If one had to make just one about what the New Year will bring the United States, it is who will be on the ballot in the presidential elections: As the incumbent president, Joe Biden is unlikely to lose the Democratic nomination, while former president Donald Trump is almost fifty(!) percentage points ahead in the battle for the Republican nomination. The contest between them, however, is expected to be close, and will probably be decided by just a few thousand votes, as was the case in the last two presidential contests.

That said, the possibility of an unforeseen event overturning the facts as we know them, perhaps even who ultimately competes for the White House, is bigger than usual. Such a “black swan” could come in the form of a health issue which forces President Biden to withdraw from the contest, or Donald Trump being convicted by the courts. In fact, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, himself a contender for the nomination until recently, hazarded a prediction of his own: that the former president may not be able to vote in the election, as he will be in jail. Still, even in such a case, the US Constitution would not prohibit him from being a candidate!

The prognosis for the progress of the legal cases against the former president is also uncertain. Although he faces no fewer than 91 charges, the US Supreme Court will judge on whether he can be tried on the most serious of them all: incitement to rebellion. Nonetheless, his judicial tribulations may have political consequences, as 31% of Republicans and 59% of all Americans irrespective of political affiliation say they would not vote for Trump if he were convicted. Still, given the delaying tactics his legal team is employing, it is likely no court will have passed judgement before the November 5 elections. As for the various state challenges to his nomination, these are more likely than not to be overturned by the Supreme Court.

The campaign is sure to focus on the weaknesses of both contenders, and less so on the actual policy issues. That said, the prevalent sense of insecurity helps the opposition, while the Republicans’ targeting of abortion favours the Biden administration.

As for the economy, if the Fed manages to prevent a recession, as now seems likely, the positive economic climate will favour Biden’s candidacy. On the other hand, the ongoing migrant crisis on the country’s southern borders is undermining the Democrats, and there are growing political arguments for the president to seek a compromise on immigration control with the Republicans in Congress, which would also free up the aid he has requested for Ukraine.

Despite its centrality for global security, US foreign policy plays only a minor role in US elections. However, the continuation of the war in Ukraine may provide Trump with arguments against more aid to that country.  And as long as Israel’s war in Gaza continues, President Biden’s support for Israel will alienate a portion of the Democratic Party base. The chances of either war ending in 2024 are low. This is because, even if it does not materialize, the possibility of Donald Trump returning to the presidency will impact developments in 2024 far beyond the borders of the US. In particular, Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that Western support for Ukraine is already on the wane, and the fact that Trump has said he will stop military aid to Ukraine if elected gives him an incentive to draw the war out until November.

Similarly, the possibility of a second Trump presidency gives Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu an incentive to push back against pressure from the Biden administration to scale down the war in Gaza, end the policy of violent settlement in the West Bank, and accept the prospect of a Palestinian state. This is because President Trump was one of the strongest supporters of Netanyahu’s policy during his term in office, while the Republican Party does not widely share the Biden administration’s concerns about the impacts of the war in Gaza. As for the Turkish President, knowing how important Sweden’t NATO membership is for the White House, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will continue to procrastinate  until the elections, or until President Biden offers him a good deal.

As far as Sino-American relations are conceraned, 2024 is expected to be relatively calm, as the Biden administration seeks to de-escalate tensions, having already agreed to resume military communications to avoid accidents. As long as China’s economy remains weak, the Chinese leadership will not want to rock the boat, even as the elections in Taiwan give it an opportunity to do just that. 

Turning to the European Union, it would be wise for the bloc to prepare for Trump’s possible re-election and assume a larger share of the responsibility for its own security, for the provision of military aid to Ukraine, and for dealing with instability in the Middle East. Moreover, like every international actor operating under the auspices of international law, the Union should actively support the institutions and policies promoting global security in 2024,  while there is still a US president who believes in it in the White House.

*Katerina Sokou is Washington DC correspondent at Kathimerini, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Theodore Couloumbis Research Fellowship on “GreekAmerican Relations” at ELIAMEP

This article is part of the annual Special Edition “ELIAMEP Outlook – Predictions for 2024”, where ELIAMEP’s leading analysts and associates share their predictions for the year ahead. They assess the main challenges, trends, risks, potential opportunities and inflection points of 2024 for Greece, Europe, the Mediterranean and the world.