2024 US election: is a Biden-Trump rerun inevitable?

Former president expected to face off against incumbent, but third-party candidate could prove an influential wildcard

Trump and Biden face off in the final 2020 presidential debate, 23 October 2020
A historically large number of Americans ‘do not like either man’
(Image credit: Illustration by Pavlo Conchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s chances of facing Joe Biden in next year’s US presidential election received a significant boost after the Californian Republican Party changed the way it chooses its nominee.

With Trump already enjoying double-digit leads over his nearest rivals in the race to secure the Republicans’ nomination, he has now scored a “significant victory” in America’s most populous state, reported The Times. While California’s 169 nominating delegates had in the past been allocated proportionally, a rule change approved on Saturday means a candidate who wins 50% of the primary vote will now pocket all the delegates – “a significant slug of the 1,234 delegates needed for an overall victory”, said the paper, and “almost certainly a boost for Trump”.

With both parties’ nominating conventions over a year away, CNN’s Harry Enten reported that Biden is the “overwhelming favourite” for the Democratic nomination, while Trump remains the “clear front-runner” among Republicans.

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“This puts a lot of Americans in a position they don’t want to be in,” he said. “A historically large share of them do not like either man at this point.”

What did the papers say?

The first New York Times/Siena poll of the 2024 campaign shows Trump is “dominating” his rivals for the Republican nomination. He leads his nearest challenger, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, by a “landslide” 37 percentage points nationally among likely Republican primary voters.

Trump held “decisive advantages” across almost every demographic group and region and in every ideological wing of the party, The New York Times reported, “as Republican voters waved away concerns about his escalating legal jeopardy”.

DeSantis, who was polling above the former president at the turn of the year, is “widely seen to be out of fuel and on a glide path to destruction”, said The Guardian. With every other Republican contender in single digits, Trump is in a “historically strong position for a nonincumbent to win the Republican nomination”, said Enten in a separate article on CNN.

With Biden committed to running for a second term and no serious challenger yet emerging for the Democratic nomination, America is “one step closer to Biden-Trump II”, said NBC News, even if it is “the rematch voters don’t want”.

Biden vs. Trump may be the story today, admitted Politico, “but it’s unlikely that voters will be satisfied choosing between a nearly 82-year-old incumbent and a 78-year-old challenger who may be a convicted felon”.

“We are underestimating how turbulent next year’s campaign will be and how likely, on the current trajectory, it is to become a three- or even four-person race,” said the news site.

What next?

Still six months out from the first primaries, the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee on 23 August may be the last chance DeSantis has to turn the tide against Trump – and for any of the other candidates to make a breakthrough.

The debate stage “can provide the largest audience yet for many presidential hopefuls”, said The Assocated Press, “but it also can trip up candidates”. Given his commanding poll lead, Trump has hinted he may not even attend, instead holding a competing event, perhaps an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

As for the Democrats, there are two markers to watch out for this autumn, said Politico: “the president’s fitness for the job and his approval numbers. Put less delicately”, said the website, “does Biden have more spills, as he did at the Air Force Academy, and does he finally get credit from voters for the improving economy?”

Biden’s team, at least, are not taking a Trump coronation for granted. Axios reported the president is expanding his re-election strategy beyond his predecessor to target the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement and its impact on US politics, “figuring it will endure even if Trump isn’t the GOP nominee”.

With huge question marks hanging over both parties’ front-runners, talk of a third-party candidate has grown in recent months, and could prove the wildcard in the election.

It is “increasingly certain”, said Politico, that a Biden-Trump rematch will lure a moderate candidate into the race as an independent, most likely under the bipartisan political group No Labels.

The conservative West Virginia Democrat senator Joe Manchin has been touted as a possible spoiler candidate, “causing deep tensions with the group’s ideological allies, congressional partners and Democratic Party officials who are scrambling to stop it”, said The New York Times. The paper noted that “third-party candidates siphoned enough votes to arguably cost Democrats elections in 2000 (Al Gore) and 2016 (Hillary Clinton)”.

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