I have always loved American politics. And while the next election will not take place until November 2024, the race to the White House is well and truly on.
Irish people have always loved and enjoyed the sport of politics, whether it is at home, or in England, or in the US. We have always enjoyed a good campaign and political fight. With so many Irish people living in the US, and historical ties to families like the Kennedys, it can often feel like we are directly involved in some of the campaigning itself.
The first US President I can remember was Ronald Reagan and the first election campaign that I can remember following was the doomed Gary Hart campaign in 1988, and ultimately the Bush - Dukakis campaigns. I was 14 by the time a certain contender from a town named Hope in Arkansas was elected in 1992 and I was all in for the Clinton - Gore ticket in 1996. I can remember getting up in the middle of the night back in Ireland, most likely a school night, and watching the debates. I can also remember switching between the RTÉ and BBC coverage of election nights.
By the time the 2000 Bush - Gore election came around, I was writing my Master’s thesis on the role of Bill Clinton in the Irish Peace Process. The Department of Government in UCC had rented out the Presidential suite in the Rochestown Park Hotel for the night. It was 7 am when the election results came in and I left the hotel to return home. By the time I got home at 7:30 am, the whole election race was back on.
2004 was the first year that I was actually living in America for an election. I remember in the early evening that it looked like John Kerry would be moving into the White House. That was before the Ohio results came in and tilted things in Bush’s favor.
2008 saw history being made with Barack Obama being elected, and I was fortunate to be able to work at Lynn University, the site of the final debate in the 2012 election campaign.
The chance of a Hillary Clinton presidency faded away in 2016, which heralded the arrival of Donald Trump. I managed to cast my vote for the first time in a US Presidential election in 2020 that saw Donald Trump and Joe Biden duel it out.
This brings us to the current race. On the Democrat side, President Biden is the only realistic candidate at this stage. As with most sitting presidents, challenges from within a party for a nomination are very rarely impactful, with Robert Kennedy realistically being the last candidate to impact a sitting president in Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Ted Kennedy did challenge Jimmy Carter, but Carter still secured the nomination in 1980. The grandson of RFK, Robert Kennedy Junior is campaigning against Joe Biden, but with what many consider to be extreme views on vaccines and COVID, he has arguably got more fans on the right than on the left.
The Republican side of the election race is much more diverse. To date, 12 candidates have announced they are running, with Donald Trump being the clear front-runner.
Only a true political die-hard would know much about all of the Republican candidates. As much as I watch and follow US politics and debates, even I have to confess that I have not heard of some of the Republican candidates. For some people, this may be considered a good thing as it brings something new to an election campaign.
Realistically, if any candidate from the 12 can secure 25% + support in the early polling, they will have a great chance of fighting it out for the nomination. While 25% sounds low, dividing the remaining 75% of votes amongst 11 candidates will show how a campaign can work its way through a primary season if it can capture people’s imaginations.
Can anyone get close to Trump? Right now, it looks unlikely. However, candidates like Ron DeSantis largely mirror Trump’s policies, and should all the pressure that accumulates from investigations and trials into Trump prove too much, he may secure the nomination.
Chris Christie is the anti-Trump alternative for Republicans, and while this kind of candidacy may increase the appeal of a Republican being elected to the White House, the former President is still adored by the party base. Back at the start of the month, most declared Republican candidates attended the “Roast and Ride” event in Iowa, with all refusing to speak about the former President. Even when not present, the specter of the Trump shadow looms large.
The first Republican party debates will take place in August. It is only at this point that the initial 12 will begin to be whittled down.
Can anyone really challenge Trump? He is loved by the base, and it is hard to see any change at this point, but with more and more legal challenges on the horizon, maybe Trump fatigue will set in, not with his base but maybe for the man himself. The flip side of the argument is that Trump needs to keep campaigning and secure the nomination in order to try and win and exert influence as President once again. Election campaigns are getting longer and longer. The traditional campaign used to start in February of an election year. Now they essentially start the day after the mid-term elections and for those directly involved in strategizing and planning, much earlier.
For the party loyalists, it is likely to come down to a Biden - Trump race once again. I suspect that whoever takes the Republican nomination, Nikki Haley will be the Vice Presidential pick.
Trump failed to convince the country to re-elect him in 2020. The question Republicans who are eager to return to the White House must ask is whether they truly believe Donald Trump can secure enough votes after the events of January 6 and the different charges and allegations of the last two years.
The questions Democrats must ask themselves is whether Joe Biden can maintain sufficient support to hold off a rejuvenated Trump, or if he would be strong enough to beat a Republican other than Trump should they be nominated. Time will ultimately tell.
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