July 29, 2023 - 9:00 pm
Current polls, pundits and politicos insist that the 2024 race is a sure rematch between former President Donald Trump and incumbent President Joe Biden.
It may well turn out that way. But in past election cycles, summer polls 15 months before the general election usually did not mean much.
In December 2003, the CBS poll headline blared, “Dean pulls away in Dem race.” Howard Dean would eventually be clobbered by nominee John Kerry.
In the Gallup Poll of late June 2007, Hillary Clinton still continued to enjoy her wide lead in the Democratic primary over eventual nominee and elected president Barack Obama.
On the Republican side, Gallup noted of its summer 2007 polls that, “There has been little serious threat to the front-runner, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani” — who bombed out early in the race.
About this time in 2015, Jeb Bush was leading Trump in the Republican primary. Or as CNN characterized their summer poll, Bush “holds a significant lead over the second-place candidate Trump.”
By January 2016, the favorite, can-do Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, was leading all candidates by a substantial margin as they headed for the Iowa caucuses.
There are lots of reasons to believe that 2024 may prove to be the most volatile race in recent memory.
Not since 1912 — when third-party ex-president Theodore Roosevelt challenged incumbent President William Howard Taft in a race with Woodrow Wilson — have two presidents run against each other.
Both, remember, lost that year to the far less experienced Wilson.
Second, Trump is currently the target of at least four state and federal prosecutors. Millions of Americans feel that current and likely future indictments are patently political. The Trump prosecutions would never have gone ahead had he not run for the presidency a third time.
Left-wing strategists believe that these partisan indictments will earn Trump some Republican empathy. The legal persecutions supposedly will ensure him the nomination, but then intensify during the 2024 general campaign to bleed him out — ensuring a Democratic victory.
Perhaps. But the Left’s weaponization of the legal system is playing with fire.
They have no real idea whether their hounding will result in an indicted, inert Trump at election time, or fuel more empathy to empower him over his eventual Democratic rival, regardless of his legal status.
Or will the unending legal morass eventually wear out Republican primary voters, resulting in their rage at such unfairness helping another Republican candidate?
Third, despite Democratic denials, there is mounting evidence — from emails, laptop communications, IRS whistleblowers, testimony from Biden family business associates and likely bank records — that Biden was directly involved in his son’s illegal activities. Yet daily new details elicit only incoherent fury from Biden — especially since he clearly has serially lied that he had no knowledge of his son Hunter’s business misadventures.
Fourth, not since Woodrow Wilson’s incapacity rendered him bedridden and all but incommunicado for the last 17 months of his presidency, has a president appeared so enfeebled. The 80-year-old Biden has fallen repeatedly. He often slurs his words to the point of inaudibility.
His halting gait radiates frailty. Often aides must remind Biden where he is.
Biden appears frustrated and angry at his increasing cognitive decline — forgetting the names of foreign leaders and close associates.
To be blunt, Biden is one more serious fall from physical incapacity — and Vice President Kamala Harris’ stewardship of his presidency.
Increasing left-wing leaks and rumors spread alarm about Biden’s legal problems. Liberal writers chart his mental confusion. Progressive columnists decry his treatment of his illegitimate granddaughter.
Apparently Democratic insiders hope Biden does not run for re-election — but by all accounts must finish his term to prevent a Harris presidency in either 2023-24 or thereafter.
So the leaks of Biden’s impropriety and incapacity are aimed at ensuring Biden does not run in 2024. Yet they apparently must not prove actionable enough to abort his current presidency.
Fifth, the first Republican primary debate is just short of a month away. And debates often have proved the graveyard of sure-thing front-runners.
Trump has understandably indicated it would be foolish to debate while enjoying a sizable lead in the polls. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that Trump, a proven and skilled debater, would pass up the stage of a multimillion-person televised audience only to be ritually trashed in absentia on it.
It is even more difficult to envision a frail Biden holding his own against either Democratic rivals or a Republican contender in the general election.
Add it all up, and the presidential race is unpredictable with an array of known “unknowns.”
The only certain fact is that anyone who currently declares the outcomes of the primary races or general election a foregone conclusion is utterly delusional.
Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a classicist and historian at the Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.