Shortcuts / 29 August 2023

Picking US presidential candidates

The next US presidential election is more than a year away, but the race to find a Republican party candidate is heating up. Former President Donald Trump is the frontrunner but there are some other candidates to know about. So in this Squiz Shortcut, we take a look at who they are, what they stand for, and what happens next.

Those 4 years went fast…
They sure did… And with the presidential election taking place in November 2024, we’re at the point in the election cycle where the Democrats and Republicans have to start selecting their presidential candidates. 

So the parties have to decide who they’re putting forward?
Exactly, and the candidates don’t go easy on their party rivals when a seat in the Oval Office is at stake…

What’s happening on the Republican side?
Republican candidates have been jostling for months and right now, it’s debate season. The first Republican debate happened last week, and let’s just say it’s a crowded field

Give us the who’s who…
Well, Donald Trump needs no introduction… He’s run for President twice already, winning once and losing the second time. This time around, Trump is also battling 4 criminal cases and a string of civil cases.

That’s wild…
It’s an unprecedented situation, so it’s hard to predict how that will play out because he could be called before the courts as this campaign unfolds. 

How’s Trump going in the polls?
He’s smashing his Republican rivals… Trump is so far ahead in the polls that he didn’t even bother to attend last week’s debate. 

Who was at the debate?
One person to note is Ron DeSantis. He’s Florida’s Governor and is coming second in the race against Trump – although it’s a distant second… He has made a political brand out of his opposition to COVID lockdowns and his attacks on what he calls “the woke left”. He was thought to be a real challenger to Trump but his campaign hasn’t really taken off.

Any other big names to know about?
Also in the race – and polling even lower than DeSantis – is Trump’s ex-Vice President Mike Pence. He’s in the fascinating position of running against his former boss.

So it was a messy break-up?
Sure was. Pence was loyal to Trump right until the end of his presidency, when Trump asked him to not certify the results of the 2020 election in Congress. Pence refused, so his big campaign message is that he did his duty and protected America.

Any other stand-out candidates?
One really made an impression during last week’s debate. That’s Vivek Ramaswamy – he’s currently polling at around 10% of the vote.

He’s a wealthy biotech executive, so he’s self-funding his campaign. He’s also a Hindu with parents from Southern India, which makes him a bit of an anomaly amongst the Republican field, which is largely Christian and white.

What about his politics?
Ramaswamy is a big Trump fan – one of his signature claims is that he would pardon Donald Trump of all criminal charges on day one of his presidency, if elected. He’s in third place in the polls.  

So there’s more than a few Republican candidates…
And there are still 2 more notable ones to go… There’s Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina. She’s the only woman running in the Republican field.

What’s her story?
Haley is another candidate who had a close relationship with Trump – he selected her as America’s representative to the United Nations. That was a rough time because you might remember Trump wasn’t a fan of those big international forums, so Haley had to explain why the US was pulling out of initiatives that they were crucial to.  

And the final candidate to note?
That’s Chris Christie – he’s a former New Jersey Governor and he’s run for president before. He’s also worked for Trump in the past and is now one of his biggest critics.

So that’s the whole field?
Not a chance…. There are actually 14 people running in this Republican field, though none of them are really making a dent in Trump’s popularity… 

What’s the next step in picking a candidate?
The debate last week was a big milestone. From here, there are 2 more big televised debates: one that’s scheduled for the end of September, and a third debate that hasn’t been locked in yet.

When does the actual voting start?
The voting happens state-by-state in what are called primaries, where registered party voters in pick their favourite candidates. Iowa is the first state to vote on 15 January next year. If a candidate gets a good result there, it can give them some momentum for the following primaries. 

And after Iowa?
There are other state primaries throughout January and February, but the big date to know about is 5 March, which is when 15 states vote all at once. It’s called Super Tuesday and it’s a huge moment for determining the candidate. And the rest are wrapped up that month.

And then?
After the primaries, the Republican candidate is confirmed at the Republican National Convention – that will happen in mid-July next year. And from there, the general election campaign starts where the entire US voting population chooses who they want as president.

Who are the candidates on the Democrat side?
So there’s a bit of nuance here, because President Joe Biden is a Democrat and he said he’ll be running for re-election. There are 2 other Democratic candidates: Marianne Williamson – an author and former spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey – and Robert F Kennedy Jr. He’s an anti-vaxxer who’s a nephew of former President John F Kennedy. But neither are serious contenders to Biden.

So Biden’s going to be the Democrats’ nominee?
It’s not a done deal but the usual practice is that if a sitting president wants to be re-elected, they’ll get their party’s endorsement.

Which could mean a Trump versus Biden rematch…
It certainly looks like that could be the case –  but anything could happen between now and next year…

Squiz recommends:

Presidential primary pollsFiveThirtyEight

An interactive guide to the Republican Party candidates Politico

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