1 year out from election, many Americans resigned to vote for lesser of two evils

Posted on : 2023-11-06 16:50 KST Modified on : 2023-11-06 16:50 KST
Biden and Trump appear to be in a neck-and-neck race according to hypothetical matchups, but both carry major liabilities: age in Biden’s case, and criminal liability in Trump’s
US Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump. (Reuters/Yonhap)
US Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump. (Reuters/Yonhap)

As of Sunday, only one year remains until the election that will decide the next US president — arguably the most powerful figure in the world.

As voting is expected to take place amid grave circumstances, including Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing, the war in Ukraine, conflict between Israel and Palestine, and a crisis of democracy in the US, interest and concern about 2024 are growing more than ever within the country and across the world.

Although the Democratic and Republican primaries slated for the first half of next year will definitively settle which candidates will come head-to-head during the election, the matchup already seems all but determined. While current US President Joe Biden, 80, is the likely candidate from the Democratic Party, former US President Donald Trump, 77, is at the head of the pack of the nine contenders in the Republican Party, maintaining a support rating in the 50% range.

If the two get a rematch after their bout in 2020, it would be the seventh instance in which the same figures came to a head once again in a presidential election in the history of the US. The last time a former president who failed to win a second term had a rematch with a current president who defeated him in the US was in 1892, when former US President Grover Cleveland from the Democratic Party won against then-President Benjamin Harrison from the Republican Party in a second bout.

Biden and Trump appear to be in a neck-and-neck race according to hypothetical matchups. In one hypothetical matchup out of five whose results were released in the past week, the two were tied, while Trump led by 2 percentage points in two and Biden led the other two by 1 to 2 percentage points.

The Associated Press reported that Julie Chávez Rodriguez, Biden’s reelection campaign manager, said in a strategy memo that she expects next year’s presidential election to be “very close.”

Assuming a rematch between Biden and Trump becomes reality, three main predictions can be made regarding how next year’s presidential election may play out.

US President Joe Biden gives a thumbs-up to reporters after leaving mass at St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Nov. 4. (AP/Yonhap)
US President Joe Biden gives a thumbs-up to reporters after leaving mass at St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Nov. 4. (AP/Yonhap)

First, two figures highly disliked by Americans will face each other as candidates of the US’ two political parties despite the extraordinary importance of the election. This is because while Biden has been breaking the record for oldest American president with each day in office, Trump has the potential to destroy US democracy. In a poll NBC conducted in September, 74% out of 1,000 respondents expressed concern regarding whether Biden would be able to maintain his health mentally and physically so as to be fit for a second term. On the other hand, 62% of respondents said they were worried about Trump’s indictment in four courts due to his attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

A recent poll by Monmouth University showed only 37% of respondents expressed enthusiasm about Trump becoming the Republican nominee, while an even lower 32% were enthusiastic about Biden becoming the Democratic nominee. A good share of voters see little to like in terms of individual personality and policy from either Biden or Trump, but feel put in a position to vote for the lesser of two evils to prevent the person they fiercely oppose from winning the White House.

Second, the upcoming presidential election will be one in which both candidates’ liabilities will pose great risks for the US as well. Democratic Party insiders are also worried about the health of Biden, who will be 86 by the end of his second term if he is reelected. Although the vice president’s role would become important if the president ends up being unable to properly fulfill his role, polls show US Vice President Kamala Harris underperforming compared to previous vice presidents.

There’s also the possibility that Trump may be found guilty and imprisoned ahead of the presidential election. Being in prison wouldn’t affect his candidacy as president. In 1920, Eugene Debs, who was serving a 10-year sentence, ran for office as a Socialist Party candidate. However, if Trump wins the election despite a guilty verdict, the US would be led by a figure officially recognized as a felon, which would be unprecedented. There is no official procedure as to what happens when a convict is elected president. If Trump loses the election, on which the rest of his life depends, and does not accept the outcome as a last resort, things may get as chaotic as they did immediately following the 2020 presidential election.

Third, intense mud-slinging is expected during Biden and Trump’s respective presidential campaigns. Amid escalating political polarization, the atmosphere is already heating up with a rematch between Biden and Trump on the horizon, due to the two’s vastly different political route and philosophy. Both sides are giving the impression that they will focus on attacking the other rather than propose future-oriented policies. A confrontation fiercer than that which took place during the 2020 presidential election is expected.

On the one hand, Biden’s professed goal is to put an end to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement. During a recent interview with ProPublica, Biden said the upcoming election will see the “last gasp” of MAGA Republicans.

On the other, Trump promised to exact his revenge on the “deep state.” “Retribution” has been a keyword of his campaign ever since he said during a speech he gave in March that he would mete out punishment for those who were treated unfairly and stabbed in the back. Toward this end, Trump added that he would get payback on those who were involved in his indictment and the indictments of those who stormed the US Capitol in protest of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. The former leader has even said he and his team would pursue a plan to allow the president to fire federal civil servants and would subsequently fire “corrupt” actors at US security and intelligence agencies.

Former US President Donald Trump waves to the crowd after delivering a speech at a Republic Party event in Kissimmee, Florida, on Nov. 4. (AP/Yonhap)
Former US President Donald Trump waves to the crowd after delivering a speech at a Republic Party event in Kissimmee, Florida, on Nov. 4. (AP/Yonhap)

Meanwhile, domestic issues like the economy are expected to take front and center in the upcoming presidential election. Longstanding issues like abortion, immigration, and guns have grown even more contentious after the Supreme Court overturned a ruling that acknowledged abortion as a right protected by the Constitution and the problem of unauthorized border crossings from Mexico worsened. Foreign policy issues like Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Palestine also may become points of dispute.

Another important variable is Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s announcement that he will be running for president as an independent candidate. Kennedy Jr. is former President John F. Kennedy’s nephew who was formerly preparing to participate in the Democratic primary. As polls have shown him earning approval ratings of more than 10%, the question of whose voting base Kennedy Jr. will siphon off of is drawing interest.

The upcoming “final match” between current and former US presidents may accelerate political and social division within the US. Likening it to the presidential election immediately before the Civil War due to the fact that the future of democracy and American unity depends on it, Thomas Edsall, a columnist for the New York Times, called the 2024 presidential election “the most important election since 1860.”

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

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