Less than one year to the U.S November 5, 2024 presidential elections, so much furore and fuss have trailed the lead-up to that epoch event. The race started with 15 contenders, widened to 18, before drawing down to 13 as of December 1, 2023, with three Democrats, seven Republicans and three independents.
Not surprisingly, the election is shaping up to be like no other in US history, because the gladiators are apparently desperate. It is only the sixth time in US history that former presidents are facing off in a presidential poll. Their political maneuvers have forced experts to draw parallels between US politics and Africa’s mesmeric democratic experiences in terms of intrigues, opposition persecution, mudslinging and political scandals.
Donald Trump is a leading Republican candidate, yet, unprecedentedly, he faces four criminal indictments involving, first, attempts to upturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections in Georgia. Secondly, Trump is indicted for instigating the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riots that also sought to thwart his loss in the 2020 elections.
His third offence relates to retaining, and obstructing federal agents from retrieving, classified documents from his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago. Fourth, he is accused of falsifying business records by not disclosing the payment of hush money to former adult film star, Stormy Daniels. The money is related to campaign funding.
Altogether, the four criminal charges have at least 91 counts of felony that, upon conviction, carry a jail term of over 400 years and/or billions of dollars in fine or both. Trump is now listed as a prison mate at the Fulton County Jail, where he appeared on August 24 in connection with an attempt to change the 2020 presidential election results. He has the prison number – P01135809. Many of the cases will go on in 2024, and are set to coincide with and overshadow Republican presidential campaigns.
More of Trump’s Indictments
Like Trump, Biden was caught in the act of keeping classified documents, some of them dating back to his time as senator and vice president. He was however hugely reported to have willingly allowed federal agents access to the documents in June. On the contrary, Trump allegedly tried to obstruct access as well as lied about the classified nature of the documents. The media is awash with Trump’s criminal charges, perhaps far more than on Biden’s, including the September 14 indictment of Hunter Biden, son of President Biden, by prosecutors on gun charges.
Perhaps, that was why Trump has often called out the media and Democrats for what he sees as political witch-hunting. At a recent campaign rally in Wisconsin, Trump said: ‘We are standing up against some of the most menacing forces, entrenched interests, and vicious opponents our people have ever seen. A friend of mine recently said that I was the most persecuted person in the history of our country. When I thought about it, I actually felt that he may very well be right.’
Is Trump the Only One?
While Trump’s travails make history in the US, it is not unheard of that former world leaders faced political troubles in and out of office. France, South Korea, Italy, Brazil and almost every African country have had past leaders who not only faced criminal charges, but were also convicted in court and sentenced to jail terms. Silvio Berlusconi, four-time Italian Prime Minister and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) of Brazil emerged from prison sentences to presidential power.
Barbara Perry, a presidential historian at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia recalls that President Ulysses S. Grant was technically the first President to be arrested for speeding on a horse and buggy in 1872. Even though Perry also recalls that President Richard Nixon stepped down in 1974 following the Watergate scandal, he thinks the case of Trump compares to no other president in terms of the gravity of scandal. Bill Clinton was sued while in Office for a sexual harassment he allegedly committed when he was governor of Arkansas. The suit eventually unveiled a scandal in which Clinton, as president, had a two-year affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. The inquiry into the case led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives in December 1998, before an eventual February 1991 acquittal by the Senate. Trump was actually impeached twice while in Office, and twice he was acquitted. While Trump is hoping to number among former leaders who survived grim political persecution, some are projecting that Trump could continue his campaign from the prison, if convicted.
The Scandals and Approval Ratings
Like Clinton, Trump hopes that the scandals will not affect his approval rating. Trump has also made some winning start to some of his trials. For instance, in two similar cases in Colorado and Minnesota, the judges held that he cannot be barred from the presidential ballot in the two states in November next year based on the January 6 riots. A CNN September poll shows that about half of registered voters (46%) say that any Republican presidential nominee would be preferable to Biden in 2024, though Biden’s and Trump’s favorability ratings stand at just 35%.
As of December 2023, the CNN reported that Biden continued to trail Trump in the polls. Biden’s job rating stands at 39%, economic rating is at 42%, while 70% say that things are going badly, and 67% wish that the Democrats should not nominate Biden. A late November poll by the NBC had returned Biden’s worst ever numbers, with a 40 percent approval rating hinged mainly on Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. Experts are saying that future polls will be driven by current or future wars, especially the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the likelihood of Russia attacking a NATO member, and the responses of the US to rising Chinese pressures on Taiwan. Voters apprehensive of US involvement in external conflicts may move further away from any candidate seen to be showing support for war and military aid to warring parties. It is widely believed that President Jimmy Carter lost reelection due to a hostage crisis in 1979, while Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 is largely thought to be responsible in large part for his re-election failure in 2020.
For Biden, re-election may also be impacted his many gaffes and physical instability such as falling face down on a stage while returning to his sit after a speech at an Air Force Academy Graduation Ceremony in Colorado Springs in June. Biden is known to often mix up his statements such as happened in September when he confused the Congressional Black Caucus for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Despite the odds, as they were in 2016, Trump remains a leading candidate among the Republican contenders, with his choking hold on the party grassroots and the wide divisions among party voters on a better alternative to Trump. Fearfully though, with the rising level of uncertainties, some experts are predicting that independent candidates may just rise to upstage the two major parties. Independents, that is, candidates affiliated to no parties, can win enough votes in swing states to hurt the chances of any of the major parties. Such a thing happened in 1992 when Ross Perot won 19% of the votes, which derailed the likely victory of Republicans. Similarly, the Green party’s Ralph Nader in 2000 won 97,488 votes in Florida. This also negatively affected the chances of Republicans, and helped George Bush (jnr.) to win the presidency. The same party undid Hilary Clinton in 2016, when it votes cut the tallies expected by the Democratic candidate.
Race and Colour
The 2024 presidential election is also certainly being fought on the grounds of race, with many social media advertisements targeting people of colour. The votes of African Americans, Asians and the Latinos have become increasingly important in deciding who occupies the oval office. A Pew research indicates that between 2018 and the 2022 midterm elections, Latino eligible voters increased by 16% in comparison to Black, and Asian voters, which rose by 2% and 9% respectively. Latino votes accounted for 12% of the total tallies in the 2020 elections.
All the candidates are seeking to make gains, especially in terms of comments, promises and programmes bordering on racism, religion, immigration, healthcare and wages. On July 21, Florida governor, Ron-Desantis, who is challenging Trump for the Republican ticket, tried to show that slavery had some benefits for the blacks. Both Trump and the Democrats attacked him for the comment. In fact, on July 25, President Biden announced a national monument for Emmett Till, a Black teen viciously slaughtered in 1955. Biden denounced those who attempted to pursue “darkness and denialism” in an attempt to “bury history”. Currently, the polls show that Biden has his most following from people of colour (58%), while keeping his eyes on Latinos men, who tended to support Trump more in 2020 than in 2016.
As the gladiators make tactical moves to gun down the opponent, the race is still seen as neck and neck, especially because most of the voters who are rejecting Biden do not necessarily see a viable alternative in Trump. But in a year’s time, the result of all the electoral permutations will get to show if America is embracing more of Africa’s dreaded political credentials or improving on its perennial showing as the world’s bastion of democracy.
Dr Mbamalu, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Jefferson Fellow and Communications/Media Consultant.
Follow him on X: @marcelmbamalu