By Yoohoi Ahn
The author is an editor in the newsroom of the Korea Daily.
On November 20, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a nonprofit organization overseeing presidential election debates, announced the schedule for the upcoming presidential candidate debates. This announcement brings us closer to the presidential election on November 5, 2024, potentially a showdown between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump.
Presidential elections typically feature an incumbent’s stability versus a challenger’s novelty. However, next year’s election inspires little confidence in the incumbent and lacks excitement for the challenger. Although still a year away, a sense of déjà vu pervades.
American politics traditionally transforms elections into political festivals once candidates are chosen. Currently, both parties harbor mixed feelings about their presumptive nominees, grappling with embarrassment over not replacing them, resignation to the lack of alternatives, and a bittersweet sense of familiarity with the future.
The most significant déjà vu is Donald Trump’s potential return. If he secures the Republican nomination, it will be his third presidential bid. It’s uncommon for a former president to run again, especially one who still commands overwhelming support within his party after failing to secure re-election. The passionate support and fierce opposition Trump evokes remain largely unchanged.
The age of the candidates is also a point of continuity. In 2016, Hillary Clinton (69) and Trump (70) were the oldest presidential candidates in history. Now, Trump is 77 and Biden is 81, setting a new record. While this could be seen as a byproduct of increased life expectancy, it also underscores the persistent inability to blend old and new in politics, a concern evident eight years ago. Anticipation for young, promising politicians has been thwarted once again.
For Democrats, the disappointment of young voters with their party’s candidate continues to be problematic. Hillary Clinton’s decision to transfer control of the Clinton Foundation to her daughter Chelsea just before her presidential campaign alienated younger party members, leading to criticism throughout the primaries and general election. Biden, too, struggles with low support among young voters.
Another familiar concern for Democrats is the nightmare of losing swing states. Hillary lost crucial swing states, whereas Biden won them. Notably, Hillary neglected to campaign in Democratic-leaning Wisconsin, losing there by a mere 0.77%.
While Hillary’s defeat was unexpected, Biden is currently trailing and needs to reverse his fortunes. Recent polls show Biden leading only in Wisconsin among the swing states of Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – states crucial to his previous victory. Furthermore, no polls indicate Democrats outperforming Republicans in national approval ratings from October to November.
With voters seemingly decided and familiar with the candidates, the incumbent versus ex-president matchup is poised to be more contentious, focusing on solidifying base support rather than winning over the opposition. “Biden is not old at all. He’s just grossly incompetent,” Trump declared on November 14. Both sides have expanded their battleground to include the judiciary, with attacks expected to be as fierce as ever.
A significant concern in this climate is the potential for post-election turmoil. Trump has already stated, “When I get back in office, I’m going to go after those who persecuted me so badly, and I will prosecute them, pushing them out of industry and politics.”
Policy upheaval is also anticipated. We have already witnessed two complete reversals of preceding administration policies. “If I were president, I would end [the war in Ukraine] in a day,” Trump proclaimed. Regarding Biden’s economic policies, Trump told adviser Carla Sands, “On day one, I will eliminate every single one of Joe Biden’s job- and industry-killing regulations.” In many respects, next year’s rematch will focus less on the election’s outcome and more on the sharp divisions and shifts a heated confrontation will bring.