By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – He has been impeached twice, tried to thwart the peaceful transfer of power after losing the 2020 presidential election, faces scores of charges in multiple criminal cases, and his critics warn he is plotting to rule as an autocrat. Yet, Donald Trump could still return to the White House.
Trump leads his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination by nearly 40 percentage points according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll of Republican voters, a remarkable comeback for a one-term president who three years ago appeared vanquished and humiliated.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in the criminal cases against him and says they are politically motivated.
Trump is also moving closer to clinching the Republican nomination, after a resounding win on Jan. 15 in Iowa, the first Republican nominating state. That led one of his few remaining rivals, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, to quit the race, leaving just former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, to battle Trump.
Here are four reasons why Trump could win the November 2024 election against Democratic incumbent Joe Biden:
The Biden White House argues the economy is in good shape, with unemployment down to a near-historic low of 3.7% from 6.3% when Trump left office and inflation cooling from a peak over 9% in June 2022 to 3.4% as of December.
Large swaths of the public, including many voters of color and young voters, believe otherwise. They point to wages not keeping pace with the costs of essential goods and services such as groceries, cars, houses, child and elder care.
When Biden talks about the economy, Americans think about affordability, not economic indicators. Opinion polls show that voters by a large margin view Republicans as better stewards of the economy, even though Trump has offered only vague proposals.
SPEAKING TO FEAR
Voters are unsettled for reasons that extend far beyond the economy. Trump speaks to the worries, real or not, that many white Americans have in a country that is becoming increasingly diverse and more culturally progressive.
There is also a pervasive sense of losing ground, that the cornerstones of American life – home ownership, a decent wage that keeps pace with inflation, a college education – are becoming more out of reach for many. Polls show voters are worried about crime and nervous about the flow of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
Trump is adept at channeling and packaging those fears, while still presenting himself as someone who comes from outside the U.S. political system. He is both arsonist and firefighter, who declares the country is in chaos and then offers himself as a savior.
TRUMP’S ACTIONS NOT DISQUALIFYING FOR MANY VOTERS
While critics within his own party, the Democratic Party and the media view him as unfit for office, millions of voters disagree.
Instead, many of his supporters have become convinced that Trump is a victim of a political witch hunt. At least half of Republicans surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos earlier this year said they would have no problem voting for Trump even if he were convicted of a crime.
Trump can also point to his four years in office and argue that the machinery of government largely functioned, if at times chaotically, despite fears he could not govern and that the worst allegations about him – such as his colluding with Russia – were never proven.
BIDEN GETS ALL THE BLAME, NO CREDIT
Trump can also take advantage of a White House that, so far, has been unable to persuade much of the public that Biden’s job-creation policies – through heavy government investment in infrastructure, clean energy and chip manufacturing – have made a difference to their lives.
Biden also has been saddled with a pair of foreign wars that have divided Americans. Trump’s non-interventionist, “America first” message may resonate with voters fearful of further U.S. involvement in Ukraine or Israel while Biden maintains a more traditional, interventionist American foreign policy.
None of this, of course, means Trump is certain to win the election.
He remains deeply unpopular in many parts of the country and among many demographics, and if he is chosen as his party’s nominee it could provoke a high turnout in favor of Democrats to counter him.
His inflammatory rhetoric, including threats to take revenge on political enemies he denounces as “vermin,” could also be a turn-off for more moderate Republicans and independent voters, who he will need to beat Biden.
Democrats have also successfully campaigned as defenders of abortion rights to defeat Republicans across the country in a series of elections and will again make that issue central to their 2024 campaign.
But at this moment, 10 months from Election Day, Trump stands a better chance of returning to the White House than at any point since he left office.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis)