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The 2024 General Election Campaign Begins

[ Posted Wednesday, September 27th, 2023 – 15:55 UTC ]

I realize it is incredibly early to make such a statement, but it truly seems like the 2024 general election campaign for president is kicking off this week. Sure, we're still something like 100 days away from even the first of the primaries, but at this point -- barring any political earthquake -- both parties seem to have all but settled on their nominees. This isn't too unusual for the Democrats, since they've got a sitting incumbent president in the White House, but it is extremely unusual for the Republicans. However, Donald Trump's continued strength in the polls means the chances are far more likely than not that America will see a rematch of the 2020 contest between Trump and President Joe Biden.

Both candidates have realized this, in their own way. Biden has never wavered from his intention to run with Kamala Harris as his running mate. Biden can afford to ignore calls for debates from his Democratic rivals, both of whom are the fringiest of fringe candidates. He likely won't pay any political price for doing so, being the incumbent. If he were to be challenged by a serious and prominent Democrat, he might not have been able to get away with this, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen.

Trump also has the luxury of (so far, at least) ignoring the Republican debates. He's got a point, too: why should he subject himself to attacks from candidates that are polling in the low single digits? He has such a commanding lead in the polls that he has had no really serious challengers to worry about for months. So why bother with the small fry? Skipping the first debate didn't hurt him -- his poll numbers have actually gone up a few points since then, to where they are now nearing the stratospheric level of 60 percent. Trump is, in essence, running as an "incumbent" in his own party, since he still operates under the delusion that he won the 2020 election. And the GOP base voters seem to agree. At least to the extent that taking on Trump at this point seems to be just as hard as taking on an incumbent president for the nomination.

This all adds up to there being no reason for Trump and Biden not to start campaigning against each other. Which they made inroads into, this week. Yesterday, Biden made history by being the first president to ever appear shoulder-to-shoulder with Union workers on a picket line. He was there are the invitation of the head of the United Auto Workers Union, who appeared next to Biden as they both gave some words of encouragement to the striking workers over a megaphone.

Tonight, just to stick his thumb in the eyes of the rest of the GOP field (and the Reagan presidential library where the debate will be held, and Fox News, just for good measure), Trump will give a speech that starts right when the debate gets underway. Trump will speak to Union members in Michigan, but it will be a different sort of event than Biden's appearance on a picket line. In the first place, Trump will be speaking in a non-Union auto parts factory. This is inexplicable, since Union members do not generally look kindly at non-Union shops. Trump has reportedly invited other Union members than just auto workers, to broaden his wooing of blue-collar workers, and it is even unclear whether any of the striking U.A.W. members will attend. Trump doesn't care, since the event is going to be all about him anyway. He won't be there to show solidarity with striking workers, he will instead try to whip up their fears and promise to fight for them in unspecified (but very emotional) ways.

Trump has already previewed the message he will deliver tonight. He will tell the crowd that they have enemies who are selling them out. These enemies will be lumped together, and will doubtlessly include: their Union bosses, Joe Biden, Democrats, China, and who knows, maybe Mexico and/or windmills. You never know, with Trump. His basic message is a simple one: Change is bad. Electric cars are bad. China is bad. Joe Biden and the Union bosses are selling out their jobs. In three years, China will make all the electric cars and the autoworkers will all be out of work forever.

This all builds on the autoworkers' fears for their future during and after the transition away from internal combustion engines to electric engines. Those fears are real, since electric vehicles are a lot simpler machines than those powered by internal combustion. They are easier to put together and require less parts -- meaning less work for autoworkers as a whole. The (non-Union) factory Trump will speak in makes gearshift levers for big trucks. But if those big trucks become electric, they won't need these gearshift levers at all. So their jobs may be directly affected, unless the factory can substitute some other component the auto companies need to put their vehicles together.

Trump doesn't mind being King Canute, ordering the tide to turn back. The transition to electric vehicles is already underway and will take place no matter who is in the Oval Office. It could happen faster or slower, but it is going to happen nonetheless. Trump will try to convince the Union members that he will turn back this tide and return us all to the way things have always been. He will be lying about that, but that's never stopped him before.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, will be making a much more nuanced argument. Biden bills himself as "the most Union-friendly president ever," and while F.D.R. might have something to say about that, Biden's claim is arguably correct. Biden does understand blue-class workers and their families' kitchen-table worries. He is trying to move the country forward in the process of transitioning away from fossil fuels, and he has passed legislation that is doing so in a multitude of ways. He is trying to thread the needle of helping the Unions secure good Union contracts in the new factories which will be built, while still providing the industry leaders with incentives to build those factories.

Biden's message is far more positive, and can be summed up as: "American know-how and hard work will always win the day. There is no reason why we can't lead the world in electric vehicle production, and no reason why Union workers shouldn't be building those vehicles. A bet on America and the American worker is always a good bet!" This is a much more optimistic view of the future, obviously. And Biden's got good reason to make such claims.

Under Trump's presidency, we experienced a worldwide pandemic. This exposed some of the weaknesses in supply chains, and the car companies experienced a shortage of basic computer chips they needed to build their cars. Production suffered as a result. Biden passed legislation to encourage chip fabrication factories to be built on American soil, to try to prevent this bottleneck from ever slowing the production lines down again. These factories are now being planned or being built. But that's a subtle and long-term argument to make, politically.

Trump, on the other hand, doesn't have a whole lot to offer the Union workers. When they struck in 2019, while Trump was president, he didn't lift a finger to help them. Trump's administration changed regulations that made it a lot harder for Unions to organize and was generally anti-Union in all their policies. Trump would occasionally make grandiose promises about creating or saving tens of thousands of jobs in an individual factory, but these promises often went unfulfilled (see: the promised Foxconn plant in Wisconsin for the most obvious example of this). But Trump has his own version of history in his head, and in this version he is a genius at winning trade wars with his manly tariffs and whatnot, and he is fighting hard for the working man, whom everyone else has forgotten and does not care about. This will be a major part of his speech tonight, no doubt.

The battle for blue-collar votes isn't a new one, of course. The county Trump will be speaking in was famous for its "Reagan Democrats" -- Democratic voters who crossed the aisle to support Ronnie. Union bosses still overwhelmingly support Democrats (since they realize that Democrats are a whole lot more friendly to Unions than Republicans have ever been), but a lot of the rank and file workers have moved to the Republican side (especially since Trump appeared).

No matter who makes the better case and who builds more Union workers' support, though, what is striking to me is that this fight is even happening. Normally, it'd be way too early for a sitting president and a Republican candidate to be directly competing against each other in such a fashion. But since Biden is the incumbent and since Trump seems to have the GOP nomination locked up, there wasn't anything stopping either one of them from beginning the move from the primary campaign to the general election campaign. If the second GOP debate winds up like the first one did, it simply won't matter. No other Republican caught fire, the polling didn't change in any truly notable way, and Trump is still skating to victory. If the same thing happens again, Trump may well decide he isn't going to do any of the rest of the GOP debates. Why should he? What would be the point?

It's a far better use of his time that he begins his real campaign, the one against Joe Biden. And that campaign seems to have begun in earnest this week -- far earlier than I can remember in any other presidential campaign.


[Program Note: Obviously, I decided not to do a "snap reaction" column after tonight's debate, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear what I thought about it, sorry.]

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “The 2024 General Election Campaign Begins”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    If [Biden] were to be challenged by a serious and prominent Democrat, he might not have been able to get away with this, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen.

    A lot can happen in the next few weeks and months that could make a serious Democrat decide to challenge Biden. And, vp Harris doesn't make that decision any less likely.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Yesterday, Biden made history by being the first president to ever appear shoulder-to-shoulder with Union workers on a picket line. He was there are the invitation of the head of the United Auto Workers Union, who appeared next to Biden as they both gave some words of encouragement to the striking workers over a megaphone.

    I have a serious question about that.

    Why is it that the UAW union has failed so far to endorse Biden. What could they possibly hope to gain by endorsing Trump and the Republicans ... what do Trump and the Republicans have to offer?

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    at least formally, the general election campaign hasn't started yet. i'm sure biden will ultimately get the union endorsement, but there's still a lot of time between now and then.

  4. [4] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Biden has been a fine president, but he's too old to run again. The Vietnam press conference where they cut off his mike says all you need to know:
    I wish him well, and yet it's hard not to hope that something even more egregious will finally make another candidate step forth.

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    What I was really asking about is - and set aside all of the Trump/Republican craziness for the moment - why do so many voters in your country and mine think that Republicans are the better stewards of the economy?

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    That link you provided didn't tell me anything.

  7. [7] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Liz [5]

    It's simple. The Reps/Cons try to increase the material welfare (raise GDP) of all Americans.

    Th Dems/Libs only worry about how to (re)-distribute the GDP from the more productive to the less productive.

    There's a Ph-d degree explanation of political science in two sentences.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Yes, I think that is certainly part of the, ah, perception problem that Democrats seem to have a very hard time overcoming for reasons that remain pretty inexplicable to me.

    While Republicans may think that their policies increase the GDP of all Americans, that is not actually the case. Going back to the Kennedy administration, you can chart how Democratic policies have increased the GDP by higher percentages than Republican policies.

    Democratic administrations over that same timeframe also have generally better records in terms of job growth ...granted, some Americans fared better than others in this regard.

    And, take a good look at what the Bush II tax cuts accomplished if you want a great example of the Republican cult of economic failure.

    The fact of the matter is that Republican administrations have a long record of leaving economic messes on the order of magnitude of the Augean Stables for Democratic administrations to clean up.

    Now, none of that is to say that Democrats are blameless in the economic woes of your country and they surely need to atone for some misguided policies. But, to think that Republicans are the better economic stewards is, quite simply, sheer ignorance.

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