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And They’re Off! An Early Preview of the 2024 Presidential Horserace

Fresh off of a resounding reelection victory in November, in which he blasted political chameleon (Republican-then independent-then Democrat) Charlie Crist into oblivion and fared impressively in Miami and other blue patches of mostly red Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has officially entered the 2024 presidential race.

DeSantis joins the current president, a former president, and a member of America’s unofficial ‘royal family’ in what’s shaping up to be quite an interesting and compelling horserace.

As a presidential historian and political analyst, I’m fascinated. As an American, though, I’m a tad underwhelmed, mostly because of the dynamics: the race most Americans don’t want to see again, Joe Biden v. Donald Trump, is as of this writing the one most likely to occur.

Biden, like his immediate predecessor, has to stretch his neck to gaze up at a 50 percent approval rating, and it’s becoming less likely that he’ll ever achieve it. Barack Obama, who hovered slightly above 50 percent for most of his presidency, in terms of popularity seems like George Washington by comparison. The majority of Democrats – voters overtly and elected officials covertly – aren’t happy that Biden’s running again. ‘Breadsticks’ Biden is less enticing an entrée choice than California Governor Gavin ‘Sushi’ Newsom or Pete ‘Pierogi’ Buttigieg, but those more flavorful options also run the risk of alienating a predominantly meat-and-potatoes crowd. So it looks like, by default, the Dems will be serving breadsticks again.

Consequently, it’s becoming increasingly more apparent that the Democrats are rooting for Trump to win the GOP nomination because they think he’s the Republican whom Biden will have the easiest time beating, considering he’s already done it. But that strategy’s failed before: just ask the 1980 Democratic Committee, which was thrilled that Ronald Reagan beat George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination, and the 2008 Republicans who rooted for Obama to win the Democratic primaries over Hillary Clinton.

A very plausible theory many fail to grasp is: 1) Trump beat Clinton in 2016 because too many people detested her and were curious to see what a bona fide non-politician could do; but 2) Trump lost to Biden in 2020 because the country realized he wasn’t ever planning on acting ‘presidential’, and knew that Biden, for all his lack of luster, wasn’t going to kick us in the gut with frenzied, erratic tweets in the middle of the night.

It’s entirely possible now that we can add; 3) Trump will beat Biden in 2024 because enough Americans realized that Biden at 80 is nowhere near the Biden who served Obama for eight years as VP – and even that Biden wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed – and Biden is sleepwalking through the presidency at a rate unacceptable to most Americans across all political stripes. But entirely possible does not mean definite, or even probable, because too many Americans might still prefer a stale breadstick to a tastier meal they fear might give them food poisoning.
But what about the rest of the horses?

DeSantis enters the race as a polarizing figure – his supporters are gaga over his relentless war on wokeness, while his critics assail him as a homophobic, racist, fascist – though among those who haven’t yet made up their minds about him, he fares more positively than negatively, at least based on what we saw in his reelection bid. But those voters were all Floridians, and DeSantis’ early unshackling of Florida’s masses from pandemic lockdowns won him much favor that transcended ideology and partisanship.

The problem with DeSantis, though, is his personality. Will most Republican voters nationwide who approve of DeSantis’ accomplishments and even acknowledge he may be better than Trump at actually getting things done see beyond his somewhat stiff persona? After all, Trump can be a battering ram of insults to those on his bad list, but he showers his supporters with ‘I love you’ sweet nothings repeatedly. As a suitor pursuing the object of his affection, DeSantis is cut more from the Dick Cheney mold.

Then, there’s that aforementioned prince of America’s faux royal family, the Kennedys:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of Robert Sr. and nephew of President John. As a boy, Kennedy watched them both succumb to assassins’ bullets.
Kennedy swears that when his uncle was killed, he witnessed his father phone the CIA and ask point blank: “Did you do this?” Five years later, Kennedy’s own father was dead, but Kennedy doubts the convicted killer’s guilt.

Those childhood traumas are enough to drive a person to question our government’s honesty, integrity, and adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law. In the process, Kennedy exposes a lot of dirty laundry, and many have labeled him an unhinged conspiracy theorist. Nonetheless, Kennedy’s polling at around 20 percent, and if he loses the nomination, he may just run third party and hand the election to the Republicans.

Republicans had feared Trump might also run third party, but with a nifty 50-point lead over DeSantis and the rest, those concerns have been all but forgotten.

A bigger concern is whether near Election Day Trump will be center stage as the defendant in a criminal trial underway, and whether that’d cause enough Americans to turn to milquetoast Biden yet again.

A cavalcade of other formidable Republicans include South Carolina’s Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, the former governor and current U.S. Senator, respectively, though Trump towers over them among that state’s voters. Governor Chris Christie is about to launch and promises to ‘out-Trump Trump’,  while New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and former Vice President Mike Pence are contemplating entering the race as civil, cordial reasonable alternatives to the Trump/DeSantis toxicity.

We’ve got 18 months to go, which in politics is an eternity.

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