The primary is a legal political vehicle that allows an incumbent in office to be challenged.
The notion of a president being primaried, once a rare bird, is now going to fly through most election cycles.
With a nation arguably more politically polarized than at any time in American history, talk of a primary challenge for the sitting president will become the rule rather than the exception the primary challenge was actually intended to be.
As Scott Kessler, a lawyer at Team Law, reminds us, “The primary challenge to any incumbent in political office is a part of our electoral process. A legally regulated primary system is part of what makes the American electoral system unique.”
While it seems early to talk about a primary challenge for the 2024 election, it’s not. Three years before the election, there are already detailed trackers aimed at guesstimating who will be the next president.
As Time pointed out in 2019, the 2020 Republican primary was the first time since 1992 that a sitting president had a challenger with name recognition within the party.
President Donald Trump was challenged by a group including former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford and former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh.
Does a primary challenge weaken the sitting president’s run at re-election?
“The conventional wisdom is that primary opponents harm incumbents in the general election, although this is hard to prove,” said Robert G. Boatright, who edited “The Routledge Handbook of Primary Elections.”
So it’s conceivable that a primary challenge to a sitting president could have massive political ramifications.
Yet the entire notion of primary elections in the United States was supposed to be anti-elitist. It was supposed to separate the American political system from that of other nations, where only elites and party insiders chose who would run for office.
A system in which a sitting president is more beholden than ever to factions within his own party, in part due to fear of internal party fissures that can lead to a well-placed challenge, incentivizes political game-playing rather than serving the interests of democracy.
That said, the 2024 election is primed to be a unique situation for the sitting president and the Democratic Party.
On Monday, Politico reported that the numbers facing President Joe Briden and Vice President Kamala Harris are much worse than anticipated.
With what many see as a disappearing act and a 28 percent job approval rating for Harris, should Biden either choose not to run again or decide to seek a second term, this is the perfect foundation for perhaps the strongest group of presidential primary challengers in history.
Early names, including Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, are already being tossed into the ring by pundits and activists.
While there is admittedly still plenty of time between now and the beginning of the primary season in early 2024, last week’s series of elections, particularly the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, indicate the probability of an extremely strong GOP showing in the 2022 midterm elections.
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