonan writes), and the insincerity of his own party’s support. In public the machine backs him. In private senior figures talk about replacements and get proxies to voice their concerns:
- Last week David Axelrod, Obama’s former chief strategist, suggested it would be “wise” for Biden to step aside. At the weekend he doubled down. Unlike low approval ratings, he told a supposedly friendly CNN panel, age is one thing Biden can’t reverse.
- Joe Scarborough, the TV host periodically spoken of as a presidential contender himself, says every Democrat he speaks to – “and I don’t [just] mean 99 per cent” – thinks Biden is too old to run.
The Biden solution. Get a new candidate – not by challenging Biden in a primary but waiting for him to drop out. Wise observers say the word in his ear would have to come from his wife, Jill, or sister, Valerie.
- The argument would be that he has done America an historic service by beating Trump in 2020 but that more vim is needed to beat him again in 2024.
- The replacement would be chosen by delegates at next year’s party convention. In addition to Pritzker and Newsom, governors Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan), Jared Polis (Colorado) and Roy Cooper (North Carolina) would be in the frame. So would Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
The Trump problem. His record as a threat to American democracy is unmatched. His record as an electoral liability for his party is as striking. Republicans lost heavily in 2018, 2020, 2022 and again in last week’s off-year races. A recent NYT/Siena poll that showed him beating Biden in key states also indicated his support would sag badly were he convicted – which is highly likely – in any of the four main prosecutions he faces between now and the election.
In addition: lawsuits in three states are seeking to keep Trump off their 2024 presidential ballots on the basis that he’s disqualified himself under the 14th Amendment to the constitution by encouraging the January 6th insurrection.
The Trump solution: to coalesce around a single non-Trump candidate after the Iowa caucuses have shown him to be vulnerable, as Gary Hart showed Walter Mondale to be vulnerable in the Democratic primaries of 1984.
“The party that picks a fresh face will likely win the White House,” Karl Rove, the younger President Bush’s senior advisor, wrote last week. Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but a lot of people are doing it.
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