Now it does. The primary race for the elections on November 5, 2024 is launched after the approval of the spending ceiling. The agreement between Democrats and Republicans removes the specter of the internal economic crisis, postpones the debate on the debt and gives arguments to the speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, to raise a moderate discourse within the Republican Party. The approval is significant, because this issue comes out of the presidential debate and is left in the hands of the new president to make decisions as of January 1, 2025.
In the Democratic Party there are also primaries, although the renewal of President Biden is taken for granted. Even with a low approval rating (stable at 40%), being a sitting president determines your destiny. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of Bobby Kennedy and nephew of JFK, is the only dissonant voice. In the polls it reaches marginal figures, less than 20%, but enough to demand a public debate. His Trumpist style, with the full package of vaccines, Putinist sympathies and criticism of the media, pleases Fox News, where he goes frequently. There is no risk in the choice, but bad experiences. The delay in Biden's nomination wears him down and opens the door to domestic criticism, as happened in 1979 when Senator Edward Kennedy challenged then-President Jimmy Carter. The so-called "end of Camelot," drowned in an energy and inflationary crisis, was abrupt, with the first defeat of a sitting president since Hoover in 1932.
The core of the debate is in the Republican Party. Opinion polls indicate that 25% of the electorate is openly Trumpist. They control the party's money, force polarizing positions and bet on their own candidates, although in the midterm elections, in November 2022, they were not victorious. Another 25% declare that they would bet on anyone other than the former president. It has little pull and is an unattractive quadrant to leverage a campaign. In fact, we only find Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas, with a speech of this nature. 50% represent a soft MAGA voter, comfortable with Trumpism, but open to other hard-line candidates.
Donald Trump sets the tone for the Republican conversation, because he has never left the stage. His approval ratings rarely fall below 50% and he has two strategic advantages. On social issues, he is in a centrist position. He may espouse conservative views on abortion, but he is not an evangelical. Second, their confrontation with justice feeds a narrative based on the fantasy of the "deep state" and persecution. The assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 is decisive. It's a lousy institutional legacy, but without it I'd be out of orbit. His eligibility lies in the fact that there was electoral fraud, he was removed from the presidency and "the usual ones" govern the country. However, the strategy to win the primaries does not have to be the one that leads him to the White House. The new swing states (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia) are highly polarized and Trumpism generates enormous rejection. In November 2022, Republicans were unable to erect a red wall in the House, Senate and state governments.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' career is disappointing. After the victory by more than twenty points in November, a meteoric run was expected. But it doesn't take off. After the failed interview with Elon Musk with which he presented his candidacy, he needs some relevant intervention, for example, at the convention of the Republicans in North Carolina. At the strategic level, DeSantis has a budget close to 300 million dollars, which allows him to mobilize and attract voters, and with solid support from Latino groups. Florida has become a Republican stronghold and every presidential victory starts with those 30 representatives of the Electoral College. The third advantage is a conservative message of the taste of evangelicals and anti-woke. His fight against the giant Disney confirms this approach. However, Governor DeSantis has a structural weakness in his chances of being elected. The restrictive laws against abortion generate enormous rejection among women, voters of reference in the swing states and prone to decide their vote based on the candidate, not the party. Independent women were decisive in November 2022 and will be so again two years later.
Former Vice President Mike Pence has already started his candidacy. He is a classic conservative, fleeing the extremists of January 6 and leveraging his discourse on evangelical doctrine. It is a real alternative, uniting the middle electorate and appealing, above all, to those concerned about industrial policies, employment and the cost of living in the Midwest. His refusal to collaborate with Trump marks a dividing line that prevents him, in the first place, from reaching the Republican convention with possibilities.
Tim Scott is a senator from South Carolina. He is African-American and is a cover for those seeking a renewal without stridency. He classifies himself as a Reaganist and seduces the African-American electorate, which was decisive in Biden's victory in 2020. However, his abilities are unknown to the general public and he has no rival to confront. In times of polarization, the neutral profile is a disadvantage.
And I close my favorite quintet with Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and recognized Trumpist in her time as ambassador to the United Nations. Their candidacy would be a revolution in republican mores, but they have little real chance. However, I include her profile because she will be decisive in the formation of the electoral ticket. I bet it will be her and, therefore, we expect an early withdrawal to bet on one of the mentioned. She has electoral pull in the suburbs and in the independent voter. She is female, thirty years younger than Biden and of Indian parents. It is the ideal complement to any of them.
These are the profiles, but we do not know who will be chosen. In fact, other candidates such as Vivek Ramaswamy or Chris Christie, who jumped into the race on Tuesday, are unknown. They are, but they are not expected. In 2016, Trump was elected ahead of the "safe" Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush. In 2012, Mitt Romney bypassed Newt Gringrich, once all-powerful Speaker of the House, and was unable to run four years later. In sum, these Republican primaries are in line with expectations. Get ready for 18 months of vertigo... and that ignores the constant rumors of a withdrawal of President Biden, if Trump is finally removed from the race. This is how the road to the presidency of 2024 begins.
Juan Luis Manfredi is Prince of Asturias Professor at Georgetown University.
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