While there remains a lot of uncertainty about which party will be favored to win the White House in 2024, it should be evident to most analysts that the present conventional wisdom is wrong. The country is not heading toward a 2020 presidential rematch of Joe Biden versus Donald Trump.

In fact, it’s more likely that we’re on the road to an unusually chaotic next 10 months in politics that will upend both parties’ presidential nomination contests than that we’ll have some sort of historically traditional primary cycle where the front-running candidates win their respective party’s nominations because they’re leading in the polls and have lots of endorsements.

Said another way, we’re not living in “normal” times. We shouldn’t expect the party nomination contests in 2024 to proceed normally. There’s no certainty that the political dynamics existing today will exist tomorrow. And the truth is, especially lately, world events and national politics have been surprising — even to the most seasoned of observers. If they weren’t, you would not have heard the word “unprecedented” so often.

It is also true that ever since Trump got into presidential politics in June 2015, the conventional wisdom has been wrong. So, why should we believe that it’s right this time?

Other than for the joy of being a contrarian, here’s why I think we shouldn’t.

First, we continue to have a restless public and a charged political environment. The measures of opposition party antipathy, negative voting, and the number of self-identified independents have all increased. Voter turnout in the last three elections (2018, 2020 and 2022) has reached historic highs. Further, partisan polarization has not only increased but now affects far more of our lives than just politics. And most concerning, the number of politically-motivated acts of violence perpetrated against public officials also have increased lately.

Second, this isn't 2016. Political elites no longer dismiss Trump’s chances of winning. However large the field becomes, his primary opponents aren’t going to let him skate through the cycle’s debates and contests, taking each other on, instead of him, in the hope of making it a two-person race. This time, they know that if they want a shot at becoming the GOP nominee, they have to take him out first, not last. This means that Trump will be consistently attacked — from a lot of places and with a lot of money. And if he looks to dodge the debates, no one will hesitate to call him a coward.

Third, Trump is facing a multitude of serious legal issues. From substantial civil investigations to potential criminal indictments, the former president is angrily writhing as he is discernibly sinking in the quicksand of his alleged lies, abuses and possibly corruption.

While it may be true that Trump will retain support from his devout base, additional criminal indictments and scheduled court dates could raise more doubts among Republicans about his standing with independent and swing voters, his electability relative to President Biden, and his impact on down-ballot Republicans in the 2024 general election. In short, come this fall, the Republican Party is going to find itself facing an urgent and ugly choice: Support Trump and lose the 2024 election, or bail on Trump’s base, support someone else as the nominee, and maybe lose the election.

I say, “maybe,” whereas most other analysts believe “definitely,” because I am not at all convinced that Biden will be able to retain his support and stay in the presidential race if Trump is no longer considered the likely Republican nominee. The reason is that, as the results from this focus group show, most independent and swing voters are already doing the math that Biden implores them constantly to do — comparing him to the alternative (Trump), not the Almighty.

Should the Republicans move toward providing these swing voters with a real alternative — not just Trump 2.0 (as in, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis) but someone who seems more optimistic as well as more traditionally conservative, such as Sen.Tim Scott of South Carolina — then it’s possible that they may abandon their support of Biden. We shouldn’t forget that many Americans voted for Biden in 2020 because they saw him as a stopgap measure against Trump’s proclivity for destruction and as a “bridge” to the future. 

Moreover, should Trump, in a fit a rage, pull a Strom Thurmond — that is, bolt his party as Thurmond did in 1948 — and attempt to run as a independent MAGA candidate, the Republicans who remain would have an easier time repairing their party’s reputation and convincing swing voters that they’ve moved beyond Trump. It’ll be a new day.

Should these events happen, and Biden loses the one thing he has going for him — his purported electability — then it seems altogether likely that his Democratic support will crumble. He’d find himself facing more challenges in more places than New Hampshire. Then Biden, to avoid embarrassing losses and to give his party a chance in November, may decide that, like President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, he’d be better off passing the baton to his vice president, Kamala Harris, than running himself.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is what will happen. But I am saying that these political dynamics should not be as off the wall to consider as they presently seem. There have been some surprisingly wild — even unprecedented — presidential nomination fights in our past (as in, the Democrats in 1924). Nothing in politics is done until it’s done. The reality is that Trump and Biden are inextricably linked in our bizarre political present moment. If Trump fails, Biden’s candidacy will be imperiled. And then, all bets are off.

Lara M. Brown, Ph.D., is a political scientist and author of “Amateur Hour: Presidential Character and the Question of Leadership” (Routledge, 2020) and “Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants”(Cambria Press, 2010).

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