Perhaps more importantly, Biden has proven in 2020 that not only can he rebuild the so-called blue wall (Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), but he can snag increasingly purple Arizona and Georgia.
So which Republican candidate is best positioned to take on Biden and win back those swing states? Here’s a lucid look at their strengths and weaknesses.
Former President Donald Trump
Twice impeached, once indicted, the only president since the advent of polls whose approval rating has never topped 50%, Trump doesn’t exactly cut the profile of a model challenger. Even in his two presidential elections, his popular vote record was just under 47%. But in 2016, he showed there was a path to an Electoral College victory nonetheless.
In a rematch with Biden, Trump would likely be better positioned politically than many of his GOP rivals on issues such as rights reform and abortion, where he is somewhat more central. Still, there’s the matter of the five states Biden overthrew in 2020. Trump wouldn’t need to win them all back to reclaim the White House, but he probably would need at least three of those states — and none of them. between them is a punch.
It’s not because of Biden’s strengths, but Trump’s flaws. There are clear signs of a more professionalized Trump campaign operation than in the past. But Trump is still Trump (see, for example, his Easter message on the holiest day in the Christian calendar). The swing states that will decide the 2024 election are among those that have been most unsettled by Trump’s polarizing policies, either because of his conflicts with state parties or because of the forces unleashed by his baseless claims of voter fraud. .
Take Georgia: the 2022 Republican primary there represented a massive repudiation of the former president; the icing on the cake came in the Senate runoff in December, when Trump’s hand-picked nominee Herschel Walker was defeated. In Arizona, ground zero for election denial, Trump-backed statewide candidates crashed and burned in November. Biden was no asset to Democrats in 2022, but Trump was just as damaging. While 38% of Arizona voters said they voted to oppose Biden, according to exit polls, 35% said their votes were to oppose Trump.
The blue wall that Trump cracked in 2016 is equally intimidating. Democrats are now on the rise in Michigan and Pennsylvania — which have moved in tandem in presidential elections for nearly 40 years — largely due to a backlash against Trump in their most populous suburbs. Barring massive rural turnout in those states or a black swan event, Biden has a decided advantage against Trump in both places.
In Wisconsin, the closest of the three states in 2020, only 20,000 votes separated Biden and Trump. But the GOP trendlines aren’t promising either. In 2016 and 2020, Trump ran behind traditional Republican margins in the conservative suburbs of Milwaukee that are critical to the GOP’s chances. Worse still, the Trump era has seen the rise of liberal Dane County as an electoral powerhouse – witness the state’s recent Supreme Court election – and a Trump-led GOP ticket is guaranteed to generate another turnout. monster there.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
In the opinion of many Republican officials, DeSantis is Trump without the baggage and drama. If he does run, they envision a conservative governor of a big state, fresh from a landslide re-election, pursuing a vigorous case against a weakened Biden — an incumbent who is nearly twice his age.
It’s true that DeSantis could stem the bleeding in traditionally Republican suburbs, especially across the Sun Belt, while keeping the other elements of the MAGA coalition going. Equally important, his strong showing among all Florida Latinos in his 2022 re-election campaign caught the eye of both parties — he even topped Trump’s 2020 Latino earnings.
But the governor’s recent stumbles have raised real questions about how he would fare on the national stage under the relentless pressures of a presidential election — where there’s no room for press-averse DeSantis to hide from the media. And the disciplined approach and sharp political instincts that enabled his rapid rise to the national stage were not enough to shield him from Trump’s onslaught. If he emerges from a smash primary against Trump — and with Trump, there is no other kind — DeSantis will enter the general election against Biden with deep scars to show.
In presidential elections, governors typically face questions about their lack of experience in foreign policy, and DeSantis’ description of Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” – which he later backed down to the amid bipartisan criticism — will only strengthen Biden’s case as an experienced hand.
Yet that position may not be as politically problematic as the bill he recently signed banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. DeSantis — who is expected to announce his candidacy in May, after the legislative session — may have boosted his prospects in a GOP primary, but polls and recent election results in swing states that will decide the presidency suggest his position could be a grinding wheel. If DeSantis is the GOP nominee, the ban makes it more likely than ever that abortion rights will be a central issue in 2024, drowning out other issues where Biden would be more vulnerable.
Former Vice President Mike Pence
Biden has proven that former vice presidents can sit out for four years and come back to win the presidency. But Pence is no ordinary vice president. On the one hand, his boss voiced his support for his hanging amid the Jan. 6 riot.
That strained relationship with Trump made Pence, who said Sunday he would announce his 2024 presidential decision “long before” the end of June, a long shot to win the nomination. The best case for Pence in the general election is that he is a Reagan conservative whose loyal service to Trump could bridge the gap between mainstream Republicans and the MAGA wing of the party. As a former Midwestern governor, he’s well-positioned to compete in the industrial swing states that passed to Biden in 2020. Georgia’s 16 electoral votes also appear to be within Pence’s reach, given the architecture of Republican Governor Brian Kemp’s successful re-election campaign in 2022.
The flip side is that some corners of the MAGA movement may never forgive Pence’s refusal to bow to Trump’s pressure to block certification of the 2020 Electoral College votes. And Pence’s victorious call alone remains uncertain. Despite his estrangement from Trump — and a suburban dad image — he can’t easily get around his affiliation with Trump’s slash and burn policy. Pence has run statewide just once — in 2012 in Indiana, a red state where he ran well behind Mitt Romney’s pace that year. He was in no rush to seek re-election in 2016 before Trump picked him to join his presidential ticket.
Nikki Haley, former Governor of South Carolina
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley would be a historic candidate — the first woman and first person of color to lead the GOP ticket. That status, along with her age — she’s about 30 years younger than Biden — would create a stark contrast on the campaign trail.
Haley, who announced her candidacy in February, also offers the prospect of narrowing the gender gap in the general election – which was a 57-42 yawn in 2020. Polls coming out of her 2014 re-election also showed that Haley was strong in the suburbs and with independents, two additional groups Trump lost in 2020.
But establishing his independence from Trump will not be easy. She has frequently criticized the former president, including in 2016 when she denounced “the siren call of the most angry voices”. But she also went to work for Trump as an ambassador to the UN and has spent the past few years praising his agenda — positions that could limit her appeal to voters looking for a clean break from Trump.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott
Scott’s formidable political skills have been on display since then-Gov. Nikki Haley nominated him to the Senate in 2013. Within a year, he had surpassed Haley and the senior senator. Lindsey Graham on the ballot. In 2016, he edged out Donald Trump in South Carolina by more than 86,000 votes.
During his three senatorial campaigns, however, Scott never faced serious Democratic opposition or media scrutiny. That showed on his second day of campaigning after the announcement of a presidential search committee, when he stumbled over whether he would support federal restrictions on abortion.
And any expectation that Scott, who would be the first black GOP candidate for president, could carve out some of Biden’s considerable support among black voters must be tempered by Scott’s actual performance. While the senator has improved his percentages over the past decade, he consistently loses a majority of the state’s nine black-majority counties.
Several candidates making the first rounds of state – among them, Vivek Ramaswamy and Perry Johnson – do not have electoral records to evaluate. But former two-term Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and current New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu have found success at the polls, not to mention some of the highest approval ratings in the country. As popular and mainstream conservatives who have been lone Trump critics within the party, they would likely be well-positioned to compete on the map in a general election — but the GOP base doesn’t show much appetite to name. a critic of Trump.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former Trump ally turned bitter critic, faces the same situation. He’s the rare conservative to have won the entire state in a blue state, and his successful stint as president of the Republican Governors’ Association gives him some familiarity with the demands of competing on the national map.
But an experiment during his failed 2016 presidential campaign captured both the promise and flaws of a potential candidacy. Winning the coveted endorsement of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, a prominent voice in the state’s early primaries, publisher Joseph McQuaid described Christie as “a strong, pro-life conservative” who managed to win and govern in a liberal state.
Several months later, however, the newspaper rescinded its endorsement after Trump’s surprise endorsement by Christie. “Watching Christie kiss Donald’s ring this weekend – and make excuses for the man Christie himself declared unfit for president – demonstrated how wrong we were,” McQuaid wrote. “Rather than stand up to the bully, Christie bent the knee.” Biden wouldn’t have to go to great lengths to remind the public of that.