Every indicator suggests that the 2024 election will see a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
For most Americans, this will represent the first Presidential rematch of their lives.
What does history offer for evaluating Biden-Trump II?
Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump: Historical Context
Presidential rematches are pretty unusual in American electoral history, especially in the post-bellum era.
Usually, the defeated candidate is so politically damaged that they do not seriously consider another Presidential run.
The victor is by definition the incumbent, and usually in a stronger position the second time around.
Someone interested in a rematch has to contend with the fact that their own brand has been tarnished and that their opponent will likely be in an advantageous position. Rematches and post-Presidential political careers were more common in the early Republic, but seem to have almost entirely disappeared.
Returns Are Rare
Indeed, any return to politics on the part of a defeated Presidential candidate has become rare.
Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) is one of the very few defeated contenders who has sought any kind of new electoral office (senators such as John McCain, George McGovern, and Barry Goldwater defended their seats in incumbency well after their failed Presidential runs).
Bob Dole and Mike Dukakis both effectively retired from the political arena after their defeats. The 2000 and 2016 elections represent best case “rematch” scenarios, as in both years the Democratic candidate won the popular vote but lost the EC, suggesting a manageable rematch.
And yet neither Gore nor Clinton made any serious effort to win their party’s nomination in the ensuing cycle. Gore is five years younger than Joe Biden but has not even touched the Democratic primary waters in the past five cycles.
Clinton carries so much baggage that only Republican political consultants pine for her return to the arena.
Enter Donald Trump: What Does History Say?
But Donald Trump, of course, is different. What chances for success?
The most notable successful rematch in American history came in the 1892 election, where former President Grover Cleveland avenged his 1888 defeat to Benjamin Harrison. In 1888 the incumbent Cleveland lost the Electoral College 233-168 despite winning the popular vote 48.6%-47.8%. Four years later, Cleveland defeated Harrison 277-145 in the EC and 46%-43% in the popular vote.
A poor economy made Harrison particularly vulnerable, and he faced challenges even to win the Republican nomination. Cleveland held a dominant position in the Democratic Party of the time, and won nomination without great difficulty despite his earlier defeat.
More recently, in 1952 General Dwight D. Eisenhower handed Illinois Senator Adlai Stevenson a serious thrashing, winning 55% of the popular vote and 442 electoral votes. Perhaps despairing of any serious effort to defeat the popular incumbent, in 1956 the Democrats again nominated Stevenson, who lost the second time by an even larger margin. Ironically, Adlai Stevenson’s grandfather had served as Grover Cleveland’s Vice President for his second term.
Will 2024 be more of an Eisenhower year or a Cleveland year?
Joe Biden is no Ike, but like Adlai Stevenson Donald Trump has failed to command a popular majority in two successive presidential runs.
Eighteen months out it’s still too early to tell how the election might shape up, with the economy and Joe Biden’s key foreign policy project (the defense of Ukraine) still in serious question. Notwithstanding the fundamentals, incumbent Presidents usually have an electoral advantage and Donald Trump has a major hill to climb in order to win back the states he lost in 2020.
The cult of personality that the GOP has allowed Donald Trump to build around himself may not be entirely unique in American political history, but it has laid the foundations for a kind of electoral rematch that we have not seen in a very long time. Indeed, at this point it’s difficult to say what a post-Trump GOP will look like. There certainly are plenty of 2024 contenders (some of whom are probably aiming for the VP slot or laying the foundations for a 2028 run) but it’s not obvious that Trump is interested in relinquishing his hold on the party. Even if he loses to Biden in 2024 (and manages to stay out of prison) he could conceivably run in 2028 (as an eighty-two year old) or anoint a successor.
Rematches are rare, but Donald Trump is very nearly unique in the history of the Republic, so it’s awfully difficult to predict where we’ll find ourselves as long as Trump maintains control of the GOP.
A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020), and most recently Waging War with Gold: National Security and the Finance Domain Across the Ages (Lynne Rienner, 2023). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.
May 26, 2023 at 4:41 pm
If the dems roll out Bidens corpse again, he’s going to get killed by whomever the GOP runs out.
Best thing the democrats can do is burn Biden and put out RFK Jr. Not another bs establishment kleptocrat/oligarch.
May 26, 2023 at 10:14 pm
A trump-biden rematch would send a clear message to the rest of the world that US democracy is in the doldrums amd US politics is scraping at the bottom of the barrel.
Both men are very old and come with untrustworthy shady histories, especially biden with his dark money millions from foreign sources and trump with his very recent ‘rape’ conviction.
Surely with a population of over 330 million, the US should have no shortage of brainy clever people to fill the white house, but trump-biden choice would mean that in US politics, money talks not the rule of morality and trustworthiness.
Thus the US has no business telling other nations what to do. The US has no right to lecture other leople considering that in US politics money talks. Dirty evil immoral money, that is.
May 27, 2023 at 12:11 pm
The woksters against the tea party hobbits. Not good prospects. We need truth tellers, and first of all as Americans we need to be honest with ourselves. There is no free lunch. We want Medicare and Medicaid, definitely no cuts, but then let us pay for it.
Medicare plus Medicaid is 2 trillion a year. The 2.9% medicare tax brings in only 350 bill a year. By raising the medicare tax to 12% we would generate hundreds of billions in new revenue. Of course middle class Americans would pay 10% more in taxes, but that is better than having 20% interest rates and a full collapse of our community banks. Reducing discretionary spending will do very little to reduce the deficit. And a wealth tax does not generate a lot of revenue, but is more a pretend feel good exercise.
May 27, 2023 at 2:37 pm
I don’t want either one of them to be our next President…
Also I’m concerned if Trump wins the Left will set our country on Fire…
May 27, 2023 at 3:27 pm
It isn’t that Trump controls the GOP, it is that people who support his pro-American policies control the GOP. DeSantis, for all his merit, is soft on foreign policy and doesn’t give a full-throated repudiation of the hyper interventionist liberal interventionism and neoconservatism of the uniparty, nor does he fully understand “what time it is” with respect to the need to clear the military house of the failed leadership of the past 25 years. Not yet does he fully understand the existential threat the left poses to the foundational institutions of the republic.
That’s why people back Trump, because he is a pugilist and everyone knows he’ll clean house and right the wrongs of the past 4-8 years.