No Clear Contenders In 2024 | Opinion

Looking ahead to the presidential election of 2024, it's much easier to compile a list of possible contenders who can't win the grand prize than it is to name those who could. Our most prominent politicians all look like sure losers in the upcoming battle. This anomaly contributes to the sour state of our present politics and offers scant encouragement to followers of either Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

Age remains the most powerful impediment to a second term for either the 46th or 45th president. In the unlikely event that Biden receives a renewal on his White House lease, he'd take his second oath of office at 82, while Trump 2.0 would assume power at 78.

While recent polling indicates that both Trump and Biden still command overwhelming support within their respective parties, that doesn't hide the weariness of two aging presidents—or the discernible wariness of the public. Neither candidate would win automatic renomination, especially in light of the scandals unwinding on both sides. Trump's "stolen election" delusions, continuing fight to hide his tax returns and history of sexual harassment accusations will look more relevant in the midst of a new campaign than they do today. As for Biden, the flagrant mishandling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, allegedly declining cognitive abilities and the continued misadventures of his troubled son Hunter won't disappear as the partisan fusillades inevitably intensify.

Deep divisions within both parties also make it profoundly unlikely that either will avoid a sharp ideological battle for future control. Even if Biden recovers some of the grassroots support he lost in this turbulent year, he's still likely to remain vulnerable enough to tempt rebellious and energetic young progressives. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the perfect age for an insurgent outsider candidacy—she'll turn 35, the constitutional minimum, less than one month before election day 2024—and her ability to command media attention rivals Donald Trump's.

But what about the current vice president of the United States, who clearly entertains White House aspirations of her own? Kamala Harris' 2020 campaign failed on every level, ending before it could secure a single delegate. During the general election, her political skills struck observers in both the press and party as underwhelming, and now the magic of her historic status (first woman of color elected to her august office) has begun to wear thin. She's done nothing to overcome the image of the vice presidency as a dull, inconsequential job; the president's decision to ask her to coordinate border security ties her directly to the most unpopular aspect of the administration's performance.

And speaking of unpopular performance, the infighting among Democrats in Congress makes the entire institution look dysfunctional, dimming presidential prospects for any members of the House or Senate. After the midterm elections, where Republicans look likely to gain seats, if not to win outright control, Congress could become known as the place where Democrats' dreams go to die, with Mitch McConnell assuming the role of jolly undertaker.

This raises the possibility that the ultimate nominee will be a "fresh face"—an outsider who's not hurt by association with war horses on Capitol Hill. That could mean a governor—perhaps even a newly elected one, like Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania, or even Matthew McConaughey in Texas. No, the movie star hasn't yet decided to run in 2022, but polls say he might well win. Any Democrat who prevails in the very heartland of American conservatism would become an instant celebrity—except for the fact that McConaughey is one already.

Joe Biden
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus October 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden spoke about the coronavirus pandemic and encouraged states and businesses to support vaccine mandates to avoid a surge in cases of Covid-19. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

There's also a chance that if Biden steps aside, the party might consider tapping an uncontroversial, less celebrated cabinet member, like the brilliant, pragmatic Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo or the prior presidential contender, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The party could benefit from choosing an out-of-nowhere surprise, promising a decisively different approach for uniting the currently feuding progressives and moderates—a Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, rather than a representative of the party's stodgy hierarchy like Al Gore, John Kerry or Hillary Clinton.

As for the Republicans, conventional wisdom insists that Trump's a sure bet for the nomination if he runs. But any number of developments over the next three years could spoil those calculations. The midterm elections of 2022 will reshape the battlefield for 2024 and, ironically, Trump could suffer even if his GOP allies do well. For one thing, the former president is bent on ousting McConnell from GOP Senate leadership, so if Republicans make the single-seat gain they need to capture the Upper House, and remain loyal to the wily Kentuckian, it could register as a setback for the former president.

In fact, anything less than dominance on the part of the MAGA primary challengers that the former president is passionately promoting would undermine Trump's nomination prospects. If the party's brand fares better across the country than the Trump personality cult, it could encourage potential challengers with Trumpist appeal (DeSantis of Florida, Hawley of Missouri, Cotton of Arkansas or others) to jump into the fray even if the former president proceeds with his bid for restoration.

Anti-Trump Republicans (to the extent the battered, bruised dissenters still identify with the GOP) may worry that a multiple-candidate contest would assure Trump's victory, in a repeat of 2016. If the choice comes down to Trump versus "a whole bunch of other guys" who split the Trump-skeptical vote, surely the former president is destined to prevail, thanks to vastly stronger name recognition if nothing else.

But in 2024, no sane Republican will underestimate Trump's appeal, and the field is much less likely to explode into a mob of a dozen squabbling contenders. Instead, imagine that the contest narrows to three serious top-tier candidates. One is a "Trumpist independent" who recycles the "America First" agenda without Trump's personality quirks and conspiracies. There would also be room for a center-of-the-party contender who seeks return to more traditional pro-business, internationalist Republican policies (think Tim Scott or Nikki Haley). And then there would be Trump himself, promising additional years of feuds and frauds and indignation over everything. In that sort of contest, isn't it possible that Republicans across the country might divide their primary votes more evenly than current polls suggest?

As with the Democrats, Republicans might fare best with a younger figure who promises a new start, in style as much as substance, asserting the importance of building a coalition of the grateful rather than the aggrieved, of the perpetually optimistic rather than the eternally apocalyptic. Amid deep disillusionment with elephants and donkeys, the American public might welcome a new beast capable of traveling in fresh directions.

Michael Medved hosts a daily radio talk show and is author, most recently, of God's Hand On America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era. Follow him on Twitter: @MedvedSHOW.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.