There’s a certain amount of
self-assuredness online that Donald Trump cannot win in 2024. The usual reasons
offered up to support this notion are that Trump lost in 2020; his ongoing
legal woes will weigh him down or put him behind bars before the election; the
economy is good; incumbents historically have an advantage; and it’s too early
to be looking at polls. However, only the historical incumbent advantage is
true. The rest are either false, or not relevant.
Thus, here are the reasons why I consider Trump the current frontrunner in a rematch with President Biden.
1. Americans perceive the economy as bad.
Historically, the state of the economy has some predictive value when it comes to elections. Good economic numbers benefit the incumbent (Ronald Reagan in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1996, George W. Bush in 2004), and hurt them when they’re bad (Jimmy Carter in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1992, and Trump in 2020). The facts that the United States has low unemployment and falling interest rates, and that forecasters have stopped predicting an imminent recession, should all work in Joe Biden’s favor. However, none of that matters if people don’t perceive the economy to be good, which they don’t. They vote based on their individual perceptions rather than what the published unemployment rate is, and only 25 percent think the economy is at least “somewhat good.” Right now perceptions of the economy are hurting Biden, and that seems unlikely to change for the better.
2. Trump probably won’t be in prison at the time of the election because these trials take so long, and he faces the possibility of being out on appeal even if he does go to trial.
It normally takes between 12–18 months for a federal case to go to trial, and Trump’s team will do everything they can to delay it as long as possible. They’ll also drag out the trial itself by every means available. And if that doesn’t work, and he’s somehow convicted before the election, they’ll do everything they can to see that he’s out on bail while the appeals process goes through. More likely than not, he’s going to be able to campaign through much or all of the election cycle. On top of that, Judge Eileen Cannon appears to be all in on helping the defense in Trump’s trial for taking top secret documents from the White House, making it significantly less likely that Trump will be convicted.
3. Nothing says you cannot run for president from prison.
There’s nothing that says Trump cannot run for president from prison, or that prevents him from being inaugurated as a convicted felon. Eugene V. Debs (1920) and Lyndon LaRouche (1992) both ran while behind bars.
4. Republicans don’t care what he’s accused of or don’t believe it.
Trump has now been indicted in three jurisdictions, and there’s potentially a fourth one coming in Georgia. However, polling shows that this has no effect on about half of Republicans’ voting preferences, and about one in five say they’re more likely to vote for him because of the indictments (a similar number say they’re less likely). The vast majority (65 percent) believe he’s innocent, and 70 percent believe that Biden stole the 2020 election. The trials and their outcomes are not going to affect the GOP base much, if at all, simply because they exist in a cloud of conspiracy thinking.
5. The Electoral College gives Trump a big advantage.
Polling says it’s a dead heat, but the bias in the electoral college means Biden needs to win by something like 3.8 points to have a 50–50 chance of winning. If the national vote is a tie, Trump has about a 93 percent chance of winning based on my own modeling. Based on pure polling, if the election were held today Biden would almost certainly lose the Electoral College count decisively.
6. It’s not too early for polling
Usually, polling far in advance of an election isn’t super reliable. People need to make up their minds about the candidates, and that involves getting to know them. This isn’t the case with Biden and Trump. Both are household names who have served as president. People already made up their minds twice on Trump, and once on Biden. Through the majority of the 2020 election cycle the polling numbers changed very little over time, because (in part) we have entered into an era of hyperpartisanship where there are very few “true” independents. The conclusion I reach now is that the polling data is unlikely to change very much between now and Election Day 2024.
7. The polls in 2016 and 2020 underestimated Trump.
There’s a lot of theories on why polls were so wrong in 2016 and 2020 (including “shy” Trump voters), but the important takeaway is that the aggregated polling numbers consistently underestimated his support. They missed by 1.1 points in 2016 and 2.7 points in 2020. We are in a position where Trump could win the popular vote if polls are showing a dead heat but have the same amount of bias as in the past two general election cycles. If so, the possibility of Biden winning drops to effectively zero.
8. Biden’s popularity is lower than Republicans’.
Currently, the public trusts Congress more than Biden to work in their interests. His approval ratings are in the same vicinity now as when Trump lost the 2020 election. When you dig into how the public as a whole feels about Biden, you end up seeing a GOP base that absolutely despises him (I have received some “fan mail” calling him the most evil man to walk the earth), and a Democratic base that overwhelmingly wishes someone else would run. Which leads to…
9. The GOP base is more energized.
Republicans turned out in bigger numbers in the 2022 midterms than Democrats. Of course, it’s not unusual for the out-party base to come to the polls in larger numbers than the in-party in a midterm. But that gap is likely to grow even wider in the general election as Trump tends to draw the MAGA base to the polls. Turnout in the midterms was high, and it’s likely to be higher in the 2024 election. That’s not to say that the entirety of the GOP base is fired up: 44 percent of Republicans in a poll by the Associated Press said they didn’t want Trump to run again. Bad, but still way better than the 75 percent of Democrats who wanted someone other than Biden.
10. Biden doesn’t get much credit for what he has done, and he’s been hampered by a GOP House since the midterms.
It’s no secret that there’s an enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats leading into 2024. Joe Biden doesn’t fire up the base like Obama, and he’s hampered by the fact that the GOP controls the House, thus preventing any major legislation from getting through. Even during the first half of his presidency, the filibuster prevented him from moving legislation through that wasn’t budget-oriented. While the Build Back Better Act, Inflation Reduction Act, and putting judges on the bench are all significant, it’s popular with people who are already politically engaged.
Popular items to protect civil rights and election integrity died a slow, agonizing death in the Senate. He’s been hamstrung by right-wing district court judges like Matthew Kaczmarek and Reed O’Connor in Texas, as well as the Supreme Court. Increasingly, Biden uncomfortably reminds me of President Buchanan. At the same time, Republican legislators have been more than happy to claim credit for projects they voted against, further diluting the credit Biden might receive.
Conversely, the GOP base is itching to bring Trump back to save America and wreak vengeance on their culture war enemies. This has the potential to make the Buchanan comparison even more apt.
11. There seems to be overconfidence on the left about Biden that reminds me of 2016 when people assumed Trump could not win.
I literally led off my book American Fascism with an anecdote about an October 2016 meeting I attended among ground-level activists planning for what they would accomplish during a Clinton administration. None of them could answer what the game plan would be if we got a Trump administration instead. There was a generally dismissive attitude toward the possibility, because the idea of a President Trump seemed as ludicrous as the man himself. There was no contingency planning for what would be done if he did win, other than a shrug and a vague notion that “we’ll figure it out when it happens, I guess. But it won’t.” Since Biden won in 2020, I see a sort of complacency that 2024 will play out exactly the same way, when in truth, a one- or two-point shift in voting is all it would take to put him back into the Oval Office.
12. People have short memories.
Americans have short memories. There’s a reason why media outlets chase a 24-hour news cycle before they move on to the next thing. Many Americans who aren’t highly politically engaged seem to have rapidly forgotten that Trump’s first term was a shambolic, embarrassing mess. They just know that they’re dissatisfied now, and either will vote for Trump, or sit this one out.
13. People aren’t scared enough of a second Trump term.
Conservatives have put out a 920-page plan for what they intend to do during a second Trump term called the “Mandate for Leadership” It’s essentially the end of government regulation, environmental law, civil rights laws, abortion, LGBTQ protections, and multilateral U.S. foreign relations. A Trump administration would also target minorities for more direct persecution, including immigrants, Muslims, and transgender people. They intend to reshape federal government by firing most senior federal workers and replacing them with party loyalists using Schedule F. They will embrace the unitary executive theory to allow Trump to rule via fiat, and fully weaponize the Department of Justice against political appointees and blue-state leaders who resist the Republican plan to Make America Florida. Understanding how catastrophic a GOP takeover would be requires reading a lot, because their plan is so expansive. It’s difficult to wrap your head around how bad it would be, because it defies imagination how far they can, and will, take the U.S. down the road to Christian, theocratic, plutocratic dystopia. The vague discontent of the public requires little effort to instill, but it takes a great deal more effort to get them to believe and understand how bad a second term would be.
14. There’s no Black Swan this time (yet).
The U.S. may have been temporarily saved from a second Trump term by the Covid pandemic. Trump got eviscerated for his handling of the pandemic (rightly so). Now he’s not carrying that burden, and blowback against vaccines and health mandates actually fuels the GOP, while independents and Democrats no longer particularly care. Indeed, Trump himself believes he lost because of Covid (and this is one of the few times I’ll ever agree with the man).
15. 2022 election midterm voting patterns were largely decoupled from voting on abortion.
One of the biggest arguments against Trump winning is that abortion was seen as a key wedge issue in 2022, and the issue will surely play a similar role next fall. However, while individual measures to support abortion did well, it didn’t stop these same voters from casting their ballots for Republicans in a lot of races in places like Kansas (where anti-abortion measures failed, but Republicans still got the majority of votes). It wasn’t enough to prevent Republicans from reclaiming the House either. This is why I don’t think Democrats will get the “bump” they expect from Dobbs v. Jackson in 2024.
The only solution to these structural issues for Democrats is 1) to mount a massive “get out the vote” effort and 2) to shake people out of their complacency over how bad a second Trump term would be. This means hammering home how abortion and birth control will be targeted everywhere, along with LGBTQ people. It means hammering home how a second Trump administration would not only destroy the EPA, but also prevent states from enforcing their own environmental rules. People need to understand that Trump will fully weaponize the Department of Justice and the rest of the federal government against political enemies, women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ people in all 50 states.
People need to be shaken to their core when they understand how radical, and devastating, the GOP plan for the U.S. is, including turning the country into a tin-pot dictatorship that jails political opponents and persecutes minorities.