Just as the 2020 Presidential Election begins to simmer, ranks of national figures are taking seats on the sidelines for 2024.
Something I recently learned is that, at some point, the year 2020 will end, and time will continue on a linear path thereafter, leading us to the year 2021, 2022, 2023, and eventually, 2024. After a chaotic year-long Democratic primary, in the midst a general election that has yet to really begin, jumping forward to 2024 to hypothesize who will run for President may seem an exhausting and meaningless exercise; though Vice President Joe Biden currently has a commanding lead over President Donald Trump, the 2020 Election is far from a done deal. There’s a long three months between now and November.
At the same time, there is an air of finality to the 2020 Election. The two candidates are the oldest major party nominees in United States history, and each candidate is the standard bearer of a political philosophy that may be hearing their death knell.
Joe Biden is the last of the main cast of Obama World who could realistically capture the Presidency, and the man himself is a relic of a distant political past, having served in the Senate as a bipartisan conciliator between a broad coalition of long gone political factions: moderate Rockefeller Republicans, segregationist Southern Democrats, Libertarian Republicans, etc. If elected Biden may be the last “Third Way”/”New Democrat” President. Third Way Democrats are a late 20th century brand of Democrats who won presidential elections by coalescing the party under a tight centre-left tent of light social liberalism and austere economic policy. Though these Democrats and their mentees still control the party apparatus at large, many of the original Third Way Democrats are aging out of active politics, and their influence seems to be slowly waning as the party divides into smaller factions more fit for the turbulent modern landscape.
Will Trumpism survive after 2020 if Trump loses? It depends on how bad of a beating the GOP takes in November. If Trump loses in a blowout, the Republican Party may scramble to save face and break down the monolithic Tea Party that makes up the legislative arm of the GOP. Yet, even if Trump leaves the White House in 2021, it’s unlikely that his influence will be wiped from the minds of the electorate. Trump is the most popular Republican President in his own party since Ronald Reagan. No matter what happens in 2020, a candidate in Trump’s mold, whether in attitude or policy, may be the only kind that will be able to win the Republican nomination for some time. However, the GOP may be able to cull the electoral power of their populist wing in the same manner of the Democratic Party in the 2016 and 2020 primaries, creating a path for a moderate or outright anti-Trump candidate whom the party views to be more electable. The spirit of Trumpism will undoubtedly be ingrained in the political landscape for years to come, but the outcome of the 2020 Election will determine whether Trumpism will be a viable strategy for the GOP through the 2020’s, or will go down as a flash in the historical pan.
That’s all to say that a new politics is on the horizon for both parties; the Democrats are divided amongst more traditional moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats who largely represent white suburban districts (like New York Representative Max Rose), the new Berniecrat wing of the party, which identifies more closely with Democratic Socialism (like Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar), and a socially progressive liberal wing of the party that still desires to function within the traditional strata of the Democratic Party (such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren or California Senator Kamala Harris). Republicans will have to choose between sticking to a Tea Party/Trumpist identity, turning back the clock to the George Bush and Mitt Romney GOP of the pre-Trump era (as unlikely as that seems), or forging ahead with something completely new.
There is a chance that Trump, or Biden, or both (more on that later) could appear on the ballot in 2024, but there’s an equal chance that the 2024 General Election will be between two new candidates who represent new political factions of each party. Though it’s still extremely early, keep in mind that the first 2020 Democrat announced his candidacy six months after Trump took office. In the modern era, primaries essentially begin the day after Inauguration. There are certain government officials who are already making trips to Iowa and burning through the checklist of qualifications for prospective presidential candidates. Examining who is preparing to run for President in 2024 can help us get a glimpse into the near future of American politics, what political factions will be clashing for power, what groups are best prepared to take the mantles of their respective parties, and why we will have to know the name Pete Buttigieg for at least another four years. Much of this list is speculative, as it is too early in many cases for prospective candidates to make real moves towards a run, but with educated guesses and historical precedent, we can get a good idea of who may, and may not, run for President in four years.
There’s one name that will be notably absent from this list: New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. While she will be old enough to run for President in 2024, and the Congresswoman has a large national platform, it’s doubtful that she would mount a presidential campaign in the next election cycle. Firstly, Ocasio Cortez occupies an extremely fragile position: she is currently one of three Democratic Socialists in the House of Representatives. All three are freshmen representatives, and vast amounts of money were raised to unseat them this cycle, so any misstep could feasibly cost them their seat- a seat they would not likely be able to win back. A member of Congress running for President is allowed to run for their seat should they not win the nomination, but a lack of AOC’s presence in her district would create a huge vacuum for traditional Democratic donors to fill and prop up a more establishment friendly candidate.
While Ocasio Cortez has a large national platform and is popular amongst the Berniecrat wing of the party and some progressive liberal Democrats, she is extremely unpopular nationwide. The fact that she is a woman, a person of color, and a socialist makes her a perfect poster child for everything that upsets the reactionary wing of the electorate. Her image is used in Republican ads across the country, even in regions and chambers where she has no legislative power, as a symbol of the danger the Democratic Party poses to American prosperity. In a hypothetical future where Alexandria Ocasio Cortez runs for President, even in the unlikely event she captures a large enough percentage of the Democratic electorate to be in a position to win the nomination, there is no way the Democratic Party will take an AOC nomination sitting down. AOC will likely go into 2024 as a third term representative, turning 35 a month before the general election, and though she may be the national figure best suited to inherit Bernie Sanders’ mantle of the leader of the left wing of the Democratic Party, a presidential run would possibly be in the worst interests of AOC’s political future. She will not be able to maintain her national leadership position in the Berniecrat wing of the party if she loses her seat and harms her reputation in a DOA run for President. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez may run for higher office someday, but probably not in 2024.
Regardless of whether or not Trump loses to Joe Biden in November, there will be a 2024 Republican primary, and while the quantity of potential candidates does not match that of the 2020 Democratic primary, it is a packed list. There are a few Republicans who are almost certain to make a run for President in 2024, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the latter of whom has already begun to visit Iowa and connect with Republican donors in anticipation of a presidential run. Rather than go through potential candidates in order of their likeliness to run, it’s more helpful for our goal of looking into the future of the American political landscape to group together all potential candidates by the factions of the party they represent, and how their ideology and campaign strategy would change the GOP.
THE EVANGELICALS (Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott)
Regardless of who wins in 2020, Mike Pence will almost certainly run for President in 2024. He may enter the race as a two-term Vice President, or as a recently ousted VP. Regardless, he will have the connections, national profile and fundraising capabilities to mount a formidable presidential campaign, having been the most recent Republican to serve as Vice President. Though he is on the ticket with Donald Trump, Pence and Trump traffic in different political lanes; Pence does not adhere to Trump’s populist rhetoric or his relatively lax (though spontaneously enacted) foreign policy. Pence is a conservative’s conservative, holding cultural issues such as abortion, religious rights and transgender issues close to his heart. A Pence campaign would likely be advertised as a return to the conservative evangelical politics of the Bush Era, though Pence’s conservative stance on social issues would make George Bush blush. Being attached to Trump has the possibility to taint his reputation, though he would be able to play off his relatively scandal free tenure as Vice President, having served as the “adult in the room” during President Trump’s tumultuous time in office. Though he may not have Trump’s popularity within the party, as Vice President, Pence would be automatically be a strong contender for the 2024 Republican nomination.
Though some Americans may look at Ted Cruz’s politics through slightly rose colored glasses given that he was the only candidate in 2016 to put up a real fight against Trump in the Republican primary, Ted Cruz is very much in the same political vein as Mike Pence. He is fiercely socially and fiscally conservative- and as for foreign policy, in 2016 Cruz was noted for saying in reference handling terrorism in the Middle East, “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!”. Ted Cruz is not particularly popular within the Republican Party, having been Trump’s rival in the 2016 primary and even vaguely speaking out against him in a speech at the GOP Convention, urging Republicans to “vote their conscience.” If Evangelical Christians are looking for a candidate that represents their values, there’s not much reason to believe that they would look to Cruz when they could support Pence, but having run for President before, Ted Cruz stands to have some staying power should he run in 2024.
Governor of Texas Greg Abbott has been a rumored presidential prospect for a while now, though his handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic may hurt his chances should the virus continue to wreak havoc on his state. However, Abbot has no strict ties to the Trump administration and is not as nationally loathed as Ted Cruz, so there is some reason to believe he has the potential to be a major player in the 2024 Republican primary. Abbott, like Cruz and Pence, is a religious crusader, having made waves in 2005 for winning a Supreme Court case that allowed him to display the Ten Commandments in front of the Texas Capitol building. Any evangelical candidate would likely put the culture war in which Democrats and Republicans are eternally mired at the front of their campaign, with an emphasis on upholding and reestablishing Christian values in the White House.
TRUMP REDUX (Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump Jr., Mike Pompeo… Donald Trump)
For the first year and a half of Ron DeSantis’ time as Governor of Florida, he shocked the nation by not immediately messing up the job. Rather, until the COVID-19 Pandemic, he maintained high job approval ratings from Floridians, and speculation about a possible 2024 run had begun to circle. DeSantis explicitly ran as a Trump scion; he mirrors Trump’s rhetoric, his attitude towards immigrants, and infamously made headlines for an ad in which he taught his infant son how to spell “WALL” using toy blocks. Until the last few months, DeSantis was probably the most successful of the new breed of Republicans in the mold of Donald Trump, if not the most transparent. Were Trump to lose in 2020, DeSantis would be among the first to succeed him in the Trump Republican lane, and would have massive potential to win over disaffected Trump voters. However, his approval ratings have taken a severe hit during the Pandemic, and many of his constituents have turned on him, giving him less credibility as an effective governor should he want to build a national profile for a 2024 run.
DONALD TRUMP JR.
One thing that Donald Trump and I have in common is that neither of us want Donald Trump Jr. to become the President of the United States, but Jr.’s daddy issues may not stop him from running for the highest office come 2024. The Trump brand extends deep into the Trump family, and as most monarchies go, the natural Trump successor is his oldest son, even if his younger sister technically has more experience in the actual Trump administration. Trump voters may really like Donald Trump Jr. I’m not sure if many other voters would. Given that the extent of his involvement in his father’s administration is posting 2011-style rage comic memes on his Instagram, Jr. is not necessarily qualified to run for President- but that didn’t stop his dad.
Secretary of State, former CIA Director, and member of the Italian American Congressional Delegation Mike Pompeo has already started to make moves towards a 2024 run. He’s made trips to Iowa, and has reportedly been in contact with several donors to feel out the extent of his fundraising capability. The Tea Party laid the ideological and cultural ground for Trump’s eventual rise to power, and as a member of the inaugural congressional class of the Tea Party, Pompeo would be able to run as a Trump adjacent Tea Party candidate with a long resume. He could potentially sweep up Trump voters and some Republicans who were turned off by Trump’s unstable attitude and lack of experience. He hasn’t had a spotless run as Secretary of State, but his early efforts to eventually mount a presidential campaign and large network of connections could make him a formidable candidate in 2024.
If Trump loses the Presidential Election in November, who better to sweep up the large pool of disaffected Trump voters in 2024 than the man himself? Trump will be eligible to run for President should he be unseated in 2020, and given his ego and desire to be connected to power, there’s reason to believe that Trump would at least consider a 2024 comeback. It’s happened in the past: President Grover Cleveland was unseated in 1888 by by Benjamin Harrison after his first term, only to come back and defeat Harrison in an electoral landslide in the 1892 Presidential Election. If Trump were to mount a comeback run in 2024, the Republican primary may be all but moot, unless his popularity has faded within the party and voters view Trump as a liability. In that event, the GOP may be able to coalesce around an alternative candidate who they view to be a safer electoral bet, but Trump defeated the GOP once before. Whether or not the GOP has learned how to tighten their grip over their primary process remains to be seen. Of course, Trump will be quite old, a bit older than Joe Biden is now, and Trump may find that his life is a lot less stressful in the private sector than in government. Once could speculate that Trump doesn’t even really like being President, but is too full of pride to go down without a fight. If Trump decides to run again in 2024, it will probably be driven more by a hurt ego than a desire to enact any specific agenda in the White House.
ANTI TRUMP REPUBLICANS (Larry Hogan, John Kasich, Charlie Baker)
One of several popular red governors in blue states, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has enjoyed superb job approval ratings throughout his time as Governor, and should a strong anti-Trump sentiment grow within the GOP, Larry Hogan would be a prominent candidate to lead the movement. Hogan is well liked by Republicans and Democrats alike in Maryland, and a candidate who has cross party appeal may be a strong move for the GOP should they need to completely reconfigure their strategy should they suffer a disastrous 2020.
Often rated as one of the most popular governor in the country, Charlie Baker is the paragon of the “red governor blue state” phenomenon. Like Hogan, he is largely popular within both parties in his state, and would be a leading candidate to head an anti-Trump movement in the GOP should one arise in the coming years. Baker is the ultimate centrist, proudly labelling himself as socially liberal but fiscally conservative; he probably has more in common with Democrats in many redder states than the GOP at large. This may prove to be a problem for more centrist-leaning Republicans who wish to run for President in 2024- the Republican base is pretty conservative, and increasingly so, and a candidate who’s perceived to be too liberal and too establishment friendly will probably have a hard time winning over Trump voters in the primary.
Probably the most traditionally conservative of the Anti-Trump candidates, John Kasich has been stood staunchly against Trump since the 2016 primary. Though he is speaking at the Democratic National Convention this August, Kasich is far from socially or economically liberal. During his time as Governor of Ohio, Kasich led a statewide campaign to shutter abortion clinics, fought extensively with public sector labor unions, and would regularly appear on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News in a segment titled “Heartland with John Kasich”. As the most traditionally conservative of the Anti Trump candidates, Kasich stands the least risk of being labeled as too liberal for the GOP, and his longstanding stance against Trump has given him a good reputation among Trump-skeptical voters in the Republican Party. Kasich ideologically lies in the middle of the GOP, which would give him the opportunity to attract voters from a number of camps.
NEO CONSERVATIVES (Pete Ricketts, Ben Sasse, Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley)
Despite suffering one of the worst televised burnouts in primary history in 2016, Florida Senator Marco Rubio may still have presidential aspirations. Rubio is still relatively young, and while he is no longer being talked up as the future of the GOP in the same way that he was in 2016, Rubio still has plenty of time to leave his mark. Rubio tries to walk the line between coming off as a common sense conservative while staying loyal to President Trump, occasionally criticizing the President’s decisions on Twitter, but not taking any further action thereafter. Should he run again in 2024, Rubio would likely emphasize his youth and Hispanic identity, offering a younger, diverse face to represent the party. While there may not be much hunger for a Republican of Rubio’s political persuasion in the voter base, his last presidential run has given him the connections and access to fundraising necessary to run a significant campaign.
Long talked up as a presidential prospect, it would be surprising for Nikki Haley not run in 2024. She’s definitely taken some of the first steps of a prospective candidate, including publishing her memoir (Weirdly enough, nearly all prospective candidates for President do this. If you see a new book from a prominent member of Congress, be aware: they may be running for President). However, Haley’s real popularity in the GOP may not actually match what Republican consultants estimate it to be. Her initial book sales were weak, far weaker than the first week sales of Trump Jr.’s book, and early polling of the 2024 primary (which should not be taken very seriously) show Haley trailing far behind other prominent candidates, namely Pence and Trump Jr. Nonetheless, Haley will be able to flex her lengthy resume and connections to the Executive Branch should she run, and, assuming she will be one of few women running for the Republican nomination, emphasize her ability to bring some diversity to the Republican ticket.
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse could technically be placed in the Anti-Trump lane, but, much like Rubio, Sasse’s initial stance against Trump eroded over time as Trump took over the strata of the Republican Party. Sasse tries to pass off a fun, nerdy dad personality, to varying degrees of success, but at heart he is a very traditional conservative Republican. Sasse doesn’t have a huge national profile like Haley or Rubio, but coming into the primary with a relatively clean record may help the Senator- not many people know him, but that means that not many people dislike him.
Pete Ricketts may be the kind of Republican that hardcore Trump voters can get behind. In his first year as Governor of Nebraska, Ricketts vetoed bills that would abolish the death penalty in Nebraska and allow undocumented immigrants (including those included in President Obama’s DACA program) to obtain driver’s licenses. He has come to blows with Black Lives Matter protestors over the course of his political career, placing himself firmly on the social conservative side of the culture war against police violence. He is an outspoken critic of liberal programs like affirmative action, and recently threatened to withhold $100 million of federal aid from local governments that mandated individuals to wear face masks. Ricketts’ career long crusade against liberal policy may make him an attractive candidate to conservative voters looking for a candidate with decent governing credentials.
THE NEW RIGHT (Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, Tucker Carlson)
Currently the youngest member of the US Senate, Josh Hawley is a child of the Federalist Society and other conservative judicial institutions. He got his start clerking for Chief Justice John Roberts, subsequently ran for Attorney General of the state of Missouri, and in 2018, successfully unseated Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in the midterm elections. As Senator, he has stood in lockstep with President Trump, defending his jailing of immigrants at the border and ferociously supporting Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings in 2018. Josh Hawley is sort of the Pete Buttigieg of the Republican party: he is one of the youngest national figures in the party with a long future ahead of him, but he has the politics and ideology of a legislator several years his senior. He claimed that human trafficking is a direct result of the American sexual revolution in the 1960’s (something you’d expect to hear from grumpy Abe Simpson, not a Yale-educated man born in 1979), discourages extra-marital sex and supports businesses using religious exemptions to deny service to LGBTQ+ customers. He is a “constitutional conservative” through and through, and shares the Federalist Society’s goal to stack the courts with conservative, pro-life judges. Though he shares many political viewpoints with the President, Hawley is much more clean-cut than Trump- they are aesthetic opposites, and aesthetics, verbal, visual, or otherwise, matter to GOP voters. That throws into question what coalition of voters candidate Hawley would draw in at a national level.
Freshman Senator Tom Cotton made headlines when he published an op-ed in the New York Times advocating for military presence in American streets to respond to Black Lives Matter protesters. Tom Cotton represents a new brand of conservatism that could have severe consequences should his ideological brand become ascendant. While Cotton is extremely authoritarian and socially conservative, he occasionally entertains economic populism, recently arguing in favor of government action (such as direct cash payments) that would assist Americans affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic. There is a name for an ideology that supports an authoritarian, xenophobic Nationalist mindset while providing extensive Social programs for its citizens (at least those citizens deemed worthy of assistance), but the name escapes me. If Democrats continue to adhere to austere economic programs that continue to disaffect Americans, a conservative like Tom Cotton may be able to take the reins and run to the economic left of the Democratic Party. While the law and order mindset of Tom Cotton may turn off some voters, many Americans will be in need of economic assistance in the coming years in the wake of the devastation caused by the Pandemic. Offering a substantial safety net in the midst of a recession could amass a candidate like Cotton a huge voter base.
This one is a bit of a stretch, but it’s not completely out of the conversation. In fact, President Carlson as a topic has been in vogue for a few months now, and when you think about it, it really isn’t that far out of the scope of plausibility. Trump was able to rise to power within the GOP partly because of his ability to fund his own campaign, but a large part of his success came from his fame as a television personality. Tucker Carlson is the conservative TV personality, and supporters of Trump probably see more of Tucker Carlson than they do most of their family members. Carlson shares many ideological elements with Cotton: He is superbly socially conservative, to the point of facing constant accusations of xenophobia and racism, but dabbles in economic populism, going so far as to say he was open to voting for Elizabeth Warren for her economic policies, He has unleashed scathing critiques of billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates for hoarding their wealth, speaks out against America’s elitist meritocracy, and seems to have some understanding of class analysis that underlines his politics. Tucker Carlson has the name recognition, and probably the money, to mount at least an exploratory campaign, and it would not be surprising if Carlson is welcomed into the Republican primary with open arms by the electorate.
THE BALANCING ACT (Mike DeWine, Tim Scott, Liz Cheney)
Like Ron DeSantis, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s election was a surprise to many, and he entered office with mixed expectations, but pleasantly surprised his constituents in the first few years of his term. The difference between DeSantis and DeWine is that DeWine is not facing the same level of scrutiny as DeSantis for his handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic. He’s managed to remain relatively level headed throughout his term as Governor even during the midst of a global pandemic, getting high approval marks from Republicans and Democrats in the Buckeye State. He recently passed a statewide order mandating masks in public spaces, breaking from his GOP governor counterparts, who have been generally against statewide mask requirements. If DeWine can continue to walk the fine line between governing as a conservative and making sensible decisions that keep Ohioans happy, DeWine could be in a good standing come 2024 to position himself as an efficient Governor from an important swing state who knows how to make a conservative agenda popular.
As the only Black Senator in the GOP, Tim Scott’s entire career for the past 4 years has been a balancing act. He’s had to show support for a President who’s incredibly popular within the party while dealing with the President’s racist remarks and policies. In terms of ideology, Scott is a typical conservative; like Greg Abbot, Scott engaged in an effort to display the 10 Commandments in his state’s capitol building. In the house, he declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus, and co-sponsored a welfare reform bill that would deny food stamps to families whose incomes were lowered to the point of eligibility because a family member was participating in a labor strike. Though early in his career, Scott did not like to mix race and politics (he fought against a 2001 lawsuit by the DOJ which claimed that Charleston County was engaging in voter discrimination by having all its council seats voted by at large districts, diluting the voting power of Black communities) the Senator has understandably become more publicly cognizant of his unique position as the sole Black Republican Senator. Scott has openly criticized Trump’s more famous racist remarks, including his “good people on both sides” comment in reference to the clash between right wing extremists and counter protestors in Charlottesville in 2017, and his 2020 retweeting of a video in which a Trump supporter audibly shouts “White power!”. Scott has had many one on one discussions with Trump, and following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, been tasked with drafting a police reform bill in the Senate. In other words, as a result of his unique position, he’s been given a lot of responsibility in a cultural era defined by harsh racial tension. While the present situation certainly can’t be easy for Scott, the silver lining is that he could absolutely use his status to his electoral advantage in the future. It would probably be worthwhile for the GOP to consider putting forth its first Black presidential nominee, as it may give credence to the GOP’s attempt to address white supremacy in the party. Regardless of whether or not Tim Scott plans to run for President in 2024, there will be many consultants and party members who will want him to do so.
If you went back in time to the early 2000’s and told someone that the first female President would be a Cheney, you’d probably witness a lot of exploding heads. Currently serving as Wyoming’s at-large Congressional representative, Liz Cheney has been a defender of President Trump since her election to the House, but has recently broken ranks with her GOP colleagues in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, receiving criticism from members of the party for publicly supporting Dr. Fauci (yes, seriously) and undermining President Trump’s handling of the virus. While she is only a member of the House, Liz Cheney has risen through the ranks of the lower chamber of Congress quickly, currently holding the third highest position in the GOP House Caucus- not to mention that Cheney has extensive family connections to the Executive Branch. Cheney notable decided to turn down a run for the Senate this year, choosing instead to focus on continuing her work in the house. So, while Liz Cheney is definitely going places, she may be biding her time and waiting to build up her profile before she makes a leap to higher office. Still, a lot can happen in four years, and after the headlines she’s been receiving as of late, it wouldn’t be a shock to see her star power multiply to a point where she feels comfortable making a run for the White House.
The Democrats are a bit easier to divide politically, and they generally fall within three or four separate camps: the party’s moderates, the left “Berniecrat” wing of the party, the progressive wing of the party, and a large fourth group that most of the party would fall into, what Nate Silver calls the “Progressive New Guard”. They are very socially liberal, but not necessarily focused on populist economic policies like progressives or the Bernie wing of the party. They are generally more interested in the same tepid neoliberal economic policies of their Third Way forefathers. I would not go so far as to label them as “progressives”, so for the purposes of this analysis, they’ll be labeled as “Centre Left New Guard”. Though these are not clear cut lines in the party, as there are many politicians who share traits with multiple coalitions, and there are overlapping qualities between these coalitions, it’s helpful to look at the party along these lines to see how deep the left/centrist schism of the party has cut, and whether or not it can be ameliorated in the near future.
PROGRESSIVE LIBERALS (Elizabeth Warren, Jay Inslee, Stacey Abrams, Andy Beshear)
A notable omission from this list of Democrats is any “Berniecrat” or Democrat representing the left-most wing of the party. While one may emerge over the next four years, there’s no obvious anti-capitalist candidate with a large enough national profile to run for President of the United States. Should current conditions remain, the absence of a Democratic Socialist with the fundraising and outreach capabilities of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary may allow Elizabeth Warren to enter the 2024 race as the most notable progressive candidate for the left wing of the party to glom onto. There are two obvious caveats to this prospect: Elizabeth Warren is not young. She will be 74 in 2024, as old as President Trump is now. However, presidential politics, 70 is the new 60, and should she be elected, Warren would only be the 2nd oldest President on inauguration day. Warren is still impeccably sharp, and even at 74 she will probably be able stand out as a passionate intellectual amongst her youngest competitors. Secondly, there will undoubtedly be residual hurt feelings between the Warren and Sanders camp, though time heals all wounds. It’s easy to imagine a future where the majority of those who supported Sanders in 2020 end up supporting Warren in 2024, and that even some of those who hold some resentment for Warren would begrudgingly support her if she were the most progressive choice in the race. In 2020, Warren didn’t have the ability to bring non-voters and voters of color into the fold in the same way that Sanders was able to, but with some retooling and a stronger campaign, Warren may be able to run in 2024 with a bigger emphasis on her economic populism and fighter personality. Another possible advantage for Warren in not having to run against Bernie Sanders is that she may not have to split the difference between the left and center of the party, as she tried to do in 2020, which would give Warren a much easier path to building a large enough coalition to win the nomination.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee got dealt a bad hand in 2020. A relatively progressive governor, one whose politics are decently exciting but whose identity is decently safe (he is an older, white man), Inslee would have likely gotten a second look from most voters would he have not been standing in the shadow of two progressive giants, Sanders and Warren. Though he never polled above 1%, Inslee has a unique pitch and the traditional credentials that often make a successful presidential candidate: his 2020 campaign was specifically focused on increasing visibility of the dangers of climate change, and a two term governor has enough executive experience to make the argument that they’re ready for the Oval Office. Should he run for President again in 2024, he will likely be in a less crowded lane with less progressive superstars, and will be able to put an emphasis on his handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic, having quickly flattened the curve after Washington state became ground zero for the spread of the coronavirus in March 2020. Should the recent string of climate disasters intensify, a trend predicted by climatologists, Inslee’s plea to aggressively take on climate change could fall upon more tuned in ears.
Stacey Abrams really wants a place in the Executive Branch. She’s spent most of 2020 openly campaigning for the role of Joe Biden’s running mate, though the Biden campaign has shown little interest. Given that the highest office that Abrams has held was Minority Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, she doesn’t necessarily have the experience of a normal presidential candidate, but Abrams has a drive for higher office that may entice her to fix her eyes on the Oval Office come 2024. To be fair, her lack of experience isn’t much different from that of Pete Buttigieg, who won the 2020 Iowa Caucuses and nearly won the New Hampshire primary two weeks later. One could argue that Abrams has more to prove to the electorate regarding her ability to handle the responsibilities of the President because of her race and gender, and that a white man (like Buttigieg) would have an easier time launching a successful presidential campaign without having to explain away their lack of experience. Of course, Abrams may be in a better position to take a second swing at running for Governor of Georgia in 2022 than running for President. However, Abrams definitely has a larger national profile than many prospective 2024 candidates, and could definitely enter the 2024 Democratic primary with high name recognition and a good reputation amongst Democrats.
Given Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s short time in office, and his difficult position as a Democrat in a red state, it’s a bit difficult to pin down where he lies ideologically- but what’s apparent from his governing tenure is that Beshear is not a run of the mill, conservative red state Democrat. He is definitely bipartisan, and has appointed many Republicans to his cabinet, as reaching across the aisle is necessary to govern in deep red Kentucky. Still, he’s been able to enact policy that even some blue state Governors wouldn’t pursue: Beshear signed an executive order restoring the voting rights of all citizens convicted of non-violent felonies, has aggressively taken on pharmaceutical companies responsible for Kentucky’s opioid crisis, strongly opposes right-to-work laws, and recently expressed his intent to provide universal healthcare to all Black Kentuckians to balance out racial and economic inequalities in the healthcare system. He has a progressive, populist tinge that follows in the tradition of many Kentucky Democrats, including his father, who was the Governor of Kentucky only five years before Andy took office. Two of the last three Democratic Presidents were governors from red states, and in the same way that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has been able to enact a popular conservative agenda in a state that isn’t inherently conservative, Beshear has been able to act a progressive agenda (for Kentucky) in a state that doesn’t normally elect progressives. Should Beshear run in 2024, his success would largely hinge on how he positions himself in the party, but emphasizing his appeal to voters in a conservative state through pro-worker, progressive policy could make him an interesting candidate.
CENTRE LEFT NEW GUARD (Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Gavin Newsom, Eric Garcetti)
There’s been, understandably, little polling for the 2024 Democratic primary. Still, what polling there has been shows Pete Buttigieg leading a semi-crowded pack of Democratic contenders. Bear in mind, polling for an election that’s a year out is nearly worthless, so a poll gauging interest in a primary that won’t begin until February 2024 is not a reliable peek into the future. However, this very, very early polling suggests that Buttigieg is still held in high esteem by Democratic voters, and that, with the old guard of Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders (none of whom were included in the poll) out of the way, some voters see Buttigieg as the future of the Democratic Party. While inexperience may have been his biggest liability in 2020, should Joe Biden win the Presidential Election, Buttigieg will almost assuredly have a prominent cabinet position; some have speculated that the former Mayor of South Bend will be nominated as Biden’s Ambassador to the UN, Secretary of Defense, or possibly even Secretary of State (the latter might be a bit of a reach). With four years in the Executive Branch under his belt, Buttigieg will be older, more experienced, and more well-known. Buttigieg was able to win the Iowa Caucus, nearly win the New Hampshire primary and amass an enormous fundraising base after only 11 months in the national spotlight- four years of national executive experience could make Buttigieg an extremely strong candidate in 2024. While liked by Democrats in general, he is not popular with the left wing of the party, and many progressives were turned off by Buttigieg’s moderate heel turn in the 2020 primary. However, Biden did not necessarily need the left to win the nomination, and Buttigieg may not either.
As of the writing of this article, Kamala Harris is widely regarded as the favorite to be tapped as Joe Biden’s running mate. A not-unrealistic situation where Biden picks Harris, Biden wins, and Biden decides not to run again in 2024 would ostensibly make Harris the presumptive nominee. As the oldest major party candidate in history, Biden will not merely be choosing a running mate, he is choosing a presumptive heir for the Presidency. Kamala Harris is likely to run even if she isn’t the incumbent Vice President, and as a former presidential candidate and Senator from California, should have the resources to organize a strategic campaign, and will have the experience to avoid the errors of her first presidential run. Part of Harris’ downfall in 2020 was her inability to reconcile her liberal messaging with her harsh prosecutorial record. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent waves of civil unrest and protests, Harris has been repositioning herself as an anti-racist crusader with strong opinions on police reform. Like Buttigieg, Harris will have a cabinet position in a Biden Administration, even if she isn’t the Vice President (she would likely be nominated for Attorney General), and having four years to establish a more cohesive national profile with a more nuanced approach to prosecution and legislation would be a huge advantage for her electoral future.
Given that nearly 30 candidates jockeyed for the Democratic nomination, there were only a few candidates that were able to break through the noise to get media cycles and substantial fundraising. Cory Booker was not one of those candidates. That’s not a knock on Senator Booker; he was a strong, impassioned speaker during the debates and made smart campaign moves to position himself as a sensible alternative to Joe Biden, one who was smarter on criminal justice and had a stronger relationship with the Black community. However, it turns out that voters didn’t really need an alternative to Biden, and Booker just couldn’t get enough oxygen to survive the primary. He dropped out shortly before Iowa, already having shed down his campaign to a skeleton crew. However, with less Democratic superstars hogging the spotlight, Senator Booker has the chance to stand out in 2024. He’d be running against several members of the Biden Administration (if not Biden himself) with very similar ideologies and policies, so his campaign would be another uphill battle, but standing out in a field of 12 or 15 is an easier task than standing out in a field of 30. His strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry may complicate his relationship with the left wing of the party- these caveats amongst the Centre Left New Guard all indicate that should any of them capture the nomination, they will either have to play a clever hand to capture progressive votes, or forgo courting their support altogether.
Adding further support to my theory that all Governors are just state specific versions of the same guy/woman, Gavin Newsom is like a lost Cuomo brother who was raised in San Francisco instead of Queens and discredited himself among labor unions by cutting plans for the California High-Speed Railway instead of cutting pensions for public sector workers. Though he began his professional life as a businessman, California Governor Gavin Newsom has a long list of political credentials, first being appointed to the Parking and Traffic Commission in San Francisco, later being appointed to the San Francisco board of supervisors, going on to be elected Mayor of San Francisco, Lt. Governor of California, and finally being elected as the state’s governor in 2018. Though Newsom used to describe himself as a business savvy, “social liberal but fiscal watchdog”, California’s leftward shift during the course of his political career has led Newsom to soften up on some economic issues. As Governor, he’s put a moratorium on hydraulic fracking, ran on a promise to provide universal healthcare for Californians, and in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, issued an executive order to provide funding for remote learning, childcare and meal service during school closures. Newsom talks about California as a “nation state”, boasting its massive economy and industry. Though he endorsed Kamala Harris in 2020, Newsom could see a potential opening for another liberal, but not too liberal, Californian. The electoral appeal of governors has lessened over the years as national politics began to overshadow local politics, but his command over the 6th largest economy in the world would give Newsom a head start in fundraising and endorsements in the 2024 primary that other governors may not get.
The state of California stands to lose a few of its most prominent politicians to the campaign trail in 2024. As a show of gratitude for not having run in 2020, Joe Biden appointed Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to Biden’s VP selection committee, allowing the city’s youngest mayor in history a foot in the door to national politics. If Democrats are on the hunt for a young, “electable”, but somehow diverse face to represent the future of the party, it’s hard to find a better candidate than Garcetti. In addition to his abundant youthfulness at 49 years old, Garcetti is Mexican American, Jewish, and white-passing enough to dispel fears about the racial panic that might arise from nominating a candidate of color. While politically moderate for a California Democrat, Garcetti is pretty liberal compared to the rest of the country, implementing a $15/hour minimum wage in Los Angeles and recently pledging to cut 10% of the LAPD budget. Garcetti is plagued by many of the same issues that face most mayors of large cities, such as a lack of affordable housing, allegations of corruption, and, especially in Los Angeles, rampant homelessness. All of these issues could be used as cannon fodder against Garcetti in both the primary and the general- but given his connections to national power and the possible future Executive Branch, Garcetti may have the resources to find a safe, attractive middle ground in the primary that could draw in many voters looking for an electable and fresh face in 2024.
MODERATE LIBERALS (Joe Biden, Gretchen Whitmer, Michael Bennet, Andrew Cuomo, Sherrod Brown)
There’s only been a handful of US Presidents who have decided not to run for a second term. Should Joe Biden win the General Election in November, conventional wisdom suggests that he would run for a second term in 2024, all with one huge caveat: his age. Biden would be running for reelection at 81 years old, by far the oldest major party candidate to ever run at the top of the ticket. Even at 77, Biden’s capability to effectively campaign and govern has been called into question, and there’s no reason to think that these concerns will be alleviated as Biden ages. If Biden does win in November, it will probably be more of a reflection of Americans’ motivation to get rid of Donald Trump as opposed to a hunger for Joe Biden. In a more traditional electoral setting, one not being held in the midst of a global pandemic and not being held as a referendum against the most unpopular President in recent history, how does Joe Biden fare? Democratic voters are, admittedly, not extremely enthusiastic about Joe Biden as they are enthusiastic about getting Trump out of office. If it’s 81-year-old, moderately popular/moderately unpopular Joe Biden against Mike DeWine or Josh Hawley, Biden may be in a significantly worse electoral position than he is in 2020. It will ultimately be President Biden’s (it feels weird typing that) decision whether or not he would run for a second term, but the Democrats may feel that they have a better chance of retaining the White House if they run another candidate in 2024. After over 50 years of public service, Joe Biden, always a team player, may acknowledge the party’s concerns and step aside to enter a well deserved retirement.
There was a time in 2020 when some people thought that Andrew Cuomo would be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. After a gigantic media reign in the midst of New York’s cataclysmic shutdown, Andrew Cuomo rocketed to the forefront of American politics. Cuomo was so popular during the early days of the Pandemic that the Club for American Growth polled Democratic voters on whether they preferred Andrew Cuomo to Joe Biden, who had already become the presumptive nominee. Cuomo bested Biden by 12 points. Though Cuomo has pledged several times that he is not interested in a run for the White House, most politicos and consultants would agree that Cuomo would be throwing away a huge opportunity should he not run for President in the near future. After Vice President, Governor of New York is the most common office held by Presidents prior to their election, and the Cuomo name has been a dominating force in American politics for nearly half a century. Cuomo has the national profile and name recognition that most in politics do not, and enjoys a reputation both in and out of state as a pragmatic, bipartisan executive with a distinct personality and ability to get things done. In that respect, Cuomo has half the homework for a prospective presidential candidate finished, and given that many Democrats in 2020 were already clamoring for a Cuomo presidency, there’s reason to believe there will still be a hunger for him in 2024. By then, he will be a 4 term governor (assuming he does not opt out of reelection in 2022, nor is he anointed to a cabinet position by Biden), giving him substantial staying power that will prevent him from becoming a flash in the pan candidate like Beto O’Rourke. If Democrats continue to nominate moderates for President in the near future, Andrew Cuomo is one of the strongest candidates to stand to benefit.
Another 2020 also-ran who never polled above 2%, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet might believe that 2024 will be his time in the sun. As one of the moderates who ran on the explicit premise that Joe Biden would eventually collapse, only to be completely shut out of the race when he didn’t, Bennet would stand to benefit from a Biden vacuum. However, there’s not much evidence to suggest that moderate voters would flock to Bennet in a race that might include Andrew Cuomo and Pete Buttigieg. His emphasis on education reform and promise to make Americans forget they had a President didn’t do much for him in 2020, and he maxed out at .3% in the New Hampshire primary, after which he dropped out. Still, his 2020 campaign didn’t make much sense to begin with, so there’s no ruling out another Sisyphean run from Bennet in 2024.
Initially launched onto the national stage as she was held in high consideration for Joe Biden’s veepstakes early in the campaign’s vetting process, Gretchen Whitmer has probably fallen off the Biden campaign’s radar, but remains a strong candidate for higher office should she seek it. The politically moderate Governor of Michigan was at the center of controversy in the midst of protests against Michigan’s shutdown, though Governor Whitmer has maintained strong approval ratings for her handling of the coronavirus throughout the Pandemic. Democratic strategists who want to play on the recent leftward trend of the suburbs while exciting the Democratic base will rejoice should the popular female governor of a swing state run for President. Whitmer would have stiff competition in the moderate lane, but her gender and geography may allow her to stand out.
Here’s one guy who’s probably happy he didn’t run in 2020. The electoral case for Sherrod Brown is an odd one, because while the Senator from Ohio is economically moderate in some regards (he strongly opposes Medicare for All), he is strongly populist in other economic regards, pertaining particularly to workers’ rights and compensation. Placing him amongst progressives and moderates was difficult, as Brown transcends many of the traditional lines that divide factions of the party, and that may be what gives him an advantage in 2024. Should he run for President, Brown has several different, legitimate ways in which he may position himself. He could run as a moderate swing state Senator, though that may end up being an oversaturated lane, or he could run as a social and economic populist in the vein of Howard Dean- someone who was pretty moderate throughout their career, but made a populist turn during his presidential campaign while holding onto his pragmatic roots. For many lost Bernie supporters, particularly those not strongly committed to Democratic Socialism but rather the rights of workers and the strengthening of unions, Sherrod Brown might be their guy in 2024 (should he play his cards right).
OR: SOMEONE YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF
In 2016, no one knew Pete Buttigieg’s name, and Beto O’Rourke was just a congressman from El Paso. In 2004, no one outside of Illinois considered Barack Obama a household name. Four years is a long enough time for multiple people to break out of the woodwork, so don’t be surprised if one or more of the major contenders in 2024 is someone who’s name you’ve never heard. There are some members of the house with low name recognition who could realistically mount a campaign for President; the first who comes to mind is Rep. Elise Stefanik from New York, who’s received a bit of presidential buzz, but would enter the race as a huge underdog. There may be some Trump loyalists in congress who would run for President to continue the legacy of Trump in the White House, though they would probably face the same fate of their fellow House colleagues and former presidential candidates Eric Swalwell and Seth Moulton. Maybe there’s another small town mayor from some Midwestern state who thinks they have the chops to be President, or a wealthy House member who will launch a campaign 2 years before the first primary votes are cast. In the past few election cycles, primaries have drawn out some wonderful fringe characters, some of whom faded back into obscurity once their fifteen minutes were up, while others managed to find staying power in national politics. It’s also conceivable that any of the women from Joe Biden’s VP shortlist, ranging from Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, could launch a presidential campaign, having gotten within an arm’s reach of the executive office in 2020. We’re still four years off from the next election, but don’t be fooled- the 2024 candidates will start making moves the second the President is inaugurated in January. There is truly no rest for the wicked, though I, for one, am excited for the first 2024 General Election debate between Tucker Carlson, Andrew Cuomo and Kanye West. Or perhaps time will freeze forever and we’ll end up with another Biden v. Trump election. The future of malarkey in American politics hangs in the balance.