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Larry Donnelly If we had no Trump or Biden for 2024 - who would the potential candidates be?

Our columnist says despite the expected rerun of the 2020 elections with Biden and Trump, it’s worth asking if there are any alternatives.

IN MEDIA CIRCLES, August is often described as the silly season. It is a month when many people take holidays and try to enjoy a period of rest and relaxation prior to September and going back to the daily grind or to school or university. Some engage in wistful thinking about the real world they are on a brief sabbatical from.

I have been doing a bit of that, and much of it stems from a question I keep asking myself: What if neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden were seeking to be the next President of the United States?

screen-shots-of-the-cnn-website-live-coverage-of-u-s-presidential-debate-between-president-donald-trump-and-former-vice-president-joe-biden Alamy Stock Photo Screen shots of the CNN website live coverage of U.S. Presidential Debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice-President Joe Biden. Alamy Stock Photo

Leaving aside one’s ideological viewpoint or personal grá for either man, let’s imagine that the 77-year-old and 80-year-old white males decided against a bid to return to the White House. They had ample reason to do so. First, they are two prominent members of the elderly cadre of American political figures who cling to power in a country that, truth be told, they cannot fully relate to anymore.

Two challenging positions

Trump could have calculated that an early announcement that he would forego standing a third time might have halted the multiple investigations that have precipitated criminal indictments at the federal and state levels.

august-3-2023-new-york-city-new-york-usa-a-donald-trump-impersonator-gestures-near-a-protest-outside-trump-tower-in-new-york-city-former-president-trump-pleaded-not-guilty-to-trying-to-overturn Alamy Stock Photo August 3, 2023, New York City, A Donald Trump impersonator gestures near a protest outside Trump Tower in New York City. Former President Trump pleaded not guilty to trying to overturn the results of his 2020 election loss in federal court in Washington, DC. Alamy Stock Photo

Love him or loathe him, he is not entirely wrong when he claims that politics lurks behind the animus of the prosecutors, even if three of the four cases – I have serious doubts about the New York indictment – are meritorious.

Had Trump chosen to pull the plug on a 2024 campaign, myriad considerations may have led to the dogs being called off.

As well as the legitimate concerns of his party colleagues regarding his capacity to serve four more years in the most demanding job on the planet, Biden could have reflected upon the plight of his troubled son, Hunter. Whatever the legalities and the lurid, unfounded accusations hurled by conservative agitators, President Biden has undeniably exhibited extremely poor judgment with respect to Hunter’s past dealings.

wilmington-united-states-30th-july-2023-son-of-us-president-joe-biden-robert-hunter-biden-seen-leaving-attorneys-office-after-giving-deposition-thursday-june-29-2023-in-wilmington-delaware Alamy Stock Photo Wilmington, United States. 30th July, 2023. Son of US President Joe Biden, Robert Hunter Biden, seen leaving attorneys office after giving deposition Thursday, June 29, It's part of the civil lawsuit brought by Delaware computer repair shop owner John Paul Mac Isaac. Alamy Stock Photo

They are being examined with a fine toothcomb at present and will be further scrutinised in the months ahead. If the president declared in 2023 that he would not be a candidate for re-election, it is improbable that rumours about the Biden family would be to the fore in right-wing news outlets.

Moreover, because they would have seen him as a senior statesman who was uniquely qualified to extricate the nation from the morass of the Trump tenure and who then had the good grace to step aside for the next generation, President Biden would have been lionised by progressives. Now, the best that a solid majority of Democrats will say about him is that he is better than the alternative.

But Biden and Trump could not be dissuaded. Consequently, Americans and those who track events in the US are staring down the barrel of an ugly, uninspiring rematch. Again, though, what if good sense had prevailed?

Who else could do it?

On the Democratic side, Vice President Kamala Harris would virtually certainly have pursued the nomination with the blessing of her boss. As a woman of colour, she would have a strong appeal to key constituencies in the primaries.

california-attorney-general-kamala-harris Alamy Stock Photo Kamala Harris Alamy Stock Photo

Yet the fact is that her approval ratings remain incredibly low. In 2020, she began her campaign to be the Democrats’ standard-bearer with a bang and sank speedily. Reportage of an alleged likability deficit, perhaps linked to enduring misogyny, would follow Harris from start to finish.

President Biden’s Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, came from nowhere on the last occasion to be a significant factor in the early Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary. He was crushed in the South Carolina Primary, where the voters are far more diverse, and disappeared thereafter. Iowa and New Hampshire no longer play such a pivotal role and it is hard to see him garnering traction.

California Governor Gavin Newsome has been touted by Democratic strategists as “bright, charismatic and passionate” and, in his role, has had to grapple with and resolve abundant complexities in the huge US state. At 55, he is both young and experienced. He would be formidable.

california-gov-gavin-newsom-speaks-during-a-press-conference-relating-to-the-opening-of-a-state-and-federal-mass-vaccination-site-set-up-on-the-campu Alamy Stock Photo California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference relating to the opening of a state and federal mass vaccination site. Alamy Stock Photo

Ultimately, being the CEO of California, seen increasingly by very many Americans as a dysfunctional state, is a two-edged sword and his foes would have plenty of fodder for attacks.

I suspect that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer would swiftly have emerged as the woman to beat. She has an impressive back story, impeccable progressive credentials and a knack for working with GOP leaders.

in-this-image-from-the-democratic-national-convention-video-feedgovernor-gretchen-whitmer-democrat-of-michigan-makes-remarks-on-the-first-night-of-the-convention-on-monday-august-17-2020-credit Alamy Stock Photo In this image from the Democratic National Convention video feed,Governor Gretchen Whitmer (Democrat of Michigan) makes remarks on the first night of the convention on Monday, August 17, 2020. Alamy Stock Photo

Whitmer won re-election in something of a battleground state (Trump narrowly triumphed there in 2016) by a large margin. Polls indicate that she is also popular with crucial swing voters in Middle America.

As for the GOP, one wonders if Ron DeSantis would be way out in front of the pack if Trump weren’t in the race. In policy terms, he is the closest in tune with Trumpism.

florida-governor-ron-desantis-speaking-in-milton-florida-on-february-2-2023-usa Alamy Stock Photo Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking in Milton, Florida, on February 2, 2023. Alamy Stock Photo

In personality terms, he does not hold a candle to the man that the MAGA faithful believe to be their saviour. The unknown here is would anyone who opted out in deference to Trump – South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem springs to mind – have jumped in and captured the hearts and minds of Trump disciples?

It is nearly impossible to envisage how Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, or the ex-governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, each a quintessential yesterday’s man, would have caught fire. South Carolinians Tim Scott and Nikki Haley – the former a sitting US Senator and an African American, the latter the state’s former governor and a daughter of Indian immigrants – are both compelling, effective conservative messengers. They clearly tick the electability box for those Republicans who take the November general election into account when picking their favourite in the preliminary.

south-carolina-gov-nikki-haley-center-makes-a-surprise-appearance-at-a-town-hall-event-hosted-by-rep-tim-scott-r-s-c-left-for-republican-presidential-candidate-rep-michele-bachmann-r-minn Alamy Stock Photo South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, center, makes a surprise appearance at a town hall event hosted by Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., left, for Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., right, at Trident Technical College in North Charleston, S.C., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011. Alamy Stock Photo

Yes, Haley and Scott are candidates at the moment, yet in a Trump-free contest, they would face the same quandary: Are they too distant from Trumpism, equally in philosophy and disposition, to win over the grassroots? In the end, it just might be that, because he would still command unwavering loyalty and wield enormous influence, Donald Trump’s endorsement would be dispositive.

A 2024 US presidential election without Messrs Biden and Trump would not be perfect. Indeed, the same systemic and other deficiencies that afflict politics there would remain. And to be sure, those who would supplant the Democrat and the Republican have their own shortcomings.

That said, an April poll revealed that roughly 2/3 of Americans would prefer if Biden and Trump had bowed out. Thinking it through in late summer, I concur.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston lawyer, a Law Lecturer at the University of Galway and a political columnist with He is also a co-director of the Kennedy Summer School, an annual festival of Irish and American history, culture and politics. It will take place in New Ross, Co Wexford from 31 August to 2 September. For programme details and tickets, please see


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