One of the favorite pastimes of political pundits, especially those who speculate and comment about presidential elections, is to try to link the current campaign to one or more campaigns in the past — even despite the reality that no race for the nation’s highest office is truly like another.
Nevertheless, there are almost always some key aspects of this quadrennial event which resemble a previous one in either the last century or even the one before.
I have done this myself, and would again, but for the rare situation we have now — in which politics is moving at such severe left and right angles, and performing political somersaults unlike any we have seen before.
The exact cause or causes of this circumstance are not yet entirely clear, but a list of probable precipitants include: the recent pandemic and its social and economic impact; the radical nature of the policies of the current administration; the extraordinary polarization of national politics; the repercussions of a massive influx of undocumented immigrants; the polarizing nature of the frontrunning presidential candidates of the two major political parties; widespread doubt about the credibility of the electoral process itself; a highly volatile international environment accompanied by new trade and military challenges and threats; and the current insidious denigration of traditional values and institutions.
Add to this the now routine use of partisan impeachment (Trump was twice impeached, while two separate impeachment resolutions of Biden have now been introduced in the U.S. House) and apparent partisan criminal prosecution against the leading presidential candidates.
These political catalysts have appeared before in several historical moments of the Republic, but perhaps not so much in a single conflagration as we are experiencing just now. They are, of course, only some of the probable causes. The growing forms and details of the 2024 presidential and national election campaign reveals, only slightly more than a year from its final climactic occasion, much more than the usual uncertainties.
I have previously and recently suggested that the now widely-held view that both Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump will be the nominees is probably wrong — in at least one case (Biden), and perhaps both cases. Each of them now have commanding leads in most current polls, and Biden, unlike Trump, doesn’t even have serious challengers.
But, as I am suggesting, the current state of the campaign is so brittle that it would not take much to drastically alter its present course — and shatter it into unanticipated pieces.
What is reassuring about citing historical precedent is that it promises the routine uncertainty of an election would be resolved in some traditional and easily understandable way. Lacking such a credible historical pattern or guide, the uncertainty can become instead a foreboding of a more dire result.
The apparent distaste by so many voters in both major parties, and among them now a very large group of independent or unaffiliated voters, with the heads of both prospective tickets, and in the case of the Democrats, the entire ticket, means that any map of political destination in this uncharted territory is unavailable.
Against this, many political strategists of both parties argue that it doesn’t really matter, that most Democrats will vote for the Democrat ticket, and most Republicans will vote for their ticket. This is, of course, true, but ignores the much less certain voting of the now very large non-affiliated bloc of voters. It also fails to credibly assess the number of voters in each party who will stay home and not vote. In any reasonably close presidential election, these factors could be enormous.
There are third party candidates in every election, but in 2024, such alternative voting choices could make the difference between who wins and who loses.
Already, two potentially serious third parties are forming. It does not matter that none of their candidates can win; what matters is that they drain votes from those who could win. It only took a few thousand Ralph Nader votes in Florida to cost Al Gore the 2000 election.
We are in, for now, uncharted political territory. There is little doubt that voters are not happy with the prospect of a replay of the controversial and unsettling 2020 presidential election.
Unhappy and uninspired voters make unpredictable choices at the polls.