Three weeks after the US presidential election, US President Donald Trump has given a “green light” to US president-elect Joe Biden’s “transition,” but is still refusing to concede. While this partially reflects his personal problems in admitting defeat, it might also mean that the billionaire businessman is seriously thinking about a 2024 White House run.
There is only one precedent in US history for a president to be elected in non-consecutive terms: Former US president Grover Cleveland in the 19th century when he won in 1884 and 1892. Nevertheless, and despite his advancing age, Trump is reported to be eager to consider a 2024 bid.
In four years, Trump would be about the same age as Biden is now. Trump’s “game plan” for winning power again might well be to try to emulate the 1828 campaign of former US president Andrew Jackson, an insurgent president that many have compared him with.
In 1824, Jackson came close to winning the presidency by winning the most electoral votes, but not enough for the necessary majority in a field of four candidates: Jackson, Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams and William Crawford.
In what Johnson later termed the “corrupt bargain,” the US House of Representatives elected Quincy Adams as president, despite Jackson’s advantage in the US Electoral College. Jackson went on to win the presidency in 1828 and 1832.
While the circumstances of Trump’s loss to Biden are different to those of Jackson in 1824, when he lost to Quincy Adams, Trump is clearly seeking to nurture a similar sense of grievance over his loss.
Despite Biden’s victory, and the controversies of Trump’s presidency, Trump would potentially be a formidable contender in 2024 for the US Republican nomination. He performed on Nov. 3 above the expectations set by prior polls, which had pointed to an even more handsome win for Biden.
While Trump might be down, he is not out — and the appeal of “Trumpism” in the US remains strong with key groups. While the outcome of the 2024 Republican primary remains too far away to call, with multiple candidates who could yet win, history indicates patterns to previous races that point to potential success for Trump in winning the Republican nomination, if he chose to stand.
The past few decades of US political history suggest that the victor in nomination contests for both major parties frequently lead national polls of party identifiers on the eve of the first presidential nomination ballot in Iowa, and also raises more campaign finance than any other candidate in the 12 months prior to election year.
On both these counts, Trump could potentially be a strong Republican favorite for 2024. From 1980 to this year, the eventual nominee in about half of the Democrat and Republican nomination races contested — that is, in which there was more than one candidate — was the early front-runner by both of these two measures.
This was true of former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democrat candidate in 2016; then-Texas governor George W. Bush, the Republican candidate in 2000; then-US representative Al Gore, the Democrat candidate in 2000; then-US senator Bob Dole, the Republican candidate in 1996; then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, the Democrat candidate in 1992; then-US vice president George H.W. Bush, the Republican candidate in 1988 and 1992; then-US senator Walter Mondale, the Democrat candidate in 1984; and then-Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, the Democrat candidate in 1980.
In at least four partial exceptions to this pattern, the eventual presidential nominee led the rest of the field on one of the two measures. This was true of Biden this year; Trump in 2016; US Senator Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate in 2012; then-Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democrat candidate in 1988; and former California governor Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate in 1980.
For example, in the race for the Democratic nomination last year, Biden led a majority of national polls of Democratic identifiers for many months before Iowa. While he was not the leading fundraiser from external donations among the Democratic field — US Senator Bernie Sanders edged him on this score — he was well positioned on the money side of the ledger, too, because of his political connections as former US vice president.
On both the fundraising and national poll measures, Trump could be an early favorite to win the Republican nomination in 2024. His age would not be a major impediment, if he maintains good health, especially if Biden seeks re-election, given that the US would by 2024 have had two consecutive septuagenarian presidents.
Of course, if Trump were to win the Republican nomination in 2024, it would not be certain that he could win back the presidency. Much depends on the success of Biden’s forthcoming presidency, and whether he stands for re-election.
Another key factor influencing Republican prospects of winning back the White House in 2024 is whether, and how quickly, the party can unite around its eventual nominee, given the potential forthcoming debate between moderates, centrists and pro-Trump insurgents over the party’s direction over the next decade.
While the circumstances of 2024 would be different from this year, a rancorous, divisive Republican nomination contest might only benefit Biden — or the eventual Democratic presidential nominee — in four years.
Andrew Hammond is an associate in the London School of Economics and Political Sciences’ LSE IDEAS.
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