7 Things To Watch For In The Trump-Biden Rematch

It’s official. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are headed for a rematch in 2024. Both men officially clinched their respective party nominations on Tuesday night, putting an effective end to a not-especially-dramatic presidential primary season.

As the real race opens, Trump has a small, steady and surmountable lead over Biden in public polling. But there are almost eight months for the race to evolve. Here are six questions worth watching as it does.

Why Care?

Poll after poll and headline after headline blares the same message: Voters don’t want a Biden v. Trump rematch. And yet, here we are.

Instead of pining for a new face, people might want to pay attention to what the two candidates are running on. Both of these old men are pitching visions for the country that seek to turn the page on the past 40-plus years of American history. They just happen to be wildly divergent visions.

Biden centers his reelection campaign around the symbolism of democracy, including his most radical departure from the policies of previous administrations: his economic agenda.

In his first term, Biden built his economic policy agenda around one idea: turning the page on the neoliberal economic paradigm that took root with Ronald Reagan, and has been sustained by Republicans and Democrats ever since.

That theory, centered on market forces as the ultimate decision makers, put financiers and the politically-insulated Federal Reserve in charge of national economic policy-making.

In its place, Biden has overseen the passage of what looks like the beginning of a resurgence in democratic, people-centered decision-making in the economy. The Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act both contain the beginnings of a new industrial policy vision, directed by the democratically elected government, to reinvigorate the country’s industrial base through industries of the future like clean energy, semiconductors and electric vehicles.

Trump, meanwhile, presents an equally transformative and opposite vision. As a self-proclaimed day-one “dictator,” he touts a quasi-monarchical vision where the president uses executive authority to impose his will on the country for the benefit of his friends and to crush his enemies.

One of Trump’s big plans is to gut the federal bureaucracy and replace tens of thousands of career civil servants with political cronies from conservative think tanks. He has also promised to end the Department of Justice’s independence so he can direct federal prosecutors to indict his political opponents and put them in a “gulag.” He has also promised to pardon Jan. 6 insurrectionists on his first day back in office.

Both of these candidates ― either of whom would be the oldest person ever elected president ― want to turn the page on the past. The difference is what they want to turn it to.

Will They Debate?

To the chagrin of his GOP rivals, Trump made a point of skipping all scheduled Republican primary debates. But now, eager to prove he is sharper than Biden, Trump has said that he is willing to debate Biden “anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

It is not yet clear whether Biden will agree. When asked at a press gaggle on Friday about whether he would debate Trump, Biden replied, “It depends on his behavior.”

In 2020, the first debate was marked by constant cross-talk as Trump interrupted both Biden and moderator Chris Wallace, then of Fox News. At one point, Biden, in frustration, asked Trump, “Will you shut up man?”

The second debate was comparably more civil. Biden still got a chance to mock Trump’s claim that the country was “learning to live with” COVID-19.

After both debates, a higher percentage of viewers told pollsters that they thought Biden won, though it is not clear what kind of impact it had on the final outcome.

The Commission on Presidential Debates has already scheduled four 2024 debates: presidential debates in San Marcos, Texas; Petersburg, Virginia; and Salt Lake City, Utah; and a vice presidential debate in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Another looming question is whether independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist and member of the famed political family, could possibly qualify for the debates. Commission rules require him to reach 15% of the vote, a mark he occasionally hits in public polling.

Will Trump Be On Trial?

Probably. A trial in Manhattan, New York, on charges related to his hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels is set for March 25. But those are the least serious of the charges Trump faces.

Right now, the two federal cases against Trump ― one in Washington, D.C., involving his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection and one in Florida involving his handling of classified documents ― are on hold as the Supreme Court considers Trump’s claim he has immunity from prosecution for actions he took as president. Depending on how and how quickly the court rules, those cases could start ― and even finish ― before the election on Nov. 5.

The final case against Trump, a RICO indictment surrounding his attempts to overturn the election result in Georgia, is unlikely to go to trial before November.

What States Will Be At The Center Of The Race?

The list of swing states looks similar to the 2020 presidential election: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and Nevada are at the center of the political map. Florida, which has trended strongly Republican in recent years, is not seen as a swing state this cycle. Nor is Texas, which has trended towards Democrats though not by enough to be seen as competitive.

Just like in 2016 and 2020, victories in the “blue wall” states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin would be enough for the Democratic candidate to claim the 270 electoral votes necessary for victory. Right now, political operatives in both parties say Biden looks stronger in those three states than in the more diverse Sun Belt states.

Who Will Trump Pick As Vice President?

One of the most important choices Trump will make for his campaign is who he’ll pick as his running mate.

In 2016, Trump tried to balance out his New York brashness and lack of evangelical bona fides by choosing the ultraconservative and buttoned up former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who ultimately broke up with Trump over his refusal to accept the 2020 election results. This time, Trump will have to worry more about wooing suburban women and Black voters.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black Republican in the Senate, got behind Trump immediately after suspending his own presidential campaign in November. At a rally in South Carolina last month, Trump called Scott a “high-quality person” and praised him for being “a much better representative for me than he is a representative for himself.” Also in the mix: Rep. Byron Donalds, one of the House’s four Black Republicans (although that’s complicated by Trump and Donalds both being from Florida). Donalds has already cast doubt on whether he would certify election results as VP in 2028, passing a critical Trump litmus test.

From the Senate, Trump is considering Ohio’s J.D. Vance, a Trump skeptic-turned-acolyte, and Alabama’s Katie Britt, who gave a memorably over-the-top GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican, is another House member on Trump’s list, a former critic who solidified her loyalty to Trump when she became an early endorser of his 2024 campaign.

Governors are well represented in the veepstakes: Alabama Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, North Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are all conservative leaders and close allies of Trump.

Trump is also looking at MAGA stars Kari Lake and Vivek Ramaswamy. Like Scott, Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur, ran against Trump before dropping out and endorsing him. Lake, who is sometimes called “Trump in heels, is an unlikely choice since she’s the GOP’s best nominee for Senate in Arizona.

Can Biden Master The Fragmented Media Environment?

Biden’s approval ratings remain low, with much of the slack coming from groups he dominated in the 2020 election, including Black and young voters. Many Democrats believe Trump, however, has already consolidated many of the voters available to him, putting him near his ceiling of support. A key part of a Biden comeback, then, will be winning back these voters.

Their concerns, however, are varied: Some are mad about Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza; others are simply angry about inflation or political corruption; others feel he hasn’t kept his promises from the 2020 campaign. What all of them, however, seem to have in common is a distance from the standard methods of delivering political information: They don’t consume much news and rarely watch network television.

That makes Biden’s challenge about finding ways to reach these voters, and — as social media continues to stratify — there won’t be a silver bullet.

Are Trump’s Gains With Black Voters Real?

Trump picked up just 8% of the Black vote in 2016, and 12% of the Black vote in 2020, according to exit polls.

But a New York Times/Siena College poll released earlier this month found that 23% of likely Black voters would vote for Trump over Biden if the election were held “today.”

Trump is making a more sophisticated effort to win Black voters this cycle, even as he intersperses his outreach with racial stereotypes, such as his claim that Black sympathy for him has risen due to the criminal charges he faces.

He can point to his enactment of a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill applauded by Black civil rights advocates, and often boasts about how the pre-COVID-19 job market lowered Black unemployment. (It is lower now, under Biden, not only than it was under Trump, but also than it has ever been in recorded U.S. history.)

It is unclear whether Trump’s relatively high polling among Black voters will stick.

The Biden campaign has made a coordinated effort to win back some Black voters leaning toward Trump. In a January speech at Mother Emanual church in Charleston, South Carolina, Biden compared the fight against 2020 election deniers to the battle against the racist Jim Crow system in the South. And for Black History Month in February, the campaign ran ads on Black radio stations in swing states touting Biden’s historically diverse cabinet and other achievements for Black voters.

Biden also plans to talk up his massive investment in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and his efforts to forgive student debt, a burden that disproportionately affects Black Americans.

But Trump doesn’t need to get even one-quarter of the Black vote for it to become a problem for Biden. Making a dent in Biden’s numbers in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania might be enough to put those states within reach for the former president.

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