America in 2023: A year of frantic manoeuvring

Ron DeSantis and Joe Biden are the candidates to watch in 2023 - but could Donald Trump still win the Republican nomination? Credit: AP

In theory, 2023 is a non-election year in the United States and should be a time of relative political tranquillity.

No chance.

In fact, the year ahead will be one of frenetic political positioning. Ahead of the 2024 election, potential presidential candidates from both parties will need to put their cards on the table. There is money to raise, reputations to burnish, culture wars to wage, loyalists to mobilize, and rivals to out-manoeuvre.

For the Democrats, one question will dominate, and we may get an answer within weeks: Will Joe Biden run for a second term?

A few months ago, it was unlikely. Biden's approval ratings were sinking fast, his policy achievements were thin, even allies were quietly saying that he was too old (he would be 86 at the end of a second term), and inflation was running rampant.

What a difference a few weeks can make. Democrats did unexpectedly well in November's midterm elections (even gaining a seat in the Senate), Biden has passed some significant legislation, and President Zelenskyy's visit to Washington was a triumph for both leaders. Perhaps even the economy is turning the corner and inflation may have peaked. Petrol prices - such a barometer of a president's political fortunes - are low again.

There are even claims circling in Democratic circles that Biden is the most effective under-the-radar president since Eisenhower.

So now it seems likely that Biden will run again for his second term and become the 2024 Democratic presidential nominee. But who will he face?

For Republicans, the central figure in the intra-party psychodrama remains Donald Trump. He has already declared his candidacy. But there is no doubt his fortunes are dwindling. His favoured candidates did disastrously in the midterm elections and the January 6 House Committee recommended to the Department of Justice that the former president face criminal charges.

Trump cuts a damaged and forlorn figure. It is still possible he can win the Republican nomination, especially if it's a wide and fractured field of candidates (as it was in 2016).

Other senior Republican figures are circling, scenting the Trumpian blood in the water. Mike Pence, the former vice president, is poised to declare early in 2023. And it seems almost certain that the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, will throw his hat into the ring.

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DeSantis is a potentially formidable candidate. He is pitching himself as a conservative culture warrior - promising to slay political correctness and liberal wokeness - but without the jarring narcissistic personality traits of Trump. He has turned Florida from a battleground state into safe Republican territory.

No-one can predict how American politics will shake out over the next 12 months. External factors will play a role, such as economic shocks, or ill-health for Biden or Trump.

But Joe Biden - who critics have always underestimated - and Ron DeSantis are the candidates to watch for over the next year as they raise gazillions of dollars and prepare for the brutal presidential race in 2024.