U.S. presidential election campaign: News and notes

The presidential campaign being waged south of the border remains one of the strangest ones in history. Photo Credit: AP News.

The presidential campaign being waged south of the border remains one of the strangest ones in history. Significant portions of the Democratic Party and a majority of the general population remain skeptical about President Joe Biden’s mental capacity. Meanwhile, large swaths of the general population and a lot of Republicans have grave reservations about former president Donald Trump’s moral capacity. Notwithstanding, nine months out from the Nov. 5 election, these are the two de facto nominees for the major political parties in the United States. 

In the latest betting odds based on the top five wagering agencies (BetUS, Bovada, Predictit, Smarkets, and Sportingbet), Biden’s chances of being the Democratic nominee have slipped to 60 per cent. The next three favourites are former first lady Michelle Obama at 15 per cent, California Governor Gavin Newsome at 9.8 per cent, and Vice President Kamala Harris at 7.4 per cent. The fact that the sitting vice-president ranks as the third preferred alternative candidate stands as one of the most massive political indictments of all time. In Bovada, Biden’s chances dip as low as 55 per cent. Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report greased the wheels on the dump Biden train, but the train was already moving down the track. 

Despite Biden’s perceived weaknesses and troubles, Trump’s average lead in the general election polls remains small. At Real Clear Politics, Trump’s lead over Biden is 1.9 per cent. Trump comes in at 45.9 per cent, in his usual 45 to 47 per cent range. Biden’s number looks to be at about 43.8 per cent. Trump has a lead but does not seem capable of climbing up to or above 50 per cent. The race remains unsettled, and anyone thinking Trump has the election in the bag had better prepare for a surprise on election night.  

On Feb. 13, a special election in New York’s 3rd District between Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip and Democrat Tom Suozzi was held to replace the expelled George Santos. The Democrat, Suozzi, came out on top. His win allowed the Democrats to increase their total to 213 seats. The Republicans presently hold 219, but as recently as last week, could not get enough votes together to impeach Department of Homeland Security Head Alejandro Mayorkas. If a small group of GOP members from a more moderate area of the nation decides to dodge a tough vote, the GOP advantage cannot withstand defections. If the problem worsens, there remains a chance that Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader, could become Speaker before the fall elections. Nothing characterizes the Trump era more than this kind of intra-party dysfunction. 

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s decision to stay in the race baffles many people in the Republican Party. A deeper consideration should not surprise anyone. Haley knows she has little chance of ever being acceptable to the MAGA contingent, so trying to stay viable as a vice presidential candidate or keeping her options open for 2028 seems futile. 

Haley genuinely dislikes Trump and his brand. Her years as his UN Ambassador seem distant and implausible. The youthful former governor of South Carolina presents an attractive and more hopeful message than the retributive one of Mr. Trump. She likes campaigning, believes that Trump’s time has passed, and has a passionate following among the 20 to 30 per cent of Republican voters who remain uncomfortable with the former president. 

When included in head-to-head matchups with Joe Biden, Haley usually performs better. In a CNN poll released on Feb. 2, she led the current president 52 per cent to 39 per cent. Generally speaking, she holds about a 3.6 per cent lead over Biden, almost doubling Trump’s lead. Haley appeals to independents and moderate Democrats who see Biden’s frailty and Harris’ charmless veneer. That may not sit well with MAGA, but it propels her to stay in and keep fighting. 

A quick perusal of Trump’s Truth Social account gives you a good idea of what the former president sees as his priorities. He believes he must focus on the November election but worries about Nikki Haley too much. Haley, trailing Trump in the upcoming primaries by 50 to 60 per cent, receives outsized criticism from the thin-skinned former president. Trump’s posts include his usual exaggerations (“The Radical Left Democrats want Nikki Haley because they know that she’s easy to beat. She’s straightforward to beat! Haley supports a 23 per cent national sales tax and wants to gut Medicare and Social Security). Trump never lets facts get in the way. 

The posts also suggest Trump has no intention of taking a second look at the ever-increasing budget outlays of the US Treasury. The time has passed when the GOP served as a balance to the tax and spend Democrats. In MAGA world, Trump’s approval of deficit spending means his followers fall in line.  

The much bally-hooed border legislation that Biden demanded did not pass muster with the Republican caucus. The proposed bill forced the Democrats to ask for enforcement powers they have never used in the past. On the other hand, if Biden was serious about getting Republican help he may have been better served acting like he cared about the border prior to asking for stricter ways to ensure that those entering illegally could be returned, asylum claims could be properly processed, and immigration officials could be allowed to do their job. 

We will not know Trump’s vice-presidential selection for some time, but his options have narrowed. The Trump Youth prefer Vivek Ramaswamy or Tucker Carlson. Oddschecker (claiming to be the world’s leading odds comparison site and partners with the biggest sportsbooks in the industry, including DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM) lists the favourites in this order: Representative Elise Stefanik, Governor Kristi Noem, Vivek Ramaswamy, Senator Tim Scott, Secretary Ben Carson, Ambassador Nikki Haley, Tucker Carlson, Kari Lake, Tudor Dixon, and Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Stefanik may get the nod. She is pushing hard and wants it, but her vote scorecard puts her in the party’s moderate wing. Senator Katie Britt of Alabama remains as a dark horse. 

The Supreme Court heard arguments about the Colorado ballot question. If the justices’ concerns mean anything, it appears a 9 to 0 or 8 to 1 vote will reject Colorado’s ruling and ensure that Trump will be allowed ballot access across the country. It never made sense that party politics would determine who could gain entry to state ballots. But the Democrats, unhinged about Trump, believe any action that prevents him from winning the presidency is justified, constitutional or not. The Supreme Court signalled otherwise. 

The Hur report will also ripple for weeks to come. Anyone who thinks this ends Biden’s efforts to seek re-election should recognize that no one can push a president out unless legal actions are underway. The report cleared the president of wrongdoing. Democrats are stuck. Unless Jill Biden has a change of heart or Biden suffers a debilitating illness, he will be the Democratic nominee. Biden stands alone as the only Democrat who could still entice the FDR coalition to turn out and vote. Michelle Obama and Gavin Newsome have never been tested nationally. Kamala Harris’s numbers are in the tank. In other words, short of an Act of God, the 2024 election will mirror 2020. 

Finally, Biden could do one decent thing right now. He could certify Secret Service protection for Nikki Haley and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Haley, the daughter of Indian-born parents, could provoke one of the crazies out there who don’t like an uppity daughter of an immigrant thinking she can stand up to the powers that be. RFK’s father died as the result of a bullet right after winning the California Democratic primary for president in 1968. Why Biden has not done so speaks to how petty the “poor elderly gentleman” can be. 

These are the latest developments as the voting heads to South Carolina. There are more twists and turns ahead, but predicting them seems too hazardous and grim. There are 259 days until Nov. 5. Buckle up, the ride will be bumpy, long, and unlikely to have a happy ending.  



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