CHARLESTON, SC: Back in September I wrote on these pages that America’s presumed presidential candidates were too old and the country desperately needed fresh blood.

I went so far as predicting that neither Republican Donald Trump, 77, nor Democratic President Joe Biden, 81, would be their party’s nominees in the November 2024 election.

From today’s perspective, my prediction appears to be dead wrong.

In the New Hampshire Republican primary Donald Trump won 54% of the vote and in the Iowa caucus he got 51%. Analysts say with these victories the controversial former president has essentially won his bid for the Republican nomination.  

Yes, there are several more state primaries ahead, but polls show Trump with a commanding lead over his only remaining rival, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. Even here in Haley’s home state, Trump enjoys a 30-point lead for the February 24th primary.

We’re witnessing a remarkable political comeback. After the 6 January 2021 riots at the US Capitol, Donald Trump was thought to be finished. That perception strengthened after he was indicted in four criminal cases, the most serious being a federal charge that he incited the 6 January assault and interfered with the presidential election.

Separately he is accused of interfering in the Georgia election, paying hush money to a porn star, and taking classified documents from the White House. In all, the former president faces 91 criminal charges. Some trials are likely to get under way before the 2024 election.

Trump is on track

Analysts have predicted that the prospect of criminal trials and jail time will finish Trump.  But that hasn’t happened. To the contrary, with every indictment Trump’s popularity increased, so much so that his Republican presidential rivals with the exception of Nikki Haley have dropped out and endorsed the former president. In short, Donald Trump is on track to be the Republican presidential nominee for the third consecutive time.  

What accounts for Trump’s rising popularity?

I offer four reasons: first, the perception that he is being treated unfairly by prosecutors and media prejudiced against him; second, an open southern border that has allowed millions of migrants to illegally enter the country; third, lightly punished crime in urban centers—particularly shoplifting, and, fourth, consumer prices that remain high despite moderating inflation. There is also growing opposition to the progressive woke social agenda tacitly embraced by President Biden.  

If Donald Trump is gaining popularity, what about President Biden? Surprisingly, despite a good economy, his job approval numbers are weak. A late January poll by Gallup finds only 40% of Americans believe he is doing a good job. That’s the worst third year performance by a president since Jimmy Carter in the late 70s. There is a growing belief among Democrats that Biden’s mental and physical competence is fading, that he may be too old for the job. Vice-president Kamala Harris is unpopular and lightly regarded.

For me the biggest surprise from four days in South Carolina is Nikki Haley’s lack of popularity. She was South Carolina governor from 2011 to 2017 and then President Trump’s United Nations ambassador until the end of 2018. She is credited with bringing foreign investment and jobs – most notably Volvo car manufacturing ­– to the state. 

Despite these pluses

But despite these pluses, South Carolina’s two Republican senators, five of its six Republican congressmen, and the current governor have endorsed Donald Trump. Haley is accused of being too heavily influenced by big business and liberal Republican donors. She served on aerospace giant Boeing’s board of directors, has gotten rich from making speeches and lives in a luxurious ocean front mansion near Charleston. Boeing has a huge facility in South Carolina and all of its 787 Dreamliners are manufactured here.

Donald Trump is angry that following his New Hampshire victory Haley did not follow the example of Florida governor Ron DeSantis and drop out. Haley responds that she is in the race to stay and is stepping up her personal attacks. The former president, she says, is too old, brings chaos to everything he does, and has become mentally unhinged.

Surveys suggest that the American public doesn’t want a Trump Biden rematch and yet that appears increasingly likely.

But a lot can happen before November and a lot can happen even before South Carolina’s Republican primary in late February. It’s impossible to accurately predict what will happen. And for that reason I’m sticking to my prediction that there will not be a rematch between Biden and Trump.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Washington writer Barry D. Wood for two decades was chief economics correspondent at Voice of America News, reporting from 25 G7/8, G20 summits. He is the Washington correspondent of RTHK, Hong Kong radio. Wood's earliest reporting included covering key events in South and southern Africa, among them the Portuguese withdrawal from Mozambique and Angola and the Soweto uprising in the mid-1970s. He is the author of the book Exploring New Europe, A Bicycle Journey, based his travels – by bicycle – through 14 countries of the former Soviet bloc after the fall of Russian communism. Read more of his work at Watch