The Double Haters Will Decide 2024 Race

Dr. Louis Perron
blog post louis

The general election is on. There is little doubt that it will be a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. I would therefore like to pass along a piece which was originally published on RealClearPolitics:

Elections with an incumbent are foremost a referendum on the incumbent. As two thirds of Americans think that their country is headed into the wrong direction and more than half of voters tell pollsters that they disapprove of the job incumbent President Joe Biden is doing, the 2024 election is for Republicans to lose.

In my new book Beat the Incumbent, I however warn candidates to solely rely on the weakness, failures and even scandals of an incumbent government. They are often not enough to bring down an incumbent government. As a focus group respondent once eloquently said: “voting for a challenger is like moving houses. Yes, you’re unhappy with the place you currently live in, but you want to know how the new house will look like.”   And that’s the problem for Republicans. Their likely nominee Donald Trump is as disliked as Joe Biden, and worse, he’s not new commodity as challengers otherwise often are. Most people have made up their minds about him and it’s much more difficult to change public opinion than to define it in the first place.  I always tell my clients that the best and in fact only starting point for effective campaign planning is brutal honesty. The reality is that being out on bail in four jurisdictions, Donald Trump is a deeply flawed general election candidate. 

So, the election is down to the so-called double haters, those who have an unfavorable opinion about both, Trump and Biden. The consequence of this is that if the focus will be on Joe Biden next year, Donald Trump will win. If the spotlight is on Donald Trump, however, Joe Biden has a chance to survive.  For any challenger, the first imperative is therefore to keep the focus on the incumbent. Voters are clearly unhappy with the status quo, Donald Trump and Republicans now need to make the case on why this is because of Joe Biden and his decisions. Don’t let them get away with it the way Barack Obama and his team avoided blame for economic dissatisfaction in 2012 and skillfully passed it on to George W. Bush.

The second imperative is to describe how the new house, respectively a second Trump term, would look like. Swing voters don’t care, or might even be turned off, by personal vendetta. Unless the conflicts in Ukraine and in the Middle East turn into World War III, the deciding issue will be as always, the economy. Voters used to credit Trump with economic competence, so there is something to work with. During the first three years of Donald Trump in the White House, the US economy did remarkably well. Republicans should take this record as a basis to actively renew and update their credibility on the economy. There has to be more in store to get out and vote for than the usual hackneyed claims of lower taxes and less bureaucracy.

In politics, the biggest strength of a candidate is often his biggest weakness. In that sense, the case of Donald Trump is nothing new, but it’s just more pronounced with 45. As enthusiastic his base might be (and the campaign should work on making them more enthusiastic and especially on turning them out to vote), Republicans have to come to terms with the fact that the base is not enough to win a general election under normal circumstances. While there are certainly less independents and swing voters than twenty or thirty years ago, there still are and they are still the ones to decide a general election. This means that Republicans and Trump have to do something that has become somewhat unfashionable in US politics, namely, to reach out in a meaningful way. In other words, Republicans have to offer voters the right amount of change and do so in the right tone. In terms of organization, Donald Trump is somebody who has always done everything on his own. But this is not the way to win a presidential campaign and nor can it be done by family. Having orchestrated political campaigns around the globe for more than a decade, I have come to realize the importance of discipline to manage resources and win elections. I can only warn Republicans about polls showing Trump leading Biden in battleground states. In terms of predicting the outcome of the election, polls are meaningless at this point in time. In fact, an early lead in the polls is a sweet poison putting candidates and their teams to sleep and keeping them from taking much needed action. Republicans have homework to do and if they don’t take drastic action now, they might blow it (again).

As mentioned above, this article was first published on RealClearPolitics.

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