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Biden, Trump heading towards America's first presidential rematch in 70 years. What are the stakes?

Biden won the last time while competing against Trump in 2020, but majority of polls show Trump leading the current US president in the upcoming elections. Trump and Biden will officially become their respective party candidates by July and August during the nominating convention.

Written By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: March 14, 2024 10:01 IST
US presidential elections, Joe Biden, Donald Trump
Image Source : REUTERS Donald Trump and Joe Biden are facing off again in the 2024 presidential elections.

Washington: It is going to be Donald Trump versus Joe Biden once again as the United States heads for its next presidential elections in November. Both candidates have officially secured enough delegates in different states through several primaries and caucuses to be considered their parties' presidential nominees, to no one's surprise, setting the stage for a presidential rematch in nearly 70 years

Biden faced token opposition in the Democratic primaries from author Marianne Williamson, Congressman Dean Philips and businessman Jason Palmer. On the other side, several high-profile Republicans ran against Trump but did not come even close to knocking the ex-President out of the race, and the final straw was Indian-American former UN ambassador Nikki Haley.

A presidential candidate doesn't officially become the Republican or Democratic nominee until winning the vote on the floor of the nominating convention, which will happen later this year. Biden would formally be declared the party’s nomination during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August. Trump will be officially nominated at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee this July.

A historic rematch

Biden and Trump faced off in the 2020 presidential elections, where the former won and became the 46th US President. This year, the elections would see a historic rematch between the duo in nearly seven decades. The last presidential rematch came in 1956 when Republican President Dwight D Eisenhower again defeated Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic opponent he had defeated four years prior.

Republican President William McKinley topped Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the election of 1896 and then again in 1900. In 1836, Democrat Martin Van Buren defeated William Henry Harrison of the Whig Party, only to have Harrison win a rematch between the two and take the presidency four years later.

John Quincy Adams managed to defeat Andrew Jackson in 1824, and the situation reversed in 1828 when Jackson defeated the incumbent Adams. Additionally, if Trump wins, he would be the second US president to return to the White House twice without serving consecutive terms. Grover Cleveland was the nation’s 22nd and 24th president, winning elections in 1884 and 1892. Cleveland won the popular in 1888 but was defeated in the electoral college by Republican Benjamin Harrison.

What are the stakes?

The stakes of this year's presidential elections are monumental as they decide the future direction of the country at a time when the world is beset with two wars in Ukraine and Gaza, a resurgent Russia and China and other geopolitical challenges. Biden, 81, and Trump, 77, have both faced concerns over their memory and old age, although Biden's repeated gaffes and blunders have intensified concerns over his mental health.

While Biden pledges to defend democracy by maintaining civil liberties on topics like abortion, many liberals remain frustrated by his support for Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, leading to a minority of Democrats to vote "uncommitted" in some states. Trump, meanwhile, has promised to change the status quo and re-introduce tighter curbs on immigration policies, while addressing the failures of the previous administration.

After winning the required number of delegates, Biden targeted Trump's "campaign of resentment, revenge, and retribution that threatens the very idea of America". Trump responded in kind by calling him the "worst" president in US history. "We're going to close our borders. We're going to do things like nobody has ever seen before," he said. On the geopolitical issue, Trump sparked alarm by saying he would encourage Russia to attack delinquent European countries.

The economy, as always, will be a central campaign issue. Biden has presided over an expanding economy, with inflationary pressure easing and stocks hitting all-time highs. However, Americans are disappointed about high prices of items like food in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic among other issues like immigration and the Gaza war.

Where do both sides stand?

Biden and Trump's rematch is unwanted by most Americans. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in January showed that 67 per cent of respondents were "tired of seeing the same candidates in presidential elections and want someone new", although just 18 per cent said they would not vote if Biden and Trump were their choices.

As of March, an exclusive USA Today/Suffolk University poll showed Trump leading Biden by a meagre two points, slimmer than earlier polls that have shown the former President establishing a formidable lead over the current President before the nominations were confirmed. Another poll by the New York Times and Siena College found Biden lagging behind Trump by five points. 

Biden still has a lot of time to catch up to his GOP rival. However, polls show most Americans being disappointed by his policies and the state of the economy under his presidency. Democrats remain deeply divided about the 81-year-old commander-in-chief returning to the White House, while Republicans are overwhelmingly backing Trump in the upcoming contest.

The campaigns have been marked by deeply personal insults and divisive rhetoric, underscoring the unpopularity of both candidates among the electorate. A different poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that a majority of Americans think both Trump and Biden lack the mental acuity to serve as President.

Vulnerabilities on both sides

Joe Biden's election campaign is fraught with numerous challenges. The botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan left indelible images of desperate people trying to flee a country that American troops fought to secure for two decades and lost in a matter of months to the Taliban. Thirteen US troops died in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport during the evacuation of American citizens and allies.

There is a widespread sense of disappointment among Biden's stalwart supporters, including Black adults, according to an AP-NORC poll. Three years after Biden took office, the share of US adults who approve of the way he’s handling his job as president has fallen more than 20 percentage points, from 61 per cent in early 2021 to 38 per cent last month. Particular reasons are immigration, as exemplified by record numbers of people crossing the US-Mexico border without authorisation, and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Biden’s approval rating has also fallen at least 20 percentage points among Hispanic adults, independents, young adults and moderates. The economy has been a particular thorn in Biden’s side since 2022 when inflation hit a 40-year high. Although inflation has slowed down, in the last two years, just 34 per cent of US adults say they agree with how Biden has handled the economy and 57 per cent of US adults think the national economy has gotten worse since Biden took office.

Donald Trump's myriad criminal charges - he faces 91 felony counts across four separate indictments - could harm his standing among the suburban, well-educated voters whose support he has historically struggled to garner. He is scheduled to become the first former American president to go on trial in a criminal case on March 25 in New York. The most serious case against him is generally thought to be the federal indictment in Washington, accusing him of trying to overturn the 2020 elections.

Furthermore, Trump has struggled to gain support from beyond his Republican base to moderates and independents. Those groups were more skeptical than conservative Republicans about Trump’s ability to win a general election or govern as president. A significant share of centrist Republicans have also indicated that they might not be willing to vote for Trump in the general election.

(with inputs from Reuters, AP)

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