It may be a bear market on Wall Street but it’s a bull market for 2024 presidential ambitions. Even if they don’t pull the lever and run, would-be candidates, left and right, need to begin the pre-presidential dance now.
There are plenty of reasons for a would-be contender to be bullish. The incumbent president is at historic low approval. Inflation is at historic highs. Only 13 percent of Americans believe the country is headed into the right direction. It’s a moment tailored-made for a change. Like any startup with its pitchbook, it’s a seller’s market, so put up rosy projections of electoral and governing success and see the money, media attention, and votes come your way.
But even in a bull presidential market, it’s a safe bet to go with the old blue chip stocks.
The Republican Bull Market
President Joe Biden looks his age, Vice President Kamala Harris looks like a walking caricature of a Veep, and the GOP coalition is seeing growing ranks from growing demographics. What’s more, the would-be frontrunner seems beatable. This leaves Republicans right and less right all champing at the bit to put their hat into the 2024 ring.
- Trump is saying it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” he announces. He’s at about 50 percent of Republican voters in the primary polls, which is a front-runner position for any individual person but also a weak showing for a former president. It’s a mixture of boredom, legal liability from January 6th investigations, and dwindling relevance that Trump is looking to announce his candidacy before the midterm elections. It’s those same dynamics keeping other Republicans interested in a run.
- Trumpism without Trump is the leading contender to replace Trump, the man. Atop the pack is Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who is looking to use his reelection this year as a launch pad for 2024 where he could run to the right of Trump on issues like vaccines and the administrative state. He, along with others like Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), represent a continuation of Trumpism and are in aggregate getting about 20–30 percent of the vote. It’s a position not unlike then-Senator Barack Obama back in the early days of the 2008 primary when facing then-Senator Hillary Clinton. A new face who could outflank the frontrunner on certain issues (e.g. opposition to the Iraq War in on the left in ’08, opposition to vaccines and admin state on the right in ‘24).
- While not eschewing Trump and Trumpism, there’s a coterie of Republicans looking to provide something else for the GOP. This includes former Vice President Mike Pence, Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-VA), Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and former Secretary Mike Pompeo. This large group polls between 10–20 percent, a position to be a contender if Trump and/or Trumpism falter. A few could even run if Trump runs, although most won’t.
- There’s a small group of anti-Trump Republicans who are explicit in their opposition to Trump and the Republican Party needing a new direction. This includes Governor Chris Sununu (R-NH), Governor Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD), and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). They compile less than 10 percent of the GOP vote and are being driven more by their own networks, the old Bush establishment, and even some Democrats than any real Republican coalition. The most they can hope for is a cable TV contract rather than a nomination.
Bottom Line: When 70–80 percent of Republicans are for Trump and/or Trumpism, the party today is not looking for a change. The Obama ’08 comparisons are there for someone like DeSantis. But can DeSantis reach escape velocity against Trump or will he go the way of donor and grassroot favorites in the past (looking at you Rick Perry in 2012). IF Trump runs, he should be treated as the favorite.
The Democratic Bull Market
Biden is unpopular and old, not an ideal combination for a reelection message. It has left several ambitious Democrats seeking to raise their national profiles in the off-chance Biden doesn’t seek reelection.
- Biden has every intention of running for reelection. Though 64 percent of Democrats don’t want Biden to run in 2024, as the president likes to say, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.” If he were to run again, 72 percent of Democrats would support him. Unlike President Carter, Biden’s connections throughout the party run deep to not invite a credible challenger. No one wants to be the person who weakens Biden in a primary that causes him to lose in a general election to Trump.
- In the event Biden doesn’t run, it’s more likely due to a legitimate health concern than a complete collapse of the administration. Vice President Kamala Harris has the clearest path to the 2024 nomination if Biden’s not running. She may struggle with her position as VP (but which veep hasn’t?), yet she has some of the strongest coalitions of Democrats (Black voters) and it’s hard to see numerous institutional Democrats not rallying behind her. Other members of the Biden administration, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu are possible contenders. Yet Buttigieg may do better as Harris’ number two as he still has a ways to go in cobbling together a diverse Dem coalition.
- Blue state governors are looking to pick fights Biden won’t and are inviting 2024 speculation from it. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is fighting against DeSantis and Governor J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) is fighting against the gun lobby and making trips to the early voting state of New Hampshire. These literal white knights may help rile up the Democratic base but it’s not unlike the dreams of some Democrats to have then-Governor Andrew Cuomo (now disgraced, ex-governor from New York) run for president in 2020. That, for many reasons, was misguided.
- Democrats prize electability more than Republicans, and there are several more moderate Democrats who could make a name on the national stage. This includes Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), Governors Jared Polis (D-CO), and Governor Roy Cooper (D-NC). Yet national politics have put a premium on candidates in Washington, making it harder to repeat what a moderate Democratic governor from Arkansas was able to do back in 1992.
- The left is feeling left out with policy wins under Biden, but that doesn’t mean leaders like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) or Bernie Sanders (I-VT) would challenge him. Biden has made pains to work with the left. But these also-rans could run again if Biden isn’t on the ticket. Rising stars like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) or Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) are often mentioned. No time like 2024 to elevate one’s platform with a presidential bid after being stuck in a (very likely) Republican-controlled House.
Bottom Line: The Biden-Harris administration is languishing today but the two are the odds-on favorites to represent the Democratic Party come 2024. Biden was the man for the moment in 2020, promising a return to normalcy and electability to take down Trump. Biden isn’t the man for the moment today in 2022. But that moment will change. It could change soon if Trump announces a run this year. That and other variables could once again create a Biden moment.
The Third Party Bull Market
The two most unpopular nominees for president ever were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, which led to the largest number of third-party votes (Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and Green Party’s Jill Stein) since Ross Perot in the 1990s. If the two major parties nominate an unpopular septuagenarian and an unpopular octogenarian at a time when trust in the institutions of government is close to an all time low, the timing may be right for a third option to rise.
- No Labels, a bipartisan political organization that has long sought third-party candidates, is polling a hypothetical ticket of Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). However, real third party traction comes less from the No Labels’ definition of moderation and more from a populist or someone who is above parties.
- Who are above parties? Celebrities and billionaires. Amazon found Jeff Bezos is enjoying his retirement from work, going to space and lambasting the Biden administration over inflation. Democrats love to hate Amazon, but any politician could only wish for the favorability ratings Bezos and Amazon have. His tweets, ownership of the Washington Post, and ownership of the largest house in DC all lend to a man who enjoys politics. But could he pull a populist candidacy like the billionaire Perot in the 1990s? He seems a little steeped in the establishment.
- If Ocasio-Cortez isn’t running as a Democrat, she could eschew the two-party system and make a go at it with the Green Party. In 2020, she said, “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party.” She would be speaking on behalf of a generation of young and restless voters. Same goes for Barstool Sports’ David Portnoy, except from a libertarian perspective. He even ran for mayor of Boston once. Both Ocasio-Cortez and Portnoy would be bigger names than the Stein’s and Johnson’s of the third-party worlds.
Bottom Line: Even with great discontent over the current system, third parties are spoilers more than contenders in this day and age of political polarization. Of those voters who disapproved of both Trump and Clinton in 2016, more voted for either of the major-party candidates rather than choosing another option. But spoilers can tilt close elections.