The USA, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Last monthJoe Biden formally announced that he was running for reelection. Despite frequent media speculation about whether he would seek a second term that began before he even got elected president, Biden was always going to run for reelection. The process of running for president is so arduous and requires such an enormous ego, that the kind of people who become president are not the kind of people who decide that, on balance, one term is enough. This was even truer for Joe Biden who has been running for president on and off since the late 1980s.
Like most presidents, Joe Biden will not face a real primary challenge from within his own party. The last incumbent president who had a reasonably strong primary opponent was Jimmy Carter back in 1980. Thus far the only other Democratic candidates are Marianne Williamson, who is still very much a fringe candidate, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who would be even more of a fringe candidate if he were not part of a family that, 55 years after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, is still Democratic Party royalty. In other words, barring an extreme health crisis, Biden will be the Democratic nominee in 2024.
The Republican primary looks a little different, sort of. There are already several announced candidates including Nikki Haley who has served as Governor of South Carolina and Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, right-wing radio personality Larry Elder and anti-woke warrior Vivek Ramaswamy. Additionally, politicians like Governors Chris Christie and Chris Sununu, as well as former Vice-President Mike Pence may run as well. All these people have something in common. They will not be the Republican nominee in 2024.
There are two other candidates Donald Trump, and Ron DeSantis, who are essentially the only relevant Republicans in the race. Trump now has a substantial lead and looks, if not quite a lock to be the nominee, then a very strong favorite. DeSantis is polling an increasingly distant second in most polls but is still well ahead of the rest of the field. If Trump stumbles badly or has a major health crisis, DeSantis will almost certainly be the nominee.
This all raises a question for the American media and political elite. Will they (we) be able to move away from endless horserace analysis about both parties and recognize both the high likelihood of a Biden-Trump rematch and the real stakes that race holds for the US? The general election should be reported on deeply and thoroughly, but the long nominating process is extremely unlikely to be an important story in 2023 and 2024.
The first primaries and caucuses will be in early January of 2024 for the Republicans and a month later for the Democrats. The default setting for the media is to cover the process extensively, and have it dominate the news between now and when we know who the nominees are. The problem in this cycle is that we already pretty much know who the candidates are. The only real horserace stories that could emerge in the next six to nine months would be a health crisis for either of the elderly frontrunners or a dramatic and unexpected collapse in political support for Donald Trump. Treating the primaries not as an exciting horserace but as a boring formality would be the appropriate media approach, but old habits are hard to break, particularly when they can be lucrative habits for news outlets.
If the horserace is covered extensively and is the top political story for much of the next year inevitably other stories and themes will be pushed to the side. The most glaring example of this is that over the last eight years or so, the most important overarching political development in the US has been the capture of the Republican Party by its most extreme and most anti-democratic wing, and the threat to democracy that continues to rise. Over the last few years, particularly since January 6, 2021, we have seen better, if still somewhat sporadic, attention paid by some of the media to that development.
Endless articles about the increasingly narrow needle Mike Pence or even Ron DeSantis needs to thread to get the nomination, both take away from the larger story and situate today’s Republican Party in the context of its more rational past, thus obscuring the reality of what the party has become. Similarly, treating Kennedy and Williamson as candidates with a chance of becoming president, rather than the gadflies they are means there are less resources to cover, and I know this sounds crazy, but substantive issues, like what the legislature and the executive are doing to address problems like gun violence, climate change or wealth inequality.
The ongoing crisis of American democracy, the impact of major legislation around infrastructure and climate change passed in the first two years of Biden’s presidency, and countless important stories at the state and local level are much more relevant to the American people than Larry Elder’s latest poll numbers or whether Biden wins the South Carolina primary by 40, rather than 50, points. It would be great if the media focus over the next year or so would reflect that.