The state visit by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with President Joe Biden is a celebration of enduring mateship. Their core beliefs are fully shared: for democracy, freedom and promoting peace, security and stability in the world. At home: economic growth and employment, higher wages, nation-building infrastructure, healthcare, education, clean energy, childcare, dignity for seniors. Racial justice and equity. Equality for women. Tolerance and inclusiveness. In AUKUS they trust.
The presidential election is a year from now. As world leaders engage with this president, there is an overhang: will Biden still be in power in 2025? The conventional wisdom in Washington is yes. 2024 will be Biden v Trump. Biden wins.
But the conventional wisdom is often wrong. Trump truly shocked in 2016. Joe Biden in 2020 was on the canvas after brutal early primary defeats but came back to seal victory. In 2022, Florida governor Ron DeSantis was to be the Trump-killer, “Trump without the baggage.” But in 2023, DeSantis has been left behind in the dust.
Will Biden still be in power in 2025? The conventional wisdom in Washington is yes. 2024 will be Biden v Trump. Biden wins. But the conventional wisdom is often wrong.
Will Biden be the Democratic nominee?
The age issue is not going away. Despite Biden’s exemplary leadership on Ukraine and Israel and big legislative wins that outfox Republicans in Congress, most Americans do not want Biden to run again. Many Democrats fear this issue. Biden’s approval is stuck at 40 per cent. While he has no credible challenger, and has outraised Trump in campaign dollars, there are two wildcards in his hand.
This coming Christmas will be the last normal family get-together until after the election, a final moment of reflection to weigh all Biden wants to accomplish and the gruelling year ahead. While Biden is committed to run, the holiday season is a window for a final gut check.
There is also an echo from history. Biden has defined what is at stake in Ukraine and Israel and across the globe: Democracy is threatened. Fifty-five years ago, a Democratic president facing re-election, Lyndon B Johnson, spoke to the nation:
“I have concluded that I should not permit the presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year … With America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office – the presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”
To defeat Russia and Hamas and help bring a two-state solution to Palestine, to manage China and the Indo-Pacific, Biden may ponder to choose, like Johnson, to devote the rest of his presidency to those causes, sealing his legacy as an exceptionally successful president at home who restored American leadership in the world.
Will Trump be the Republican nominee?
By any laws of political gravity, Trump should be finished – disgraced and excoriated. But he is the prohibitive frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Trump enjoys more than 60 per cent support from Republican voters. Trump has convinced his base that, by persecuting him with indictments, the Biden deep state is coming after Trump’s voters too. So when DeSantis and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and others attack Trump, they are attacking Trump’s voters. That makes it harder to wrest the nomination away from Trump.
But if – a big if – DeSantis or Haley can stagger Trump in the first two primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, Trump will begin to lose altitude. How far might he fall?
The political calendar runs weeks ahead of the legal calendar of trials Trump faces. Twenty-seven state primaries and the lion’s share of delegates needed to win the nomination will be decided by 19 March. The earliest verdict in any of the criminal trials will not come until at least 1 May. If Trump wins the nomination, but then becomes a convicted felon and implodes under the incessant pressure, will the Republican Party take the nomination away from him? No one has seen that movie before.
Will Biden win the election?
Most polls today show Biden even with or slightly ahead of Trump. But polls a year out are hardly indicative of what will happen. With Republicans seen as extremist on abortion, guns and culture-war issues, and damningly chaotic in governance, Biden should win by holding the Democratic vote and carrying moderate Republican voters who have had enough of Trump. Biden knows he can beat Trump again.
But there is a potential intersection of the wars overseas and the economy at home that could tip the election.
If the worst unfolds, with Gaza exploding into a regional war with Iran, and the Ukraine war stalemated, the world economy could, by next year, be in sharp reverse. The president owns the economy and Biden could face an electorate deeply insecure and fearful of the future and ripe for withdrawal from the world. In other words, ripe for Trump’s populism and America First.
Anthony Albanese will still be PM in 2025. The conventional wisdom is that he will still be working with his ally, the wise and deeply experienced president who has all his marbles, knows exactly what he wants to achieve and will be re-elected in 2024. Maybe. Maybe not.