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Will Trump, Trudeau get a round 2?

​U.S. President Joe Biden walks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 24, 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden walks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 24, 2023.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Here's what to expect in 2024 when you are expecting a US election with Donald Trump in the driver’s seat, a possible Canadian election with Justin Trudeau in the ejection seat, two worsening wars, an AI revolution, and inflation still running through the streets like a bull in Pamplona. If you are Joe Biden or Trudeau, the year ahead looks a bit like this:

Biden betting older, Trump getting bolder

The befuddlement of Biden’s low polling numbers can be summed up in one sentence: He looks weak, but his record is strong. Biden, who likes to wear aviation sunglasses, isn’t getting credit for piloting the US economy toward a soft landing on inflation, taking it from about 9% to close to 3.1%. (To be fair, growth is predicted to slow in 2024 to about 1.5%, so a mild recession may come at the exact wrong time for Biden.) Still, real wages are up, gas prices are down, and close to 200,000 new jobs were added in November. Doesn’t matter. With two wars raging and inflation boosting the cost of groceries, Americans are in a surly mood, and Bidenomics – industrial policies like the Inflation Reduction Act have worked well – is not connecting.

In 2024, Biden will need to prove that the twilight of his political career means a new morning in America, and the people will have to feel the improvements, not see them on paper. The odds of him being reelected are below 50% at this moment. And no, he is not stepping aside.

Meanwhile, in 2023, Trump made the political naughty list again, but he turned it into a best-selling campaign platform. When you have more felony counts – 91 – hanging off your campaign tour than you have ornaments on your Christmas tree, you might think it’s all over. But not Trump, the man who remarketed a mugshot as merch. He will be the Republican nominee and has the world ready for his second administration: the revenge tour.

But 2024 will not be easy for him. Trump faces a serious setback from the Supreme Court in Colorado, and unless the federal Supreme Court overturns the case, he is in genuine political jeopardy. If the case is not overturned – again, hard to predict what the Courts will do, as they have to prove that Trump didn’t participate in an actual insurrection – things may explode. Trump has already positioned this as a Deep State conspiracy meant to undermine him, and most of his Republican opponents support that view. Preaching about American carnage has been a Trump staple since he was first elected. He is now positioned to bring it on, win or lose.

Trudeau is getting older, Poilievre is getting bolder:

Trudeau’s age problem is not the same as Biden’s. He is young, but his government is old and needs new ideas badly. Three elections in and entering his ninth year in power, Trudeau is facing calls to step down amid collapsing polling numbers. His challenge is not just the change cycle; it’s that he has been way behind his opponent, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, on the housing and affordability crisis. And he knows it.

In a startling admission to the CBC, Trudeau conceded that Poilievre has been “absolutely” ahead of him on affordability issues, noting, "It's not that he understood that, it's that he's done a really effective job of reflecting that back and amplifying it to people." Watch for that clip to be served up on Conservative attack ads.

In 2024, Trudeau needs to get off his back foot on the affordability issue, but his biggest obstacle will still be the housing crisis. Houses are not only expensive and in short supply, but in the new year, over 3.4 million homeowners will be renegotiating their low, pandemic-era mortgages. They are about to be whacked with nasty high rates, and it will hurt them and hurt the federal government.

So, can he reinvent himself as an economic leader? Tough role for him to play. And no, he is not stepping aside (for now!).

Meanwhile, Mr. Poilievre is driving the political agenda. His message is dialed into the major economic anxieties, he is a ruthlessly precise campaigner and a Fourth Dan black belt social media master. His 15-minute video on the housing crisis – with some facts renovated for convenience – has been viewed over 420,000 times on YouTube.

As the pollster Nik Nanos likes to say, when the election is about you, you lose. Poilievre has managed to frame the next campaign around Trudeau. If he can continue to do that and avoid bungling issues like voting against an updated free trade deal with Ukraine over the small inclusion of the carbon tax (Ukraine already has a carbon tax so it was immaterial to the issue, and the CPC vote undermined that party’s historic support on Ukraine), Poilievre is the man to beat. His challenge: The NDP has no interest in pulling their support for the Liberals until they have to in 2025, so Poilievre has to avoid peaking too soon and getting in his own way.


There are so many other global challenges for the US and Canada: the war between Israel and Hamas getting worse and having domestic repercussions; the war in Ukraine, where Russia is getting bolder and US support is dwindling; the massive AI disruption that has both governments playing catch-up; inflation and fears of a commercial real estate collapse dragging down regional banks in the US; China weaving from cooperative to combative depending on the moment; and climate-fueled fires and floods ripping through local budgets. All this means that the US and Canada are facing a wild, unstable, dangerous year ahead.

The biggest self-inflicted wound? Internal division. If there is one lesson from 2023, it is this: Don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone. The political rhetoric is so negative and the conspiracy-driven distrust is so rampant and accelerated by the algorithms of social media that the very core of our democratic institutions are weakening. Let’s not be Pollyannas. There are lots of things wrong in the US and Canada, but it is not Gaza, and it is not Ukraine. There is no urgent need to turn political opponents into political enemies. For all the talk about everything being broken and in a state of carnage, the data shows things are actually not so bad.

The US and Canada have had a good thing going for over 150 years … so as we approach the holiday, before things get too angry on the front lines, maybe just take a moment of gratitude for the opportunity to live in this great, sprawling, majestic neighborhood so many of us are lucky enough to call home.

A holiday thought: Maybe building up is better than burning down?


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