Could another candidate for US president emerge?

A re-run of Joe Biden versus Donald Trump looks likely in this year’s US presidential election. But could the Democrats or Republicans change their candidate?

| 9 min read

We have long argued that the US presidential election will be a re-run of Joe Biden against Donald Trump. The primaries that are meant to determine the candidates have, so far, run their predictable course. No serious opponent emerged against Joe Biden. Incumbent presidents seeking a second term usually have the support of most of their party.

Several strong candidates emerged against Mr Trump. Some, such as Ron de Santis, argued that they would be Trump without the legal challenges and the historic baggage. Nikki Haley argued that she would be more centrist and different from Trump. She was lambasted as a RINO (Republican in name only) and failed to win many Republican votes.

So far, Mr Trump has shown that the Republican party is his party, where he commands a fairly reliable 60% of the primary vote. Republican activists want Trump policies on the role of government, ‘net zero’, foreign wars and control of borders and think Trump is the most likely to deliver them.

Joe Biden’s problems

We have also said that both candidates are vulnerable to the pressures of legal actions and to the tribulations of old age. We wish both of them a long life and good health - but have to comment that a big 86% of the US electorate now think Mr Biden is too old to run again. They have seen his stumbles and worry about his ability to provide the energy and grip in four years’ time if he nears the end of a second term.

House Republicans tabled an impeachment resolution in the 117th Congress about Joe Biden’s son’s conduct and his possible involvement. Mr Biden must keep an eye on the legal processes against his son who some think used his father when he was vice president. More recently he has responded angrily to the impeachment of his Homeland Security Secretary.

President Biden has also been criticised for wilfully withholding and using state papers after leaving office as vice president by the Special Counsel investigating. He is not being charged because the Special Counsel thinks that his old age and poor memory would make it difficult to secure a conviction. This comment has been damaging to the president’s general position as candidate over the age issue.

Mr Biden’s biggest problem is becoming his low poll ratings with the wider electorate. Despite good economic growth and inflation returning to acceptable levels he remains unpopular. This is leading more Democrats to worry about whether he can win again.

Donald Trump’s problems

A significant 59% of the electorate also think Mr Trump is also too old to run again. This implies most Republicans do not share that view. A bigger worry for Mr Trump is the 91 charges in law suits he faces. There are three broad categories of action. There are suits against his conduct in business. There is the federal case against him keeping classified documents after leaving office. There are cases concerning alleged electoral infringement including the refusal to accept the election result in 2021.

Many Democrats think Mr Trump is totally unsuited to be a candidate for president and have long wanted to get him off the ballot paper for legal reasons. Mr Trump has maintained popularity amongst many Republicans despite these allegations. They agree with him that these are invented charges to prevent Republicans running a popular candidate and former president. Many of these voters think the last presidential election was not properly conducted, so they see Democrat states seeking to eject him from the ballot paper as further proof of the political involvement in the electoral process.

Several of the charges could result in a prison sentence should he be he found guilty. Some Republicans say that being in prison is no bar to being president and argue that in some of these cases he could pardon himself with presidential powers. It remains to be seen how sanguine followers would remain were he to be found guilty of a serious crime. The document offences have lost some of their sting, given the report into Mr Biden on similar issues.

Could either candidate be replaced?

There is no obvious procedure to remove a candidate who wants to run and who has won sufficient support in the primary process. After all, the idea of stretched out and exhaustive primaries is to give the party full chance to examine the candidates and choose the one they want. Both parties have had opportunity to signal they do not want their front runner candidate.

The most likely way for there to be a change of candidate must start with either Mr Biden or Mr Trump deciding they no longer want to stand or are able to stand. It seems that both men are resolved that age is not going to get in their way, and both men believe the legal charges and allegations against them are mainly political in motivation and should not bar them from office.

This could change were either of them to have a major health set back that forced them to accept they could not continue. Such sad events do become more likely for people in their 80s. Mr Biden is already 81 and Mr Trump is 77.

It could change if large numbers of people around them decided that their legal or political positions became untenable. It would still require their consent to withdraw. Presumably there are senior figures they each rely on who could at some point if needed make it clear to their boss that it is not going to work. This currently looks unlikely. Both men value loyalty from their advisers.

How would a different candidate emerge?

Should the need to arise for a new candidate, there is no easy and agreed process for selection. These comments suggest what might happen but there is no definitive written constitutional method. No obvious front runner has emerged on either side from the primaries so far that their parties would want to catapult into the role. It is becoming too late now for a new candidate to register and score well in primaries. The most likely outcomes were either candidate to withdraw would be resolving the candidature at the Convention or a meeting and vote in the National Party Committee to choose a new candidate.

If the candidate drops out after the Convention, then it is likely to be a decision of the National Party Committee. If the candidate withdraws before the Convention the Convention could still meet and the delegates would argue over who to write in instead of the primary winner. Were this to happen, delegates would have to be able to override the requirement some face to vote in favour of the winner of the primary in their state.

The National Party Committees do contain representatives from all states and the senior party officials. They would suddenly have a lot of power. They would likely choose the candidate in the event of late withdrawal and would have influence over the process after an earlier withdrawal.

President Biden has chosen a vice presidential running mate. Mr Trump has not. There is no automatic system for the chosen vice president candidate to become the presidential candidate before the presidential ballots are registered and printed. They are the personal choices of the candidates up until they are endorsed by the party Convention as a vice presidential running mate.

We continue to see a Biden/Trump contest as the most likely.

Being the chosen vice president candidate could help secure the nomination, but in some circumstances being recommended by the presidential candidate who is stepping down could be a disadvantage. Some Democrats would not want Kamala Harris as presidential candidate, so it is likely she would face opposition from other candidates in any Committee or Convention vote. Should the president elect to be unable to serve after the election but before inauguration then the vice presidential candidate would take the job.

We continue to see a Biden/Trump contest as the most likely. We will complete our evaluation of what the main differences would be between a Biden and a Trump second term. Both men are popular with their own parties, but unpopular with the wider electorate. They must demonstrate age is no barrier and legal actions can be contained. Both parties will have worries about their candidates, which will be exacerbated if either man falls behind badly in the national polls. So far it is close, with Mr Trump narrowly ahead.

Nothing on this website should be construed as personal advice based on your circumstances. No news or research item is a personal recommendation to deal.

Could another candidate for US president emerge?

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