“What do you get when you cross 2020 déjà vu and 2016 amnesia? The 2024 elections.”
— Howard Schweitzer, CEO, Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies
The Cozen Lens
- The 2024 presidential race is taking shape with the first GOP presidential debate next month and primaries just over six months away. But many voters aren’t interested in the race yet, probably due to the majority’s lack of interest in the most likely outcome: a Biden-Trump rematch.
- Control of the Senate is the Republicans’ to lose in 2024. Of course, the Senate GOP has demonstrated the ability to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory over the last two election cycles due to poor candidate quality. With new tactics though, will the third try be the charm?
- The winner of next year’s presidential election is expected to (barely) carry a closely-contested House despite weak coattails, with control of the lower chamber hinging on a handful of races, some of which may be based on redrawn congressional maps.
Race for the White House
The GOP Nomination. The race to be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee has already kicked off, with the first debate scheduled for August 23rd and the first primary just over six months away.
- With former President Trump far ahead in the polls, his competitors may find it challenging to reach the required polling and donor thresholds to participate in the first primary debate. The dynamic of the 2024 race for the GOP nomination may play out similarly to 2016, when Trump was able to win against a fractured field. Trump may be ahead, but if his opponents consolidate behind a single candidate, he could be beaten. There is no appetite among the GOP primary electorate for anti-Trump conservatives like former Governor Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), though, leaving Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who has been careful to walk the line of presenting himself as a “Trump without the baggage,” as a more viable Trump alternative.
- Perhaps the biggest story in the campaign is Trump’s indictments. He currently faces charges over hush payments brought by the Manhattan district attorney and charges over his handling of classified documents. Investigations into the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol and Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results could potentially lead to additional indictments on the federal level and in Georgia in the coming weeks. Rather than reducing his chances of winning the nomination, these unprecedented developments could give him a boost among his base. On March 30th, the day that Trump was indicted in New York, he led the field with 45.3 percent in the FiveThirtyEight polling average. Two indictments later, he had 50.8 percent support on July 23rd.
- After spending $8 million of the $20 million raised so far, DeSantis’ campaign is aiming for a reset. It’s not clear that this will work for DeSantis, whose campaign must confront a pattern of highly anticipated presidential candidates who miscalculated and flamed out early. Former Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R-UT) in 2011, former Governors Scott Walker (R-WI) and Jeb Bush (R-FL) in 2015, and now-Vice President Kamala Harris in 2019 all come to mind. The only presidential contender in recent memory to undergo a similar reset and win the nomination was former Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2007, and he ultimately lost to President Obama. It can be done, but history shows it’s not easy.
Is It the Economy, Stupid? President Biden’s re-election campaign is underway but the economy remains a challenging issue for him.
- Biden’s re-election campaign is on a slow burn. Last week, the campaign announced the hire of three new staff members, bringing the total headcount to seven. In the second quarter, the president and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) raised $72 million, less than Trump and Obama at this stage. Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez described how the campaign is following “a new playbook”: operating a lean organization and coordinating closely with the DNC and state parties, which are subject to higher donation limits under federal law.
- Biden has embraced his biggest vulnerability: the economy. The president has adopted “Bidenomics” as a nickname for his economic policy ahead of his re-election bid and has taken to the road to promote it, speaking last week in Philadelphia. The CNBC/All America Survey conducted earlier this month found that only 37 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s approach to the economy, while 58 percent disapprove. A potential recession next year could be devastating to Biden’s re-election hopes. But that doesn’t take into account the Trump factor.
- It’s an open question: what would it take for the 2024 election to be about the economy and not about Trump, assuming he wins the nomination? Trump has a habit of making everything about himself, and a Trump nomination could mean that the 2024 election focuses on his legal issues and his false claims about the 2020 results – radioactive for independents. While Trump getting the nomination in 2024 is widely viewed as a positive for Biden’s chances of a second term, it alone will not necessarily guarantee Biden another victory, particularly if we are in the throes of an economic downturn. After all, since 1900, only President McKinley won re-election after facing a recession in his last two years in office.
The Stakes. The results of the 2024 presidential election will have major ramifications for both domestic and foreign policy.
- The Trump-era Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s individual tax provisions expire at the end of 2025, and the winners of the 2024 election in the White House and both chambers of Congress will be responsible for rewriting the tax code. A GOP trifecta would likely keep the Trump tax cuts or go further, such as restoring research and development expensing, while a Democratic trifecta would likely repeal and replace them with higher taxes on the wealthy. If the election yielded a divided government, the two parties would have to find a compromise solution.
- In foreign policy, the major issue hinging on the 2024 election is aid to Ukraine and support for NATO. Both Trump and DeSantis have voiced anti-interventionist beliefs. A retreat from the global stage in 2025 would mean that the “America First” approach of Trump’s term was not an aberration, fundamentally shifting the US position in the international order.
Senate GOP’s Worst Enemy is Itself
An Uneven Playing Field. This cycle provides low-hanging fruit for Republicans and absolutely no offense for Democrats.
- Democrats are defending three states former President Trump won twice handily: West Virginia (by 39 points in 2020), Montana (16 points), and Ohio (8 points). They’re also defending seven more states President Biden won by single digits.
- Republicans are defending half the seats (11) that Democrats are (23). Of these 11, only two are remotely competitive: Texas and Florida. The result is that Democrats are stuck playing defense while Republicans are purely on offense in 2024.
- Democrats do not have any breathing room in holding the chamber. If Republicans win the presidency in 2024, they need to flip only a single seat to gain control (two seats if a Democrat wins). Running the board in so many competitive races is more than a challenge (though not impossible, as 2022 illustrated). “Holding the incumbents” is therefore Democrats’ main focus.
GOP Ends Laissez-faire Policy: Republicans chose poor candidates in 2022, resulting in disappointment. The establishment is taking the unusual step of wading into the primaries to prevent this from happening again.
- 2022 was the cycle of Dr. Oz and Herschel Walker. The National Republican Senatorial Committee chair at the time — Rick Scott (R-FL) — took a hands-off approach to the primary races that ultimately selected these candidates. Current Chair Steve Daines (R-MT) and the rest of leadership are going the other direction, being the most interventionist in a decade.
- The past two weeks have seen the establishment coalesce behind veteran-turned-businessmen Sam Brown in Nevada and Tim Sheehy in Montana. Other picks earlier this year include Governor Jim Justice (R-WV) to take on Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and pressuring former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick to run in Pennsylvania.
Theory Meets Reality. How each party responds to their own type of crisis will determine who comes out on top next year.
- The GOP can’t plug every hole in the ship. Conservative Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) is running for senator in West Virginia and Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) is leaning towards throwing his hat into the ring in Montana. Arizona may well see Kari Lake win the primary and Ohio currently faces a messy three-way race. While Trump has reportedly indicated to MAGA-esque candidates like Mooney and Rosendale that he won’t endorse them, such anti-establishment candidates are gaining financial support from the powerful conservative organization Club for Growth. Making it even messier, there is no love lost between Trump and the Club for Growth.
- Interventionism has led to divides within the Republican Party. The right-wing candidates the establishment is pushing against are often more attractive to the base. Even if the clean cut Republican comes out on top, a contested primary can be expensive and give excellent fodder to the Democrats.
- Vulnerable Democrats, meanwhile, need to find a way to separate themselves from an unpopular president in an election year. The party will also need to exercise as-of-yet-unseen discipline in not efficiently sinking millions into races against foes like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who are likely safe.
Who (or What) Will Determine the House Majority?
Dragging the House Along. Neither President Biden nor former President Trump, assuming they are the respective 2024 presidential candidates, will have particularly strong coattails, but with the closely divided nature of the House, whoever is elected to the White House will likely help deliver a majority in the lower chamber.
- Since former President George H.W. Bush, each successive president has started their first term with a majority in the House. This had not always been the case as prior to then, the House had been under Democratic control since the 1950s.
- The margin is razor thin in the House with Democrats only needing a net gain of six seats to retake a majority. With more than a couple dozen races considered to be battlegrounds, there will be sufficient gray area for the outcome of the House to hang in the balance in this election.
A War of Words. With such a close contest for control of the House, the handful of moderate Republican members on the frontlines are looking to soften the House GOP’s more strident messaging, while House Democrats are seeking to contrast their legislative achievements with Republicans’ show votes.
- On the Republican side, a group of moderates in Biden-won districts has raised concerns with some of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) indulgence of “red meat” messaging votes for the far right wing of the House GOP. This has forced these frontline majority-makers to take some tricky votes where they had to weigh supporting their party and how that vote would be received in their district. For all this consternation though, McCarthy was able to get the annual defense policy bill passed earlier this month, including its controversial culture war amendments with support from most of these members.
- Across the aisle, Democrats are looking, much like Biden, to emphasize their legislative accomplishments from the first two years of his term. The focus is now on implementing these programs and highlighting the benefits that they are bringing. The risk of this strategy is that it can all be upended by economic turmoil. While the perceived likelihood of a recession is declining, there are still indications that not all is well yet.
Redistricting’s Potential Impact. With new congressional maps applied in 2022 after the 2020 census, some states are set for change again following legal challenges that have resulted in some maps getting overturned and forcing state officials back to the drawing boards.
- Already five states – Alabama, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio – are expected to have new maps for the 2024 elections. These processes will be closely watched to see which party may have the edge in the new districts, with Democrats likely to benefit in New York and Republicans expected to have the edge in North Carolina. The overall effect may be net neutral, but it will be hard to say with much certainty until the new borders are set.
- More maps could come into question ahead of 2024 following a Supreme Court decision on Alabama’s electoral districts that forced a redraw to ensure fairer racial representation. The Court’s opinion is likely to lead to the overturn of Louisiana’s map and could have an effect in other Southern states.