2024: A Political Odyssey

It seems like the 2020 campaign has already gone on forever. Donald Trump hasn’t stopped campaigning since the day he was inaugurated. Most of the Democratic contenders have been officially or semi-officially running for over a year. John Delaney, who, though you didn’t realize it, is still running, declared his candidacy on July 28, 2017. Andrew Yang, who began as an unknown and is now relevant, joined him on November 6, 2017. Twenty seven others followed them. More than half are already gone.

Finally, at long last, voting begins soon in Iowa. We still have almost 10 months until the general election. I’ll understand if you aren’t ready to think about 2024 just yet. Only thing is, the next campaign season has already begun. And if you think 2020 is messy, or 2016 was a little overwhelming, just wait.

Let’s stipulate that Trump has about a 50/50 chance of re-election. Depending on who you are, you’ll think this is too high or too low. This is where the betting markets have it right now. The swing states are really close. There’s no indication the Electoral College will lean more Democratic than last time. Assuming Trump wins, there will be an open nomination on both sides in 2024. Things get started extra early when a president can’t run for re-election.

What we’re forgetting is there’s an 85% chance of a vacancy on the Democratic side too. Obviously, if the Democrat loses in November, there’s nobody running for re-election. So that gets us to 50% by itself. FiveThirtyEight’s latest odds have Joe Biden at 38% to win the nomination, and Bernie Sanders at 25%. They also figure a 14% chance of nobody having a majority of delegates heading in to the convention. I’m going to take about half of that for Biden/Sanders, figuring in a scenario where one has a clear plurality, they’d likely win the nomination.

So there’s about a 70% chance either of them are the nominee, and a 50% chance (you can weight this more heavily in your own mind to Biden or Bernie depending on who you think is more electable), they win in November. 70% x 50% = 35%. That’s the odds of President Biden or President Sanders. And there’s close to 100% chance we aren’t going to have a second term for either of them.

Even if Biden or Bernie was feeling hale and hearty at eightysomething, and ready for a second term, many candidates would prep, just in case. Even if one announced they were running for re-election, some candidates would be ready, just in case there was a health problem or change of heart. The Veepstakes for either of them would be the most consequential since Harry Truman was selected to understudy the ailing FDR in 1944.

So 2024 will be weighing on this year’s Democratic Convention if either of the two current poll leaders is closing in on a nomination. It was on the mind of Kamala Harris when she quit before Iowa could vote. No sense tarnishing her brand further. She’ll likely get another chance very soon. And she’s a prime VP possibility. The same logic holds for Cory Booker. His message wasn’t what the electorate was buying this time. But this changes quickly. And voters liked him well enough, he just wasn’t their first or second choice.

Should the 92% chance of Pete Buttigieg falling short this time happen, he’ll move right into 2024 prep. He’s not going to run statewide in Indiana and risk a loss. Unless President Warren makes him Defense Secretary, or he gets tabbed as a running mate, ex-Mayor Pete is conveniently unemployed at the moment. Yang will keep going forward too. Think Warren will quit if Biden gets nominated and either loses, or wins and doesn’t run again?

Nope, she’ll try again too. We could see AOC (barely age eligible) or one of her Squad mates. If Sanders or Warren get nominated and lose, the Steve Bullock/Michael Bennet side of the party will have a big argument to get considered. Buttigieg got far enough already that a score of mayors will think “why not me?”

For a long time, 8 to 10 candidates was about normal for a nomination contest. Then we had 17 Republicans in 2016, followed by 29 Democrats in 2020. Between Trump winning, and candidates like Buttigieg and Yang making an impact, there’s no reason to expect this trend to end. Mayor Pete is the youngest serious candidate in decades. Biden and Sanders are the oldest ever.

Trump broke the ban on electing presidents without government or military experience. The qualifications have changed, and the age range has widened, so the pool is much larger. And there are plenty of TV spots waiting for candidates who fall short. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have profited from their failed presidential runs for years. I can assure you, their accountants don’t consider them failures.

Neither party knows what it’s future is. Will Democrats go the way of youthful demographics and AOC, or tack way back towards the center? Or somewhere in between? Do Republicans become the Party of Trump in perpetuity, or was this a one-shot cult of personality that doesn’t extend forward? The potential GOP candidate list, beginning with Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, and perhaps a Trump offspring, is endless.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio want another try. Tom Cotton is running for sure. John Kasich is old, but not compared to Biden and Bernie. Who knows how many mayors, random businesspeople, celebrities, governors, and senators will give this a try. Pence won’t scare anyone away. The contours of the 2024 race are unknowable. And uncertainty leads to more people thinking they have a chance.

More entrants, more chaos, wider range of outcomes. On the Democratic side, PAC money is persona non grata. On the GOP side, it was very ineffective in 2016. Raising funds from large donors via the bundling system and closed-door fundraisers is time consuming. You can also cap out quickly. Future candidates will become increasingly reliant on small donors. This requires an early start too.

Then there’s the matter of debates. In 2016, the RNC decided to have varsity, and junior varsity debates, allowing everyone in, just not into the main event. This time, Democrats decided to skip the undercard, but then restricted who could appear on stage at all. Both approaches were criticized, but it’s not like you can cram 15 to 20 people on the same stage.

Wait until a major party has closer to 50 contestants, which I’d bet will happen in 2024. That will force a change in how debates work. The present format won’t hold up under that strain. Particularly, if it’s happening on both sides at the same time. The size of the 2016 Republican field was balanced by having only two candidates with traction on the other side. This year’s Democratic scrum is facing an incumbent. Put those two large fields in the same year, and then make each of them bigger. That’s likely 2024.

The posturing has already begun, and will accelerate as we get closer to the conventions. If you thought the presidential campaign season was endless, it’s only just begun.

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