A presidential election that promises to be “crucial” for American democracy

Joe Biden, who wants to run for a second term under the Democratic banner, confirmed that democracy will be “more at risk in 2024”. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

The future of democracy could emerge as one of the central themes of the 2024 United States presidential election in the event of a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, according to observers of American politics.

Mr. Trump remains the favorite to be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. He recently suggested that he might abuse his powers once he returns to the White House to achieve certain goals.

Many are concerned about the 77-year-old’s potential authoritarian excesses if re-elected, starting with the current US president. Mr Biden, who wants to run for a second term under the Democratic banner, confirmed that democracy will be “more at risk in 2024”. According to him, the ex-president and his allies are trying to “destroy” democratic institutions.

History professor Jason Opal of McGill University believes that next November’s election will be “crucial” for the current constitutional arrangement of the United States.

“There is someone who says he does not respect the constitution, that he will hunt down or attack those who criticize him. (…) If he comes to power, (Trump) will certainly replace a very large number of federal government employees with his supporters. I have the impression that certain rights and freedoms are at risk,” says Mr. Opal, who specializes in American constitutionalism.

“His supporters are much more consistent. They have a plan to shake up the government, the federal state and target their enemies. “It’s unprecedented in American history to have a figure with such influence in this position,” he adds.

If the word “historic” is often used to describe the US presidential election, there is a risk that the qualifier will be reused to talk about the next race, says Frédérick Gagnon, holder of the Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies.

“Because if Trump comes back to power, we know a little bit about what to expect in the future. At the moment, we see his statements, we see his projects, we see who he wants to appoint around him as advisers,” says the director of the Observatory on the United States at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).

The specter of Donald Trump’s re-election scares many and could be “very mobilizing for Biden,” Mr. Gagnon believes.

“When we did field surveys in the United States during the 2022 election, there were a lot of Democratic voters who basically told us they were worried about the future of American democracy,” the researcher recounts.

Many Democrats unhappy with the nation’s 46th president could therefore rally behind him to block Mr. Trump’s path, Mr. Gagnon continues.

Mr. Biden has already begun to reorient his message to the defense of democracy, while his speeches about his economic history inspire little enthusiasm among residents, the UQAM researcher notes.

In addition to democracy, the economy, inflation and the right to abortion will also be crucial topics of the presidential campaign.

Mr. Opal also identifies “Obamacare,” the health insurance program signed into law under President Barack Obama in 2010.

Mr. Trump recently said he wants to replace the program, which he already tried to repeal when he was in charge of the United States.

“Democrats will bring it up all the time. They will say; “We Democrats, we’re going to protect, we’re going to expand, we’re going to continue to support Obamacare while Trump dismantles it,” Mr. Opal suggests, specifying that the policy is gaining strong support among the population, even among Republicans.

Fear of violence

The prospect of seeing acts of violence during and after the presidential campaign worries two observers of American politics.

“Trump is never trying to unite Americans, to ease tensions.” He likes to amplify divisions, stir up anger and spread rumors or conspiracies,” says Mr Opal.

The episode of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 leaves a bad sign if the race ends with results as close as four years ago, Mr. Gagnon points out for his part.

“If it is, for example, several tens of thousands of votes in one state of the country, we can imagine that kind of crisis. And then we might go weeks without knowing who the president is. There could be violent clashes, he mentions. It’s a country that remains fragile.”

And Canada is very interested in monitoring the situation with its southern neighbors, adds Mr. Gagnon.

“Because if the situation in the United States goes badly in the next few years after the election, it could affect us. The vast majority of our international exports go to the United States. Our economy depends a lot on what happens in the United States,” he explains.

On the way to the primaries

The coming months will confirm whether Americans will indeed witness a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The Democratic and Republican primaries—the process of choosing each camp’s candidate for the White House—will take place during 2024.

Among Republicans, Mr. Trump is gaining a large share of support and is dominating his rivals, according to various polls.

In the coming weeks and months, however, we will have to watch the fallout from the recent ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court that declared Mr. Trump ineligible to run for president in 2024 because of his role in the attack on the Capitol. Maine’s secretary of state made a similar decision Thursday, but the matter will likely be up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The trials and the 91 felonies he faces haven’t hurt Mr. Trump much so far. On the contrary, the trial allowed him to shore up the support of his supporters by claiming to be the victim of a “witch hunt” and occupying media space, Mr. Gagnon analyzed.

However, a New York Times poll published last November suggests a drop in voting intentions if Mr. Trump were convicted of a crime; in the presidential election, he would lose an average of six points in six key states, the UQAM researcher suggests.

In the Democratic ranks, Mr. Biden does not yet appear to be under threat. Democratic bigwigs considered serious candidates to succeed the president have decided to remain loyal to him.

But Mr Opal believes doubts remain about the possibility of the current president stepping down from the race due to his 81-year-old age and health.

In light of the recent statement, he said, at least “the question” is being asked. Mr. Biden said he would be less confident about running again if Trump were not the nominee.

That may have been a response to Democrats who think he should step down and to polls showing low job satisfaction.

“Biden says a lot that he was actually the candidate to beat Trump in 2020. And he still remains the best candidate to beat him,” Gagnon says.

Frédéric Lacroix-Couture, The Canadian Press

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