Who knows which way this presidential race is headed?


The 2024 presidential campaign is already one like no other.

The candidates are the oldest ever nominated by a major party for president. The presumptive Republican nominee is not only the first president to be criminally indicted, put on trial and now convicted of felonies, but has been indicted four times — and seen his popularity gain with each indictment, pulling him ahead of the incumbent. The Democratic putative nominee has extraordinarily low favorability numbers for a sitting president, yet has encountered no serious opposition on the way to obtaining his party’s nomination for a second term.

Debates between the presumed nominees, which have always been held during the heart of the campaign, in September and October, have been moved up to June 27 and Sept. 10. It was President Biden who called for these debates, in what has to be described either as a Hail Mary pass or an act of political desperation. It is almost always the trailing challenger who hollers for debates, to get attention, while the incumbent delays for as long as possible. No scriptwriter could have envisioned the scenario playing out this year, at this point still the opening act.

Donald Trump left office with markedly low poll numbers, in the aftermath of not only a losing re-election campaign, but also the shameful Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the nation’s Capitol. Biden took office promising to heal the national divide. If there was any consensus among the cognoscenti, it was that Trump was finished as a candidate, if not as a political force altogether.

Trump did re-enter the political wars that were the 2022 House and Senate campaigns, in what was expected to be a Republican blowout year. But when the GOP failed to win back the Senate and barely recaptured the House, much of the blame was placed on Trump for having foisted unqualified candidates on the Republicans in key races. Once again he was written off, and the main question was whether the 2024 Republican nominee would be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador. Coming off a landslide re-election win, DeSantis was the strong favorite.

Though Democrats had survived the 2022 election cycle, Biden was considered a flawed candidate by many in the party. His falling poll numbers reflected the unpopularity brought about by mass illegal immigration, inflation, gas prices still being considerably higher than what they were during the Trump years, and what appeared to be mental confusion and incoherence during Biden’s public appearances. Yet no serious Democratic challenger emerged.

On the Republican side, DeSantis waited and waited to announce his candidacy, and by the time he did, Trump had passed him in the polls. Once again defying all the rules of gravity and politics, Trump’s emergence as frontrunner was fueled not by grand strategy, but by the reaction of his base to his being indicted in New York, accused of paying off a porn star. Recent polls show not only that Trump is leading Biden in the swing states, but also that a majority of Americans look on the Trump administration more favorably than the Biden years. And Biden shows no signs of gaining momentum.

But while all had been going well for Trump, his criminal conviction adds a great deal of uncertainty. It’s still a long way to Election Day in November, and if these past few years are any guide, the numbers can change overnight. Is this month’s debate Biden’s opportunity to turn the campaign around, or could Trump land a crushing knockout blow? Or will it be just one more transitory moment in this unprecedented campaign?

My prediction, which means nothing, is that this campaign won’t be over until it’s over — and maybe not even then. 

Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Comments? pking@