There are still 9 months to go until the US presidential elections but the US has already entered unprecedented and uncharted territory. These terms are probably no longer applicable to the November 2024 election and new terms will need to be coined. The Republican Party will confirm its nominee for the presidential election at its convention in July, but Donald Trump is so far ahead in polls that his competition has mostly fallen off the wayside after just three primaries. The incumbent Joe Biden has had a bad week as the US Department of Justice special counsel released a report on the president’s handling of classified documents when he was Vice President. The investigation found that Joe Biden wilfully kept and shared classified information, but that the now US president will not face criminal charges. But what made the headlines was the Special Counsel’s damning comments about the President’s memory. The US is well and truly entering unprecedented territory.
Trump the Disrupter
The Republican establishment did its best to marginalise Donald Trump during the primaries in 2016. But they were unable to dent Trump’s popularity amongst a large, marginalised segment of the US public. Trump would go on to defeat senior Republicans, a son and brother of former US presidents and many seasoned politicians. The Republicans had no choice but to support Trump during the 2016 presidential election and believed surrounding him with many establishment figures in the White House would be the best way to control him.
In this way the Republicans were able to change, alter and reverse many of Trump’s foreign, defence and economic policy positions despite the fact that Trump would tweet his political decisions before discussing them with his own staff. Things got so bad that Trump would fire his advisors and national security staff in quick succession. As Trump had no political party or experience in office, he was forced to work with many establishment figures.
When Joe Biden became the clear democratic candidate and eventual president the Republicans tried to distance itself from Trump and his actions during the Capitol Hill insurrection and were content with Democratic inspired litigation actions against Trump.
However, the Republican establishment quickly realised that if they remained indifferent to Trump’s plight, they would lose a substantial proportion of the Republican base that adores Trump and see him as a messiah. This led the Republican establishment to field candidates that were very similar to Trump on many conservative issues. At the same time, they have offered some public support to Trump by criticising the democratic litigation as a witch hunt. The Republican leadership hoped the Democrats would succeed in their lawsuits against Trump, so that he is severely damaged and loses the primaries.
the Republican establishment quickly realised that if they remained indifferent to Trump’s plight, they would lose a substantial proportion of the Republican base that adores Trump and see him as a messiah
But Trump, who has a habit of defeating seasoned politicians, wiped the floor clean with Vivek Ramaswamy and then Ron DeSantis. In fact they all had little chance as Trump had a 60% lead in the polls with the other Republican candidates struggling to get into double figures. Nikki Haley is hoping to win in South Carolina, her home state. But it’s unlikely she will dent the Trump campaign to win a second term as US president.
The only way remaining for the US establishment to stop Trump is through the legal route. But this has the potential for a number of unintended consequences.
Donald Trump currently faces 91 felony counts across two state courts and two different federal districts. These range from Trump’s time as president and in his past. He faces fraud, defamation and sexual assault, hush money, election subversion and insurrection charges. Many of these court cases have not begun yet and will not be concluded by election day. If he were to win the presidential election this will stretch the US constitution to breaking point.
The US constitution only places three conditions for presidential candidates. Candidates must be a minimum 34 years old. They must be natural born US citizens, this means Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot be the US president. Finally candidates must have resided in the US for the last 24 years. Insurrection was added after the US civil war, where participants were barred from becoming public officials.
There is nothing stopping Trump from running in the primaries as his indictments have not concluded yet. In theory even if Trump is found guilty of a criminal indictment, there are not legal issues but practical issues, such as how he could run the White House from a prison cell. Each indictment, rather than dent Trump’s chances have only helped and emboldened him further. Trump had presented the court cases as a left-wing plot against him and as far as the Republican support base is considered, Trump remains their only saviour against the establishment.
For around half of the American electorate, Donald Trump is their leader, the leader of their cult that will make America great again. To his supporters, the last election in 2019 was stolen from him. This is the challenge Trump poses to America’s political establishment in the 2024 presidential election.
The Democratic Oligarchy
The incumbent Joe Biden has been shown throughout his first term to have serious question marks over his mental state. The number of gaffes, misquotes and Biden losing his way have all been topics of discussion and the content of many videos. The Department of Justice special counsel investigation confirms what many have always known and what many democrats always feared.
How has the US got into a position where the best defence against Trump is a 82 year old man with serious question marks over his mental state. The Democratic Party is dominated by party old timers, such as Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer. The only alternative to Biden was Bernie Sanders, but the old timers stopped him from representing the party. No new blood has come through the democratic party as Pelosi, Biden and Schumer dominate the party leadership and have done no work on building the party cadres. As a result, only people like Bernie Sanders represent an alternative pole.
The question for the US electorate is do they want to re-elect a man who governed as Mr Trump did, who was impeached twice by the House of Representatives, and who tried to overturn the result of the last election? Or do they want to vote for Joe Biden who will be in his 80’s if he wins in November. If Biden passes away during his second presidential term, which is a possibility, his Vice President, Kamala Harris who is deeply unpopular would become President!
The US is now entering an inflection point where the country is deeply polarised about the country’s future, its politics and who they see as representing them and as the enemy. This has led to the questioning of electoral results and the refusal to accept the outcome as we saw with the Capital Hill insurrection in 2021.
In 2022 three retired US generals wrote about a possible coup attempt in the US. The generals believe US military ranks were brimming with potential mutineers, referring to the Capitol Hill riots. Their fear was if Trump doesn’t win the 2024 election, elements in the army could do something about it by undertaking a coup. The US is now looking more and more like the era that preceded the Civil War.
This dysfunction and polarisation is already having an impact on America’s global position. The republicans now refuse to authorise financial and military aid to Ukraine. US vassals around the world may find the US has more pressing issues at home than to come to their aid.
The US is now really resembling the Roman Empire when it also collapsed as it was engrossed with divisions and deep polarisation.