In a famous televised debate in 1984, on the eve of his reelection, the 73-year-old Ronald Reagan responded with a brilliant aside to the moderator’s question about the right age to be president. The Republican candidate, a former actor, promised that he would not turn his opponent’s youth into a campaign issue. Even Walter Mondale, 17 years younger, could not help smiling at this remark. Once the ballots were counted, the Democrat lost in a landslide to the oldest American president, a distinction currently held by Donald Trump, if we consider that he began his term when he was 70, but now unequivocally taken by Joe Biden, who will be 78 when he takes the oath of office.
So, now that a candidate’s age is no longer seen as a problem by voters (might Biden be regretting his suggestion that he would only serve one term?), Trump will have an excellent opportunity in 2024 to demonstrate that he has faith in democracy by running for the presidency again. In his favor will be the potential support of 70 million people who voted for him on Nov. 3, 6 million more than in 2016. He is, after all, the Republican president with the highest popular vote ever.
The newly elected vice president, Kamala Harris, will emerge as the logical choice of Democrats in the next election, assuming Biden steps aside. She will then be a relatively youthful 60 years old, compared to recent candidates. (Bernie Sanders challenged Biden this year at 79, and Hillary Clinton was 69 when she was defeated by Trump.) A woman, the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother, she would embody, in ways that none have before, the new multicultural America in a contest with Trump, a WASP who proclaims himself champion of the other half, and who will be 78 years old at that point.
Trump will first have to control his fury, give up trying to win in the courts what he lost at the ballot box, and assure a transfer of power in January that dignifies American democracy. Four years ago, even though Trump had repeatedly questioned Barack Obama’s nationality (and only reluctantly stopped pushing this birther claim in the months leading up to the election), there was the outgoing president on the steps of the Capitol on Inauguration Day, smiling with Michelle by his side. This was the picture of a civilized America.
Is it so bizarre to suggest that Trump might run again? Not really. The Republican Richard Nixon, a vice president for eight years under Dwight D. Eisenhower, lost to John Kennedy in 1960, but worked hard to prepare himself for a second run and won eight years later. An even better example is that of Grover Cleveland, elected in 1884, defeated in 1888, and a winner again in 1892. Because of that, the Democrat is both the 22nd and the 24th president of the United States. Trump, were he to be successful in 2024, would be the 45th and 47th.
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