Commentary: Many alternatives to Trump, Biden | Opinion columns

Donald Trump is reportedly preparing an early announcement of his 2024 candidacy. The White House insists President Joe Biden will seek re-election.

But many leading figures in both the Republican and Democratic parties are behaving like they don’t think either will eventually show up – or think they’re eminently beatable.

And early moves suggest the two parties could face free-for-all nomination fights like the GOP in 2016 and the Democrats in 2020, starting the day after the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

Among Republicans, Trump has clearly sought to preempt the terrain by raising a multimillion-dollar war chest, picking candidates in numerous GOP primaries, and campaigning as if it were already 2024.

But doubts about his true intentions, continued threats of legal action and concerns over the negative aspects of his potential candidacy have always meant Republicans are likely to have the kind of contest faced by parties without an incumbent president.

Although polls show the former president starting out as the person to beat, his potential opponents include many of his closest former aides – including former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

They are far from the only ones. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, touted in recent polls as Trump’s closest rival, pointedly refused to say he would back down if the former president ran. Incumbent Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, an anti-Trump moderate, has not ruled out a run. Nor is Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, perhaps the former president’s most outspoken GOP foe.

And a staggering number of GOP senators and governors have gone the usual route that would-be candidates take to help fellow Republicans in such crucial states as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

The Democratic outlook for 2024 is even more complicated: the party has a weak incumbent who promises to run for a second term – and an unstable nomination schedule.

But Biden’s vows aren’t deterring other candidates, though most of their moves are more covert than overt.

The reasons are obvious: Biden’s age (he would be 86 at the end of a second term); his unpopularity (job approval below 40); and widespread opposition to his new candidacy (a New York Times poll this week showed more than half of Democrats oppose his re-election bid — though it also showed him beating Trump) .

Those making unspoken open moves in 2024 include two prominent big state governors — Gavin Newsom of California and JB Pritzker of Illinois — and a member of Biden’s own cabinet, the transportation secretary and Pete Buttigieg also headed in 2020.

Newsom, facing little re-election opposition in November, recently took the unusual step of airing an anti-DeSantis TV ad in Florida. He urged Floridians to fight GOP efforts to curb freedom with legislation limiting classroom speech and abortions — or move to California to find it.

DeSantis responded in kind, criticizing California’s lockdown policies during the COVID-19 pandemic and accusing Newsom of treating his own state’s citizens “like peasants.”

Pritzker, who recently campaigned for his fellow Democrats in the first state primary of New Hampshire and Maine, provided a stark contrast to Biden’s more restrained response to the recent spate of gun killings, saying he was “furious” and demanding action. Like Newsom, he is heavily favored for re-election in November.

Any list of potential 2024 hopefuls would also include two other Democratic governors – Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Roy Cooper of North Carolina – and a former governor – Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Pritzker isn’t the only potential 2024 contender making the trip to New Hampshire. Two others who showed up last time, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, were also there.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg’s cabinet position provides an integrated government platform from which to tour the country, touting the job-creating projects launched by last year’s massive bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, also took political action. He moved to Traverse City, Michigan, the hometown of his husband, Chasten, apparently because Chasten’s parents could help provide child care for their recently adopted twins.

Of course, Michigan, a swing state that often votes for Democrats, might provide a better launch pad for future political endeavors than heavily Republican Indiana. And it could end in one of the first primaries.

Buttigieg also reactivated his political action committee to help Democratic candidates at risk this year. And he was the highest-ranking Democrat to attend a Democratic National Committee finance board meeting this spring in South Carolina.

The most obvious Democratic alternative to Biden, of course, is his vice president, former California senator Kamala Harris. She had a difficult year politically, given the negative stories about her personnel problems and her lack of influence within the administration.

But the Supreme Court’s decision overturning its Roe v. Wade gives him a powerful platform to campaign on this fall, highlighting an important issue for Democrats that could help them counter a potential GOP tide.

Still, Democrats expect Harris to face opposition if she seeks to succeed Biden in 2024. And while age could be a factor in deterring the candidacy of Biden, an aide to the Vermont senator, Bernie Sanders said the Vermont independent could also enter an open race in 2024, although he is still older than the president.

Until the November 8 midterm elections, expect a continuation of the 2024 shadow campaign. But once the results are in, it’s likely to emerge openly, in ways unpredictable at present.

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