The President of the United States of America is the most powerful person in the US, and probably in the world as well. The President wields an immense amount of executive power, including heading the government, having the legal ability to issue executive orders, and veto laws. American Presidents also have a major say in shaping US foreign policy. It does matter who fills the Presidential office, so every presidential election is closely watched in the US and worldwide alike.
In November 2024, the United States will either elect its 47th president or re-elect its 46th. Candidates who stand any chance of getting elected are those of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party (GOP),
since the US is effectively a two-party system.
The last time a third-party candidate was able to garner a considerable number of votes was in 1996. The case of Ross Perot, who got 8.4 per cent of the popular vote under the banner of the Reform Party then and 18.9 per cent as an independent four years prior, was an outlier in recent decades.
Both major parties (and the smaller, third parties, for that matter) hold primaries before every presidential election, where the registered party voters can select their candidate from a big and diverse pool. The incumbent president almost always has the benefit of being the presumed candidate to stand for re-election. However, Joe Biden right now has some serious contenders, and some of them may even pose a danger to his candidacy.
The 2024 Republican Field: The Trump–DeSantis Duel
The frontrunner of the 2024 GOP field is undoubtedly Former President Donald J. Trump. Despite the serious accusations against him, such as allegedly unlawful attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, or not returning classified documents from his presidency after taking them home, his popularity seems unbroken among Republican voters.
Other scandals surrounding his persona also include his role in the Capitol being stormed by an enraged mob on 6 January 2021, and some of the rioters were chanting slogans calling for killing Vice President Mike Pence. At that time, Trump tweeted his apparent approval of that. To complicate things further, Pence is a rival of the former president in the primary race. Trump dismisses these indictments and scandals as part of a politically motivated ‘witch hunt’, while cleverly exploiting them by being constantly in the spotlight. He is polling well above 40 per cent in a multi-way race both nationally (where he is also often polling even above 50 per cent) and particularly in Iowa, the state that traditionally holds the first primary every four years.
Trump therefore dominates the field.
He refused to participate in the first Republican presidential debate, but in spite of this, many memorable moments of the debate were about him or his indictments. Furthermore, true to his chaotic and erratic persona, Trump has not yet laid out a written manifesto or programme. He probably believes that the legacy of his presidency is enough to get him elected again. He is more than likely right about winning the Republican primary. However, it cannot be determined if this controversial and divisive legacy, earning him either absolute adoration or total hatred, will be enough to defeat Biden. Interestingly, Trump is often judged more positively abroad than at home. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for one declared in his recent interview with Tucker Carlson that Trump had the single best foreign policy vision of all Presidents in the past decades.
Donald Trump does not need to be introduced to anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention to global politics in the last half-decade. However, this cannot necessarily be said about his rivals, who are lesser known, at least outside the US.
For a while, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida seemed to be tied with Trump in terms of popularity and poll numbers. While lesser known nationally, he started his meteoric rise last year, relying on his credentials as both a pugnacious conservative culture warrior and the successful governor of Florida. With the slogan ‘Florida is where woke goes to die!’ he mounted a campaign, touting himself as a hard-line cultural and social conservative. In Florida, he restricted sexual education regarding LGBTQ topics, banned gender affirmation therapy for minors, and engaged in a loud rhetorical campaign against social progressivism. One of the ‘battles’ fought in this ‘war’ was when he threatened Disney to take away its favourable tax status in Florida, due to its LGBTQ-friendly positions. Through this, he positioned himself also as someone battling the ‘woke capital’, in defence of conservative ‘everyday Americans’.
On the other hand, he showed his more traditional conservative credentials by cutting taxes and expanding school vouchers in Florida, enabling parents to choose between public and private education. However, his rise abruptly started to falter after a while. His poll numbers, at least compared to Trump’s, have all but collapsed.
There are multiple explanations for why this has happened, depending on the respective analyst’s position. Some say that Trump simply ‘stole the show’ with his scandals and flamboyant personality. Others, for instance, Bess Levin on the pages of Vanity Fair, reason that the professional and dry style of DeSantis, who rarely smiles, is not perceived as ‘likeable’ enough by the voters. On the other hand, Thomas B. Edsall offered an interesting possible explanation in The New York Times. Edsall argues that the increasingly blue-collar Republican voter base wants to see a champion of everyday Americans, who ‘owns’ the elites, and gives voice to their resentments, furthermore, someone who has a brash and assertive style. Trump fits this bill more than DeSantis, who is seemingly too focused on conservative ideological questions.
Right now, Vivek Ramaswamy, a previously unknown businessman, seems to be the rising star of the non-Trump candidate pool. Ramaswamy—or Vivek, as he has branded himself, and what his voters call him—is a billionaire entrepreneur of Indian immigrant background. He has hard-right positions on both social and economic issues, with a libertarian streak. For instance, he opposes any state intervention regarding climate change, and supports cutting taxes and regulations.
He couples traditional Republican fiscal and economic orthodoxy with uncompromising anti-wokeness. For example, Ramaswamy takes a hard line on abortion, proposes sweeping restrictions regarding transgender issues, and is among the few who want to actually use military force at the Southern border. He also starkly opposes any US military help to Ukraine, arguing that the war is not America’s business. Therefore,
Ramaswamy is politically like DeSantis, but with even more hard-line positions, and a more assertive style.
Highly educated, polished in his appearance and speech, a young newcomer to politics, and of immigrant background, Vivek is often compared to Barack Obama, which is not necessarily a compliment in the post-Trump GOP. Another thing that may raise eyebrows is that, at least during the first debate, he seemed more of a cheerleader than a rival to Trump, defending him fiercely. Some analysts speculate that his real aspiration is not the presidency, but rather the vice presidency under Trump.
Another ascending candidate in the GOP field is the former Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.
Another Indian-American, Haley is one of the more ‘pre-trumpish’ candidates, despite serving under him as US envoy to the United Nations. Haley represents the traditional Republican orthodoxy, although she shifted to the right on some issues under the Trump presidency. For instance, as governor, she removed Confederate flags from public displays in South Carolina after a racially motivated mass murder. However, she has recently voiced her shift on that position, claiming that she understands that the flag represents Southern heritage for many.
During the first debate, Haley acted in an assertive but calm manner, winning generally positive feedback from the viewers. She, for example, represented sober moderacy according to many when she voiced her concern over the practical possibility of instituting a nationwide abortion ban after six weeks. Haley herself would ban abortion after four or five months federally, leaving the rest to the states. She was the most hawkish on Russia on the Republican debate stage, calling for continued or even increased support for Ukraine. Haley also accused both Trump and Biden of indenting the US, and she clashed with Vivek over his isolationist Ukraine policy. Also, in line with traditional GOP rhetoric, she is the most outspoken proponent of taking more measures to curb the national debt and balance the budget. Thus, Haley tries to capture both traditional and moderate conservatives, while also not alienating the hardliners. As a critic of Donald Trump, despite having served in his administration, she tries to sell herself both as a ‘Trumper’ and a ‘Never-Trumper’.
Mike Pence, the former Vice President under Trump, tries to gather support by shedding his connections to his former boss, and returning to his original political persona of an Evangelical Christian and social conservative. As opposed to Ramaswamy and DeSantis—or Trump, for that matter—he brands himself as the traditional cultural conservative, distinct from the loud anti-wokeness of the post-2016 GOP.
Pence is the most right-wing on abortion, proposing an almost total national ban. Regarding LGBT issues, as opposed to the cultural warriors, he would not only institute restrictions regarding transgender people, but is also against gay marriage. Pence is not trying to separate the ‘LGB’ from the ‘T’ as many new right-wingers and even feminists do, but opposes LGBT demands altogether, along with the 1990s evangelical approach of resisting what conservatives call the ‘gay agenda’. He is hawkish on both China and Russia, while also intenting to return to the Trump-like immigration policy. Regarding his former boss, Pence tries to walk a fine line: he dismisses the less serious indictments, such as the Stormy Daniels hush money case, as politically motivated. Pence also does not explicitly support indicting Trump on the more serious issues either. However, he morally condemns some of his actions, such as when he fired up the crowd on 6 January, which many say eventually contributed to the storming of the Capitol.
To be followed soon!