How I Learned to Love the Rerun Election

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When our pollsters recently asked voters how they felt about the coming election, they heard words that could also describe rancid garbage, personal regret or a meteor headed for Earth.

Stinks. Ashamed. DOOMED.

“Lousy,” offered Joe Ruddach, 61, the owner of auto and coffee businesses who lives in Spokane, Wash., when I called him last week. He added words like “anxious” and “stressed” for good measure.

“I wish they could get younger people,” he said with a sigh, “or someone that could bring people together.”

I’m the new host of this newsletter, and I get it. The rematch between President Biden and former President Donald Trump feels inherently tired, or perhaps inescapably depressing. The primaries ended quickly; the campaign trail is quiet. Both men are broadly unpopular. More Americans see the contest as bad for the country than good, and a full 30 percent of registered voters in the latest New York Times/Siena College poll said they felt scared or apprehensive.

Election dread is real and bipartisan, although Republicans seem to view things a bit more brightly than Democrats. Whatever your politics, you might be tempted to tune out this presidential election completely.

But today — notwithstanding the fact that it is April 1 — I am here to make the case for the 2024 election, which I think will be as captivating, revealing and far-reaching as any in recent history, one that might turn less on the candidates we know than the voters who will choose them.

This is no Nick at Nite rerun. This is a prime-time sequel, with real-life consequences.

I will acknowledge that it was not easy to find people who are eager to encourage optimism about 2024.

Some laughed at me. Others rolled their eyes. Even Marianne Williamson, the positive-thinking guru and long-shot presidential candidate who actually returned to the 2024 field after briefly dropping out, described the race in dark terms.

“It’s positive that people are disgusted,” she told me.

But Amy Walter, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the smart and nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said there was much more to the election than meets the eye.

“This election feels like a frozen pond, where it looks kind of boring, but underneath there’s a lot going on,” Walter said. “What’s happening underneath it is really the story.”

Sure, Biden and Trump are both aging, white, former or current presidents. But they are astonishingly different candidates, and this race won’t be a personality contest or a beauty pageant.

Both men have been clear about who they are, what they want to do and how deeply their second terms would diverge.

An indicted former president who wants to consolidate his power, punish his enemies and transform American life is challenging an old-guard incumbent who says he is democracy’s last line of defense. It’s a clash playing out amid extraordinary circumstances.

Biden is an internationalist and institutionalist, who would spend a second term aiming to complete unfinished agenda items from his first. Trump is an iconoclast who delights in violating boundaries, sought to overturn his 2020 election loss, and would use a second term to seek retribution and reimagine the government.

Whatever issue you care most about — be it abortion rights, democracy, taxes, immigration or the economy — will be shaped by the result.

What’s more, Trump is the only person to ever run for president while facing four criminal indictments. Aside from the innate drama of a campaign, his trials add extraordinary suspense, turning his quest for a second term into a race against the clock.

Our familiarity with Biden and Trump means this election is less likely to turn on any new revelation about the candidates, and more likely to be driven by the feelings and attitudes of the electorate. That means voters and the issues they care about have never been more important, and I’m dying to get out on the road and hear all about it.

Strategists in both major parties are obsessing over how to reach voters they have either taken for granted or written off.

Democrats are worrying about young voters, who are the least likely of any age group to express feelings of hope or excitement about the election, according to our poll. Trump and the G.O.P. are working to make inroads with Black and Latino voters, especially men, well aware that even a slight shift in swing states could decide the election.

Even in a field that might feel calcified, voters have already made their voices heard by laying bare the weaknesses of each candidate.

Nikki Haley’s performance in the primaries showed a significant swath of the Republican Party is uncomfortable with Trump. And many Democratic primary voters chose “uncommitted” over Biden to register their displeasure with his support for Israel in its war in Gaza, forcing his administration to dispatch officials to speak with Arab American voters and to acknowledge their concerns more directly — even if they have yet to satisfy them.

Both parties are also nervously watching third-party candidates like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and working hard to mobilize their core supporters.

And having big, bad feelings about an election doesn’t mean voters will stay home. Political scientists know that loathing motivates voters just as much as loyalty. The first season of Biden vs. Trump, in 2020, drew the highest voter turnout of any presidential election in more than 100 years, and high turnouts during the midterm and special elections since then give no indication that the pattern won’t continue this year.

Last week, in a bawdy interview with Maureen Dowd, the Democratic strategist James Carville, 79, declared the 2024 election to be the only one “in my lifetime where it’s about yesterday, not tomorrow.”

This is a transitional election, the likely last stand for a pair of presidents who have run seven times for the job between them.

Both candidates keep fairly light campaign schedules, compared with previous presidential elections, which owes partly to their competing commitments — Biden has to president and Trump has frequent court dates — and may also reflect the reality of their advanced age.

That dynamic has created ample room for surrogates to test their skills and their messages, making this race an excellent way to see which way both parties — and the country — are going. It will also introduce new supporting characters who could one day play a starring role.

Democrats will spotlight rising-star governors like Andy Beshear of Kentucky, Wes Moore of Maryland, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. There are also ascendant progressives like Representative Ro Khanna of California and Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia.

Among the Republicans, we have Trump’s long list of potential vice-presidential contenders as well as other party stars. They include Republicans who have made themselves in his image, like Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio or Representative Elise Stefanik of New York against those, like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who are trying to walk a slightly finer line.

Down-ballot races sometimes get eclipsed by the fight at the top of the ticket, but I don’t think that’s going to happen this year. We’ll be able to pay close attention to the fights for the Senate and the House, plus governors’ races and beyond, watching how candidates define themselves and their parties, and handle the thorny issues voters care most about.

And at the end of the day, this race has elimination-round energy. Each candidate, old as he may be, is hoping to vanquish the other for good.

Even the double-haters can take some solace in knowing that one of the candidates they don’t like will lose — and that this exact matchup can’t possibly happen a third time.

Right?

If you’re like me, and you’re enthused by this year’s election, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m asking readers: What about this year’s election cycle excites you? Perhaps it is a candidate, a local initiative, or a personal connection to one of the issues. If you’d like to share your thoughts, you can fill out this form.

I may use your response in an upcoming newsletter. We will not publish any part of your response without contacting you first.



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