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Donald Trump and Joe Biden are battling it out for another four year term. (Photos: Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden are battling it out for another four year term. (Photos: Getty Images)

PoliticsMay 16, 2024

Trump vs Biden round two: The 2024 US presidential election, explained

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are battling it out for another four year term. (Photos: Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden are battling it out for another four year term. (Photos: Getty Images)

With less than six months to go, it’s time to start paying attention to what could be the most consequential election of our lifetimes.

It’s less than half a year until election day in the United States, which makes this a good opportunity to review what’s happened thus far in the campaign and take a look at the key moments that lie ahead. Given that both the Republican and Democratic candidates are already locked in, this has been a relatively subdued election season. But with Donald Trump fighting to regain the White House (and to potentially stay out of jail), you can bet there’s still some major fireworks to come.

When’s the election? (And other dates for your diary)

The 2024 election is held on Tuesday, November 5, with the winner sworn into office on January 20, 2025. Other key dates for the diary include the presidential nominating conventions, where the candidate is officially selected and the election campaigns kick off for real. This year the Republican national convention runs from July 15-18 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while the Democratic national convention is August 19-22 in Chicago, Illinois. Three presidential debates were originally set to take place in September and October, but the draft schedule has now been abandoned by both candidates. Just this morning Biden and Trump announced they’d agreed to a CNN debate on June 27 and another on ABC on September 10. The CNN debate will be the earliest in presidential election history.

US President Joe Biden speaks to an audience on January 27, 2024 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Who’s in the race?

You know this one. With no challengers for his re-nomination, President Joe R Biden is running for a second term against a certain Donald J Trump. The former president made short work of his rivals in the Republican primaries, winning all the votes he needed for nomination by March 12. Also running for president is political scion, conspiracy theorist and brainworm victim Robert F Kennedy Jr. He says he already has enough signatures to get on the ballot in 13 states, but has plans to contest the election in all 50. His campaign for ballot access is is going surprisingly well.

Which states will matter?

While the national polls tend to hog the headlines, what really matters are the handful of swing (or “battleground”) states. By most reckons, this year there are just six states where the result is really in doubt: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (some analysts include a seventh, North Carolina). A New York Times/Siena poll this week has Trump ahead in five of the six, with Biden only leading in Wisconsin.

The issues that could swing the election

While history tells us that disaffected voters tend to “come home” to their party as the election draws nearer, the NYT poll clearly spells disaster for the Democrats unless something is done to stop their slide in support. The anti-Biden sentiment is particularly acute among young and nonwhite voters, two key pillars of the traditional Democratic coalition. Many of those polled cited the cost of living and war in Gaza as reasons for their disillusionment with Biden, but the malaise runs deeper than any single issue. “[V]oters in battleground states remain particularly anxious, unsettled and itching for change,” reports the paper. “Nearly 70 percent of voters say that the country’s political and economic systems need major changes – or even to be torn down entirely.” Biden’s age is also a major concern: a staggering 86% of respondents in a February poll said they believed he was too old to serve a second term. Biden is 81, three-and-a-half years older than Trump.

It’s not all bad news for Democrats. Vote-winning issues for Biden include the erosion of abortion rights in right-leaning states following the overturning of Roe vs Wade, the ongoing need for strong climate policy, and the serious threats to democracy posed by a second Trump term. Republican groups closely involved in the presidential campaign have released plans to overhaul the US government to permanently entrench Maga-conservative control should Trump win, and powerful Trump advisor Stephen Miller has said the new president would enact mass roundups of undocumented immigrants as one of his first orders of business.

Also in the plus column for Joe Biden: his money-raising efforts, which are blowing Team Trump out of the water. The Democrats’ huge fundraising totals will allow them to plaster the airwaves with ads touting Biden’s accomplishments so far and plans for a second term.

Former US President Donald Trump appears in court for opening statements in his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 22, 2024. (Photo: Yuki Iwamura-Pool/Getty Images)

What about Trump’s trials?

They’re not going to be as important an issue as first thought. While it seemed Donald Trump would be mired in multiple criminal cases throughout the pre-election period, it’s looking increasingly likely that all of them – other than the current business fraud/Stormy Daniels trial – will be delayed until after the election.

A Trump win in November would allow him to immediately cancel both the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case and the 2020 election interference case brought by special counsel Jack Smith. The second election interference case brought by Georgia district attorney Fani Willis could go ahead since it’s not a federal case, though Trump’s lawyer is already arguing it should be postponed until he leaves office in 2029.

And if he loses the election? All three cases will go to trial in 2025, and Trump is in for a whole world of legal pain.

Other races to watch

Whether it’s Trump or Biden in the White House, the president’s power will be constrained – or expanded – by the make-up of the new congress. A Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives would give a President Trump near-limitless control of the levers of government, so the down-ballot races matter a lot.

With a number of vulnerable incumbents facing voters this year, Democrats are unlikely to hold onto their slim majority in the Senate. They have a better chance to retake the House of Representatives, but a Trump win would likely mean a Republican blowout in the House too. One thing’s for sure, the Democratic Party has a hell of a fight on its hands over the next six months.

Catherine McGregor is the writer of the World Bulletin, a weekly global affairs newsletter exclusively for Spinoff Members

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