3 themes to watch as US election season begins
Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, DC, shares his perspective on US politics.
With the Iowa caucuses coming up, what are the big themes to watch in American politics this year?
Monday of next week is the first day the official kickoff of the US presidential campaign season, even though it feels like it's already been going on for six years. It really only starts on next Monday with the Iowa caucuses begin. Donald Trump has a big lead in the Republican primary. Nobody's challenging President Biden on the Democratic side. And so here are three themes to watch throughout this election year.
The first is, can anyone beat Trump in the Republican primary? Right now, it's down to basically Trump, the top of a field of contenders. And then you have a distant second, former South Carolina governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. And in third place, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, with some also rans like Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy, who don't really have a chance. Of that bunch, Haley is probably best positioned to make a deep run into the primaries because of her ability to consolidate the fundraising apparatus behind her in the last several months. DeSantis could still come on strong with a strong showing in Iowa, but it's really going to take a lot of money to last through the March Super Tuesday caucuses. And right now, Haley looks like the best bet. But to get there, she's going to need to win a state. Right now, she's behind in Iowa. She's close, but still behind in New Hampshire. And she’s still behind in her home state of South Carolina. So the thing to watch for is field consolidation in late January, maybe early February, And if Haley can actually get some momentum to beat Trump.
The second thing to pay attention to are Trump's criminal trials. And a major question for 2024 is how much do these things hurt him on the campaign trail? Certainly being prosecuted by the Democratic prosecutor in Manhattan and Biden's DOJ has helped Trump consolidate his position on top of the Republican field. But it seems like the conventional wisdom is that it probably hurts Trump in the general election. Now, this may or may not be true. Voters already have been accustomed to the fact that Trump's been accused of various crimes. Trump himself is running on delegitimizing the system that's put him on trial, and that's going to be a continued theme throughout 2024. And the question for the general election is right now, Trump is beating Biden in head to head polling matchups, which are not very reliable this far out. Does that advantage start to erode as Trump's criminal trial stay in the news throughout the summer? And what happens if he's eventually convicted of a crime? And the one to watch is probably the DC election interference case that the federal government has brought in the District of Columbia.
Final thing to watch for in 2024, what happens to the state of the economy? Biden's approval ratings are relatively low for an incumbent seeking reelection in the high thirties. That's a pretty bad sign. The economy's been fairly resilient so far with low unemployment and decent wage growth. But Americans are still saying they're very unhappy about the state of things. Inflation has been a huge part of that. High grocery prices, expensive services are all things that Americans are dealing with on a day to day basis. Does the economy flatline or tank in the first half of 2024, which would be a real disaster for the incumbent President Biden? Or does it continue to muddle along and potentially improve as inflation fades in the rearview mirror, which would be a tailwind for the incumbent? And you'd expect to see that in rising approval ratings throughout the spring and summer.
Thanks for watching. This has been US Politics in (a little over) 60 Seconds.