The vacuum in US politics is reflected inside both of the two main parties. In the Democrats it is reflected in the extreme weakness of Biden.
A February poll showed that only 37% of Democrats wanted Biden to be their party’s nominee. Faced with the refusal of the party’s leadership to even consider an alternative, in April that percentage increased to 47%. Overall, only 26% of Americans want to see Biden run again.
With the absence of serious programmatic/political discussion in US political culture, image counts for a lot. Maybe partly because he is still something of a stutterer, Biden’s image is that of a somewhat doddering old man who can scarcely get out a complete sentence without stumbling. Of course, if he really stood for a fight of, by and for workers, even that handicap would fade in importance. But if that’s what he stood for, he wouldn’t be a Democrat.
This vacuum inside the Democratic Party is partly being filled by two classically accidental figures. The lesser one is the Oprah Winfrey style self-improvement guru and “spiritualist”, Marianne Williamson. She is polling around 7 or 8% support among Democratic voters, which when you think about it is really quite incredible.
The candidate who represents a more serious challenge is Robert F. Kennedy jr., who is polling around 17% among Democratic voters. Just as image counts in the negative for Biden, it’s a positive for RFK jr., whose support stems in part from the Kennedy name. The other part of his popularity stems from the generalized angst, the fog of confusion that permeates everything in US society.
Naomi Klein recently wrote an excellent article in the Guardian newspaper about RFK jr. She pointed out that Trump’s campaign successes stem from the excitement and drama that surrounds those events. It’s something similar with RFK jr. whose name is indelibly linked with the mysteries surrounding the murders of his father and his uncle. But he also taps into the generalized angst with his message about “the corrupt merger between state and corporate power that has ruined our economy, shattered the middle class, polluted our landscapes and waters, poisoned our children, and robbed us of our values and freedoms.” That will appeal to millions, especially young voters, but Klein reveals what RFK jr. really stands for – conspiracy theory linked with attacks on the “deep state” or something of the sort. This includes his conspiracy theory attacks on vaccination in general and on the covid vaccines in particular.
He made his name as an environmental lawyer, but now he says “Climate has become a crisis like Covid that the Davos groups and other totalitarian elements in our society have used as a pretext for clamping down totalitarian controls.” This aligns perfectly with his opposition to the covid vaccines and to vaccination in general, all of which align with the far right. In fact, Klein speculates that RFK jr. may be angling for the VP Republican nomination. Maybe more likely is a position in a future Republican administration. Yet based on the number of registered Democrats some 8 million of them support him!
This support is a perfect example of the idea of Russian fascist ideolog Aleksandr Dugin’s “fourth political theory”. That theory holds that there is no right or left anymore. In reality what it means is that much of the “left” has been folded into the far right.
It seems almost ruled out that he can get the nomination, but RFK’s attacks on Biden will further weaken the president.
The vacuum in US politics takes a different form in the Republican Party. As Oaklandsocialist has pointed out many times (for example here), the overwhelming majority of the US capitalist class does not support MAGAism. There are two factors that have enabled far right populism to take over the Republican Party: One is the shriveling of the base of support for the US capitalist class, its continual weakening in its ability to influence Americans. The other is the success of the attacks on the US working class coupled with the success in destroying almost all the traditions of class struggle, including mass defiance and class unity. As a result, tens of millions of US workers have turned to MAGAism, which is the Republican Party.
Two other presidential campaigns may throw a real wild card into the race:
Cornel West and Green Party
First is the announcement by “left” wing academic and preacher Cornel West that he will be seeking the Green Party nomination. Within days of this announcement, the California section of the Green Party announced enthusiasm for West running for the Green Party’s nomination. That nomination seems very likely.
West’s politics are all over the place. Today he attacks the Democratic Party, but he enthusiastically campaigned for Obama in 2008. He co-authored a Wall St. Journal op ed along with conservative Eurocentric bigot Jeremy Tate. In that op ed, the two praised the “education reforms” of Ron DeSantis.
His appearances on CNN, such as this one with Jake Tapper, show what sort of candidate he will make – full of bluster and blather, talking endlessly without saying anything. He will confirm all the prejudices that tens of millions of US workers have against “the left”, but he could win enough votes away from Biden in a few states to make a difference. (That’s what Jill Stein – who implicitly considered Trump the lesser evil – may have done in 2016.)
Role of Russia
West calls the war in Ukraine a “proxy war” and advocates ending US military support for Ukraine. Add to this the fact that his campaign will inevitably take votes away from the Democratic Party candidate. There are some serious socialists who support Ukraine’s national liberation struggle but at the same time think it’s a matter of principle to never vote for a capitalist candidate. Many of them supported Howie Hawkins in 2020. A West candidacy will throw them into a quandary. It’s all the more true because it’s a virtual certainty that both unconscious as well as conscious, paid agents of Putin will be supporting West, just as they will support RFK jr., who is even more overt in his support for Russia.
A possibly more serious campaign might be waged by the “No Labels” (non)party. This is a coalition of right wing Democrats and non-fanatical Republicans. Founded in 2010, in part out of the “problem solvers caucus” of similar types in congress, they are rumored to be considering running Joe Manchin for president and former Republican governor Larry Hogan for vice-president. According to Wikipedia, they have major funding from such major capitalists as Andrew Tisch, co-chair of Loews Corporation as well as from supporters of Michael Bloomberg. According to the New Republic Harlan Crow donated over $100,000 to No Labels. A collector of Hitler memorabilia as well as the main backer of far right Clarence Thomas, Crow would have only one reason for supporting a No Labels candidate – split the vote and help ensure that Trump or DeSantis gets into the White House. In fact, Ben Chavis the Democratic co-chair of No Labels even said that No Labels would only run a campaign for president if Trump and Biden are close in the polls but if Biden is way ahead they won’t bother! Already No Labels is on the ballot in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon and is pushing to get on the ballot in Florida, Nevada and North Carolina.
The range of possibilities is almost endless.
A glimpse of one extreme could be seen from an interview Trump did on Fox on June 19. In it, Trump seemed tense. More important, the interviewer asked him the tough questions about the Florida indictment. He even interrupted Trump several times to contradict some of his lies. If Fox turns on Trump now, while to more indictments probably coming, Trump’s support outside his cult could crumble. But it could still be enough for him to win the nomination, but he could be even more of a wounded candidate than would Biden be. His culture war propaganda and his insistence that he won in 2020 will put him at odds with the great majority of the voters,
especially younger ones. As for DeSantis, he never had the charisma (if you like that sort of charisma) that Trump has and it’s difficult to see how he could spark the same sort of enthusiasm while he provokes the same hostility due to his culture war and opposition to abortion rights. The candidacy of either one of them could be a millstone around the neck of other Republicans and could result in a sweeping victory for the Democrats up and down the ballot. That is at one extreme.
Update: CNN has just published the results of a poll taken since the indictment was revealed. It shows that Trump as being the first choice for Republican voters in their primary has declined from 53% in May to 47% now, and his overall favorability ratings among those voters declined by 10%, down to 67%. 59% of all US voters say Trump should end his campaign for president. It is unknown how far this decline will go, although it would seem that any crack in the Trump wall of denialism would threaten to open the floodgates. In that case, what will the Trump cultists do? It would seem the fact that they’ve been living in a fool’s paradise will utterly demoralize many of them. Will they just tend to stay away from the elections altogether?
What happens if no candidate wins a majority?
At the other extreme is the possibility that a No Labels candidate wins one or two states. In that situation, it’s possible that neither Biden nor the Republican candidate (Trump or DeSantis or whoever) wins an outright majority of electoral votes. The Twelfth Amendment says that in that case, the US House of Representatives decides who is the president. But the House votes on the basis of one-state one-vote. Whichever party has the majority in each state gets the vote and the population size of the state doesn’t matter. Even when the Democrats had an overall majority in the House, the majority of states were controlled by Republicans. This anomaly is due to the fact that the states with smaller populations and therefore fewer Representatives tend to be Republican. It is a near certainty that the House would therefore appoint the Republican as president, even if he or she received fewer votes than the Democrat.
A Republican president in 2025
When he was president, Trump struggled to gain direct, personal control over every branch of the federal government. He was stymied largely due to resistance of government officials up and down the line. So, in 2020 Trump introduced Schedule F that would have enabled him to fire up to 50,000 federal civil servants. He never got around to carrying this out, but he would likely return to that attempt if he returns to the White House. Ron DeSantis also supports this. An attempt to pass a law prohibiting this evidently failed in the US Senate last year.
There is a long way to go between now and the next election. The Republicans’ program has proven to be massively unpopular with voters under 30. Nor do those voters seem to be turning more towards the Republicans as they age. This means that by definition they will become the overwhelming majority, and already this demographic could be the decisive one in the coming election.
There is also the possibility of future worker struggles, not the least of which is a possible strike by UPS workers. It’s impossible to predict the course such a strike could take and its political fallout. Therefore, it’s impossible to predict with any degree of certainty what is likely in 2025 and beyond.
But one possibility is this: The Democrats regain their majority in the House and strengthen it in the Senate. However, no presidential candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, so it becomes up to the House of Representatives to appoint the next president. And there, even though they are in an overall minority, it’s virtually certain they’d appoint their presidential candidate, even if he (or she) receives both less popular and less electoral votes. Imagine: The candidate who came in second in every way is appointed by an outright minority in the House! Such a president would make LBJ or Nixon at their nadirs seem overwhelmingly popular while simultaneously the executive and legislative wings of the federal government would be in a state of near open war, as would be the Republicans and Democrats within the legislative wing. Just to give one example: Cabinet appointments. Can you imagine what would happen when a President Trump tries to appoint somebody like Mike Flynn as Secretary of Defense, and that nomination comes up for a vote in the Senate? Or even RFK jr. as Secretary of the Interior? Or former darling of the radical left Tulsi Gabbard into some important position?
Talk about chaos!