A year from now, everything indicates that the 2024 elections will be a repeat of those of 2020, but with roles reversed: Donald Trump facing President Joe Biden.
There is a widespread sense of frustration that voters have the same choice to make, and that everything seems to be unfolding in a familiar pattern. Even the polls seem to indicate a neck-and-neck race.
But as any historian will tell you, anything can happen in one year to turn the race upside down. In 1979, a hostage crisis arguably cost President Jimmy Carter his re-election. And in 2020, a pandemic transformed the country.
A look back at four surprises that could change the course of this election.
What if an independent candidate gained momentum?
By Katty Kay
If you are neither a Republican nor a Democrat, your chances of becoming President of the United States are more than slim. But third-party candidates have shaken up elections in the past – and they could do so again in 2024.
In 1992, wealthy businessman Ross Perot won 19 percent of all votes cast and is often credited with leading the Republican presidential victory. In 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader won 97,488 votes in Florida, helping swing the swing state toward George W. Bush. And some say Green Party candidate Jill Stein hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
This election could see a similar upheaval. A senior U.S. politician I interviewed this week said the low approval ratings of President Biden and Republican front-runner Donald Trump could open the door to more players, and a recent Gallup poll suggests the same thing.
Two independent candidates have already entered the running. Progressive activist Cornel West, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who recently left the Democrats. Before his switch, polls suggested he could win the support of about 20 percent of Democratic voters. Now that he no longer has a party affiliation, Kennedy – who appeals to conspiracy voters – could also take votes away from Trump.
This election is likely to be close, so even a few votes for a third-party candidate could make a big difference.
What if one of them dies before Election Day?
By Nomia Iqbal
Yes, we hear it a lot: President Biden and former President Trump are old. On Inauguration Day 2025, Biden will be 82, Trump 78. There is no indication that either is in poor health, but what would happen if something happened to them in the run-up to the election?
Well, the answer depends on the timing.
If they become seriously ill or die by New Year’s Day 2024, many on both sides are ready to compete for the nomination. But it gets more complicated as states finalize their primary ballots.
If the worst happened in mid-October 2024, their name would still appear on the national ballot. According to the constitution, you can present yourself dead even if you cannot take the oath.
It’s happened before: In 2000, Mel Carnahan was running for U.S. Senate when he was killed in a plane crash on his way to a campaign event. He was elected posthumously and his widow, Jean, served until a special election was held in 2002.
If the winning candidate dies after Election Day, but before the inauguration, the vice president will take the oath of office in his or her place. They would then have to appoint a vice president to replace themselves – who would have to be approved by Congress.
It’s extremely complicated so let’s hope all the candidates stay healthy!
What if a foreign war escalates?
By Barbara Plett Usher
President Biden is running for re-election due to international crises – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s offensive against Hamas. Not to mention China’s growing military pressure on Taiwan’s airspace as a dangerous backdrop.
His team has tried to take political advantage of him, presenting him as a reliable commander in chief, and he scores relatively well in polls for his handling of the two hot wars. But worrying trends are already emerging for the president’s campaign: including a decline in support from the crucial constituency of young Democratic voters, angered by Biden’s strong support for Israel as Palestinian losses mount.
And if one of these wars spread beyond today’s borders – if Russia attacks a NATO member country, if armed groups allied with Iran join Hamas’s fight against Israel – it would shake up the calculations and would confuse the election year.
Would the United States be sidelined, where it currently has a deterrent force?
Would international chaos hurt the prospects of Biden’s likely rival, Donald Trump? Or would Trump get a boost from voters weary of funding and – perhaps – engaged in foreign wars again?
Many factors are beyond their control, especially in the Middle East. This is not a good position for a presidential candidate.
What if Donald Trump went to prison?
By Gary O’Donoghue
The former president faces 91 criminal charges in four separate trials, all of which are expected to take place next year.
Potential maximum sentences amount to hundreds of years in prison, but few legal experts think that is likely even if convicted.
Trump’s lawyers tried unsuccessfully to delay the trials until after the election. They know that winning the election would likely result in a four-year delay, because most legal opinions rule out prosecuting a sitting president other than through impeachment by Congress.
If he goes to jail before the election, there’s no reason he still can’t win it.
Being a convicted felon doesn’t stop him from running for president: 100 years ago, a candidate received nearly a million votes behind bars. This would clearly hamper any election campaign, but polls suggest many Republican voters would not be deterred.
If elected from prison, he might be able to pardon himself from any federal convictions, but if he is imprisoned in either state case, he would have no power to do the same. This raises the bizarre possibility of being president while in prison.
We are in truly unprecedented territory, and even the best legal minds in the country are scratching their heads.