The 2024 presidential election will soon be upon us. Indeed, there’s already speculation about whom the Democrats and the Republicans will choose as their respective presidential nominees, and what issues will help or hurt each party. Of course, there’s the small matter of the 2022 off year elections, and nobody really knows what new issues will develop over the next few years or how each party will respond to them. Still, it may be interesting—actually, it’s irresistible for a political scientist/political historian—to discuss what lies ahead. This week we’ll begin looking at Democratic prospects, especially in light of the two most lethal charges the Republicans will try to make against the Biden Administration: Incompetence and extremism. In a few weeks we’ll examine the GOP’s apparent strengths and weaknesses as it prepares for 2024.
In a general election campaign, one of the most potentially effective accusations one party’s presidential nominee can make against the other party’s nominee is incompetence. America’s political history shows that the voters in a general election will select the presidential candidate, whether Democrat or Republican, who promises more competent performance over an incumbent president seen as hapless and out of his depth. Think Roosevelt vs. Hoover in 1932, Reagan vs. Carter in 1980, and Clinton versus Bush 41 in 1992.
No doubt the Republicans will charge the Biden administration with incompetence as shown by its:
- Botched withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, leaving Americans and Afghans behind to the tender mercies of the Taliban and Al Qaeda;
- Apparent ineptness in coping with the resurging covid-19 virus—whether by failure to procure more test kits or more medicines promising effective relief for those who contract covid-19, thereby making Biden’s promise that by the 4th of July the pandemic would be over nonsensical;
- Failure to predict, much less cope with, the rising rate of inflation, for which administration spending programs are partly to blame; and
- Failure to get the Build Back Better bill—primarily a collection of proposals for greater government spending in welfare and education–through Congress, despite Democratic majorities in both chambers.
Of course, Biden’s defenders will argue that his three immediate predecessors in the White House—Bush43, Obama, and Trump—are largely responsible for the conditions Biden encountered in Afghanistan, that the unpredictability of he pandemic’s course makes realistic predictions about what must be done all but impossible, that the powers of the president to fight inflation are limited at best, and that GOP obstructionism is the main reason for the failure of Congress to pass Build Back Better. How effective the Democrats’ defenses prove to be remains to be seen.
The Build Back Better program to spend $1.9 trillion dollars are various social programs actually poses two threats to Biden. If passed, it will almost certainly accelerate the current inflation. And whether or not it’s passed, it reflects what Republicans will undeniably describe as the basic extremism of today’s Democratic Party, reflecting a drive to transform American society more radically and rapidly than many voters may like.
An effective charge of extremism can be as fatal to a presidential campaign as one of incompetence. In essence, given their choice between a centrist presidential candidate—a moderate conservative or a moderate liberal—or an extremist (or perceived extremist) from either the far right or the far left—the voters in a general election will prefer the centrist, whether Republican or Democrat. Think Johnson vs. Goldwater in 1964, Nixon vs. McGovern in 1972, Reagan vs. Mondale in 1984, and Bush 41 vs. Dukakis in 1988.
Biden’s apparent moderation was one of his major selling points in 2020. But Biden and the Democrats are nonetheless pushing the Build Back Better bill, which includes many of the priorities of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth, Warren, and The Squad. They believe—almost certainly correctly—that they’ll lose the Congress to the Republicans in 2022, so they should try to get as much done now, before their likely debacle, even at the risk of appearing too extreme, and hoping they can sell their work to the American people as necessary and not extreme. But history is against them. Think public reaction against the New Deal n 1938 or the Great Society in 1966.
But Republican effectiveness in making their case against the Democrats will depend not only on what the Biden Administration does, or fails to do. How the GOP can present itself as the better alternative will also depend on its ability to cope with the two big elephants in its living room: Former President Trump and his plans for 2024 and, more importantly, the fact that the GOP has lost the popular vote in all but one of the last eight presidential elections. Soon we’ll see how these factors, and others, effect the GOP’s prospects for 2024.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.