Back in the 2000s, during the month-long book tour for our best-selling “The Godfather Doctrine,” my co-author and great friend Wess Mitchell came upon a hypothesis as to why our book had done so unexpectedly well. Since time began, Wess hypothesized, human beings have primarily learned about life through the telling of stories.
For example, the first two great works of Western civilization were, respectively, about a war, “The Iliad,” and a guy just trying to make it home, “The Odyssey.” Our book, a parable about US foreign policy told through the story of the never-bettered American film “The Godfather,” was merely following in this well-established human way of thinking.
Following in this Homeric tradition, I would like to tell you a story about the 2024 US presidential election that goes a long way toward predicting what is likely to happen and — more importantly — why it is going to happen.
Let us start our tale with the crucial fact that the present front-runners for the two party nominations are Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the two least-popular leaders since Gallup polling began in 1935. A Nov. 14 Morning Consult poll made this very clear. A decisive 65 percent of those polled did not want Biden to run for reelection, while the exact same number said the same of Trump’s efforts.
So, both parties have a succession crisis. The first to solve theirs and pivot away from the deep unpopularity of their present standard-bearer is likely to win the next election. That is, if the Democrats can get rid of Biden, they are likely to beat Trump, just as a GOP without Trump is likely to best the aging president.
Paradoxically, the midterms have made it more likely that the Republicans and not the Democrats are on their way to sorting out their succession problem. This is because the Democrats did a good deal better than was expected, having the fourth-best midterm result for a new presidency in the past 100 years. Narrowly losing the House as was predicted, the Democrats surprisingly managed to retain the Senate, even picking up a seat to hold a narrow 51-49 advantage. Why did the Democrats, despite Biden’s dismal approval rating of 43 percent, manage to do so well?
Rather than the 2022 vote serving as a traditional referendum on the new presidency, as was expected to be the case, instead the Democrats adroitly pitched it as a choice between Trump and Biden, ground they could win on.
Trump also helped build their case in a number of ways. First, he hand-picked terrible, flawed Senate candidates like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and the egregious Herschel Walker in Georgia. Second, Trump hoarded the money his political action committee had raised, selfishly saving it for himself rather than helping the GOP’s hard-pressed candidates. Third, Trump’s acolytes had to agree to push his pathetic conspiracy theory about the 2020 vote being stolen from him; these election deniers were punished across the board.
In many ways, the emergence of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is the answer to the GOP’s basic succession crisis; he provides the party with Trumpism (which is popular nationally) without Trump (who is not). On a night of Republican disappointments, DeSantis won reelection by a whopping 19.5 percent. He achieved this political feat by governing effectively and taking on the leftist mainstream media over social issues (such as so-called wokeism and immigration) and economic matters (keeping Florida open during much of the pandemic). As a man with a successful record of putting the Trumpist agenda into actual effect, DeSantis is the bright new hope of the party.
The governor ticks a lot of boxes. Graduating from Yale and Harvard Law School, DeSantis is a serious thinker about the issues. Serving in Iraq, he won the Bronze Star Medal, while Trump skipped Vietnam because of bone spurs. The governor also has a telegenic wife and young family.
Along with all these pluses, he retains faith in the Trumpist agenda, being broadly for deregulation, America not fighting stupid wars, an anti-woke social stance and a patriotic, interest-based foreign policy, with the populist concerns of his working-class constituents at the center of his efforts. Indeed, this represents Trumpism without Trump, which must be the GOP formula for future success.
On the other side of the ledger, Biden, incredibly, feels the 2022 midterms vindicate his often-disastrous first years in office, despite the fact that 65 percent to 70 percent of the country blame him for the rampant inflation that has caused the present cost-of-living crisis. Encouraged, the president is more likely than ever to run for reelection and no modern president has lost his party’s nomination once he has entered the race. Doomed, the Democrats seem to be shackled to the fading Biden.
The moral of our story, then, is simple and profound, like the best of literature. Based on the midterm outcome, it is far more likely that Biden will run again and ruinously gain his party’s nomination, while Trump can be thwarted from attaining the GOP nod. As such, the Republicans are in a far better position to solve their succession crisis than are the Democrats. The White House in 2024 is theirs for the taking.
This piece was originally published in Arab News.