The 2024 election begins as a high-stakes staring contest.
President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have both told aides and confidants that they’re more likely to run for the White House next cycle — and confident in their chances of winning — if the other runs, too. But as each camp gears up for a rematch of the bitterly contested 2020 contest, there remains a small hiccup: Neither is inclined to take the plunge first.
It’s a game of political chicken that — as described by more than a half dozen advisers to the two men — has largely frozen the field among Democrats and Republicans alike, raising questions about the future health of two parties being led by a pair of candidates who, by that Election Day, would have long ago celebrated their 75th birthdays.
“It’s a very unusual situation where there are people in both parties who would likely clear the field, and for the first time in modern history we might not have a very competitive primary on either side,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who was a senior adviser on Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential bid. “So it’s hard to think of what that would look like other than it being a brutally long election campaign.”
Inside the White House, for now, it’s all systems go for 2024. An official decision has not been made and may not for some time, according to three administration officials not authorized to discuss private deliberations. But Biden has repeatedly said he plans to seek reelection, and White House aides and Biden advisers are taking initial steps to mount a bid, believing he has a strong record and would overcome intraparty concerns about his age — on Election Day 2024 he will be just shy of 82 — and shaky poll numbers.
He has little choice to say otherwise; an admission that he was making himself a lame duck would dramatically curb his political power. Some Democrats have expressed private hope that Biden will make his final decision soon after this November’s midterms, giving the party plenty of time to prepare for what would likely be a wide-open primary if he opts not to run.
But presidents often wait until after the midterms to declare a reelection candidacy, in part because of the campaign finance restrictions that doing so would bring. On a personal level, moreover, acting promptly is not a Biden strength, sparking fear within the party that an announcement could be delayed until deep into 2023. The one factor that could hasten a decision and all but certainly ensure that Biden runs again: if Donald Trump says he will, too.
The current president has had repeated conversations with allies that he would need to run again to prevent Trump from reclaiming the Oval Office. Like he did in 2020, Biden views Trump as an existential threat to American democracy. And like he did in 2020, Biden thinks he’s the only one who can beat him. He plans to more aggressively target Trump as the midterm season approaches — both as a means of turning around his party’s standing for the midterms but also to set up a contrast for the future.
“This MAGA crowd is really the most extreme political organization that’s existed in recent American history,” Biden said on Wednesday.