Opinion: Why 2024 may not be the worst political year ever

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The 2028 presidential campaign can’t come soon enough.

Just think: Fresh faces, furrowed by fewer lines. Fresh ideas, not of the authoritarian, willfully divisive kind (we can hope). Fresh blood, and without triggering Hitlerian talk of “poisoning” our nation.

A new contest, not a rematch of two unpopular geriatric retreads. First, however, we have to get through 2024. Spoiler alert: We will, successfully.

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

January, the cruelest month (apologies, T.S. Eliot), has made clear that this year will be as bad politically as the pessimists projected, both in the presidential race and in Congress. Tuesday’s results from New Hampshire, on top of last week’s from Iowa’s caucuses, confirmed that the Republican presidential primary is all but over: A sliver of voters in states representing about 1.4% of the U.S. population have decided that Trump will be the Republican nominee against a weakened President Biden.

So much for the conventional wisdom three years ago this month, after then-President Trump’s deadly machinations to stay in power, that Republicans were finally breaking free of him. Four criminal indictments and 91 felony counts later, Trump’s incessant yammering about victimhood has rallied his followers. Of the dozen-plus Republicans who ran against him for the nomination (alas, most without ever really running against him), the last man standing is a woman.

And despite Nikki Haley’s vow Tuesday to keep running “a marathon,” it’s hard to see her sprinting much longer. It’s all uphill to the primary next month in South Carolina, where she was once a popular governor, and Trump holds a daunting lead among Republicans in polls there.

Republican officeholders are falling in line to endorse the man they privately loathe. Paul D. Ryan — former House speaker, vice presidential candidate and standard-bearer of Republicans’ future — lamented the “pickle” his party is in: “Fear [of Trump] is so palpable.”

Meanwhile, the chaos that follows Trump — in Haley’s oft-repeated words — infects the House, (mis)managed as it is by Republicans who take their cues from him, now more than ever. The House is yet again in recess, having left town last week at odds with Republicans as well as Democrats in the Senate over the annual budget, immigration and aid to Ukraine and Israel. And yet again, House extremists are threatening to repeat last year’s first-in-history ouster of the speaker, which paralyzed all of Congress for weeks. The current jobholder, “MAGA Mike” Johnson, is proving insufficiently hard-line. With a word from an emboldened Trump, his head could roll.

And yet, for all the grim news ahead about our politics and governance, I remain optimistic that, come November, American voters will not restore to the nation’s highest office an indecent, ignorant and antidemocratic narcissist, whether he’s a convicted felon or not.

Right now, polls can be used to argue for Trump’s or Biden’s election. Both men will see highs and lows before November, and the outcome will no doubt be close in decisive battleground states. But early surveys suggest Biden has the edge with swing voters; last month a New York Times poll gave him a 50% to 38% lead among independents. Even Trump’s former press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, warned Tuesday night on Fox News that he is alienating too many Republicans and independents.

Despite the Republican bias in the electoral college, which disproportionately favors the many rural, less-populated and red states over diverse, big and blue states like California and New York, I believe that enough Americans will reject a wannabe dictator with an agenda to match. “It’s nice to have a strongman running your country,” Trump allowed at a Saturday rally in New Hampshire, after raving yet again about a dictator he wants to emulate.

We’ll be hearing a lot of such antidemocratic malarkey, and worse, for the next nine-plus months. If such talk doesn’t scare the bejesus out of most voters once they’re tuned in, I’m confident it will at least turn off enough of them to give Mr. Thumbs-up a thumbs-down. Same for Trump’s disdain for the rule of law, which he’s sure to manifest throughout the year in various courthouses. Last week, he launched puerile outbursts at the judge in the New York case to decide how much he must pay E. Jean Carroll for defaming her as a liar for saying he had sexually assaulted her.

“You just can’t control yourself,” federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan correctly noted amid Trump’s shenanigans. “And neither can you,” Trump blurted back. That’s not the worst of him: Trump’s bad-mouthing of judges and prosecutors in his cases has forced them to live with maximum security against death threats. This is not the behavior of a man most voters want to call “President” again.

Depressingly, two-thirds of Iowans who voted in the Republican caucuses bought Trump’s Big Lie that Biden didn’t win election legitimately; about half of New Hampshire’s Republican primary voters agreed. Yet most of us live in the real world, the one in which Trump’s own attorney general and Homeland Security officials proclaimed the election fair. We watched for hours as his supporters desecrated the Capitol on his behalf, as he watched and did nothing. Stay tuned for the replays all year.

The entrance and exit polls in Iowa and New Hampshire were early evidence that a sizable minority of Republicans and independents are dedicated to Trump’s defeat, along with Democrats. It’s such data that leaves me cautiously confident: If Trump continues all year to whine, lie and thus solidify his place as U.S. history’s sorest Loser, most voters will help him finish the job come November. Again.

And then both parties can start elevating a new generation of leaders. Better late than never.

@jackiekcalmes





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