President Joe Biden will win reelection.
North Carolina will not be a factor.
Only repeated defeat will get the Republican Party to give up Trumpism.
Those are among the predictions and assertions offered by two astute political observers at a Duke forum Monday evening that focused on the 2024 election, though both acknowledged that events in the next 12 months could scramble their forecasts.
The event featured comments by Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist and publisher of The Bulwark, a conservative news and opinion website opposed to former President Donald Trump, and by Michael Podhorzer, a Democratic strategist and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. The event, sponsored by the Polis: Center for Politics at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and the Duke Triangle Alumni Chapter, was moderated by journalist John Harwood, a Duke alumnus.
Harwood opened the discussion by asking who will win the 2024 presidential election.
Podhorzer said the closely split election will be conducted “between the 49-yard lines” and “half of America will be unsatisfied” with the result. He said, “If there’s nothing like a meteor hitting the planet or something like that, it has been the case since 2016 that there are more people in the United States, and more people in the five states that matter, who don’t want a MAGA future. And if they vote again, we’re going to get the same result.”
Longwell said, “I think Biden is going to win,” but she said a third-party candidate could change that outcome.
“Anything that fractures – not the pro-Joe Biden coalition, but the anti-Trump coalition – will help Donald Trump win,” she said. “For Biden to win, he has to pull together that same coalition, which is all of the Democrats and a very high anti-Trump turnout, and a small margin of right-leaning independents and soft GOP voters who cannot vote for Trump – that’s the anti-Trump coalition.”
Longwell said Trump’s return will reawaken his opponents: “I think – head-to-head with insignificant third-party candidates – Joe Biden is able to win again, not because people love Joe Biden, but because once Donald Trump is back in people’s faces, people will remember why they hate him.”
But Longwell said anti-Trump Republicans won’t look to defeat Trump in North Carolina. “Look, we’ve chased the fools gold here a number of times and it just hasn’t been there,” she said.
Other states are ahead of North Carolina as Democratic priorities, Podhorzer said, because Biden can win the Electoral College without North Carolina, but not without winning the other swing states. “It is impossible for me to imagine a realistic scenario where North Carolina becomes the reason Trump gets elected,” he said.
Podhorzer noted that Trump’s legal troubles are being underestimated as a factor in the election. He said if Trump is on trial, people will follow the proceedings closely. “While there’s a set of voters who are willing to accept that these indictments are political. But if he is actually convicted by a jury, after people have followed the trial, that may change a non-trivial number” of votes.
Media coverage will play a role in how the race unfolds, he said, because that coverage determines what people will be talking about. For instance, while the economy is doing well, much of the media’s reporting on the economy focuses on higher rents, food costs and interest rates and the prospect of a recession.
Longwell said Democrats need to change that. “This administration has a tough time communicating good news,” she said. “Perception is reality when it comes to voters.”
Some polls show Trump leading Biden, but Podhorzer, who correctly predicted there would be no red wave in the 2022 election, said those polls should be dismissed. “Asking 1,000 people what’s going to happen next November is just nuts,” he said.
While Trump may not be able to regain the White House, Trumpism has become embedded in red states, Podhorzer said. Hard-right state lawmakers and members of Congress from gerrymandered districts “are not going anywhere,” he said, “The only way they lose is if they compromise.”
Longwell said there’s no room for a more traditional Republican candidate to win the GOP nomination over Trump. “The fever is not going to break,” she said. “There is only one thing that turns the Republican Party back into a responsible governing party and that is sustained electoral defeat.” She added, “The Democratic Party is going to have to figure out how to nominate people who attract the same types of people that the Republican party is alienating by being so crazy.”
“I know from listening to voters for the past several years they are not interested in a pre-Trump Republican,” she said, “Voters say it all the time in focus groups, they just say, ‘We’re not going back.’ “
But, as long as they stick with Trump, it appears they won’t be going forward.
Associate opinion editor Ned Barnett can be reached at 919-404-7583, or nbarnett@ newsobserver.com