by Noah Tang
As Election Day 2024 approaches, candidates from both parties tirelessly hit the campaign trail. They seek to win their party’s nomination and then triumph in the general election. Among Democrats, President Joe Biden has the advantages of incumbency and faces no major rivals. The Republican contest is dominated by former President Donald Trump, but also features several potential challengers.
According to Dr. Mark Caleb Smith, Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and Professor of Political Science, both men are more vulnerable to health issues due to their age.
“Both show evidence of struggling in certain situations,” said Smith. “Neither are popular, even among their own party members. Most Americans want different candidates, but that doesn’t mean we will get them.”
“While Biden is not well liked and has relatively low approval ratings, he continues to position himself as the best candidate to stop Trump from returning to the White House,” said Dr. Glen Duerr, Chair of History and Government and Professor of International Studies.
As former President and leader of the MAGA movement, Donald Trump holds the lead among Republican candidates. Even his four criminal indictments have strengthened him among Republican voters. “However, more recent polling suggests voters are starting to see Trump as having an electability problem,” said Dr. Smith.
Smith observes that Trump’s indictments and other matters are hurting his chances of winning the general election: “This makes him a weaker candidate, especially among independents, suburbanites, and those with a college degree. That doesn’t mean he would lose, but he is far weaker now than he was in 2016 or 2020.”
The divide between traditional Republicans and MAGA nationalists affects the Republican contest. Some candidates espouse standard conservative policies, including support for democracy abroad (e.g., Ukraine and Taiwan). Among such candidates, Dr. Duerr sees former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, former Vice President Mike Pence, or former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as having potential to be nominated.
Other candidates take after Trump and follow nationalist principles: “Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis poses the biggest challenge [to Trump] but this has yet to materialize in polling. The surprise, thus far, is entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy who currently sits in third place and interestingly does not campaign against Trump,” says Duerr. “Instead, Ramaswamy argues that he is the MAGA 2.0 candidate–the natural successor to Trump.”
Duerr believes “that once voting starts, the Republican field will narrow very quickly. At that point, Trump will face a much steeper challenge to the nomination than he did in 2016.” Smith states that “Nikki Haley may have the best chance to emerge from the field, gain momentum early, and defeat [Trump].” He observes that current polls show Haley and DeSantis as being likely to defeat Biden in the general election.
Each party will try to draw from its support base. Smith believes that Republicans are making inroads among Hispanics and African Americans, making it more difficult for Democrats to hold on to them. Conversely, he states that Republicans should try to better reach suburban women, because Trump tends to disgust them.
Should both Biden and Trump be renominated, their respective and combined unpopularity might precipitate a third-party ticket: “there [is] … the potential for third-party candidates, the likes of which we have not seen since Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996,” said Duerr. “The group, No Labels, has already secured access to the ballot in many states. Plausibly Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and former Governor John Huntsman (R-UT) could run–we shall see.”
Many citizens, especially Republicans, have expressed doubt that American elections are reliable and fair. While it is good to care about election integrity and to be vigilant for voter fraud, no hard evidence of such fraud has been discovered: “Every election has small amounts of fraud, but there is no evidence the 2020 election had anything more than minimal fraud,” according to Smith.
He observes that various courts at each level of government, which have judges appointed by elected officials from both parties, and Trump’s own Justice Department corroborate this: “Every court that has heard claims of fraud or reviewed any evidence of fraud has concluded the same thing.…the opportunities for real fraud are slim,” said Smith.
“[M]ost of those who claim otherwise are doing it to make money and increase their influence,” he continues. “If there is room for manipulation, it is through social media platforms that are subject to misinformation, or social media company choices to restrict or promote certain forms of information. The real lesson–never get your news from social media.”
This upcoming election will impact various issues, such as abortion, American democracy, and international stability. But is important to realize that no matter who is elected, God’s will is still accomplished (cf. Genesis 50:20). God reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20, ESV). Our hope is in Him and Him alone.
Noah Tang is an M.Div student and a writer for Cedars. He likes drinking coffee, riding his bike, and making terrible dad jokes.