The Korea Herald


[Robert Fouser] Trump on course to win

By Korea Herald

Published : June 28, 2024 - 05:31

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Thursday’s presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump marked the beginning of the final stretch of the race for the White House. Next up are the Republican convention in July, the Democratic convention in August and another debate on Sept. 10. Traditionally, the final stretch of the campaign begins after Labor Day in early September, but the early debate has lengthened the campaign season.

Where does the race stand now and what does it mean for South Korea? According to the New York Times, if the election were held now, Trump would win 312 electoral votes compared to Biden's 226. If states within the margin of error broke for Biden, he would win 270 electoral votes, just hitting the magic number needed for victory. If things broke for Trump, he would add to his already impressive lead. Trump is clearly ahead now and is likely to win.

Donald Trump, of course, is a convicted felon who left office in disgrace after supporters stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed attempt to prevent the US Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election that Trump lost to Biden. He is the only president who has been impeached twice and remains the most polarizing figure in US politics today.

Under normal conditions, a candidate with Trump’s baggage would not have been able to win the nomination of a major party, let alone maintain a lead in general election polls. Trump’s staying power suggests that conditions in 2024 are not normal, but a closer look shows that several long-standing historical trends are working to boost Trump.

The first trend is the presence of third-party candidates that draw votes from the incumbent president.

The most recent example of this was 1992, when Ross Perot won a respectable 19 percent of the vote, mostly at the expense of incumbent President George H.W. Bush, which helped Bill Clinton win a decisive victory. Another example was in 1980 when John Anderson drew votes from Jimmy Carter, which helped Ronald Reagan win in a landslide victory. In 1912, the last time a former president tried to return to office, Theodore Roosevelt came in second as a third-party candidate, forcing incumbent William Howard Taft down to third place; Woodrow Wilson won the election handily.

This year, President Joe Biden faces three third-party bids that could draw more votes from him than from Donald Trump.

The most serious of these is the independent candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the eldest son of Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy first entered the race in the Democratic primaries, but later withdrew in favor of an independent bid. An average of recent polling shows him at 8 percent, but polls range from 4 percent to 14 percent, making it hard to gauge his support accurately. Some polls have shown Kennedy drawing equally from Biden and Trump, but Kennedy is strongest with younger voters, a group that went heavily for Biden in 2020.

To the left, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and independent Cornel West are polling at about 3 percent combined. Stein poses a bigger challenge because she will be on the ballot in most states, but West could draw votes away from Biden in battleground states if he gets on the ballot. Many Democrats blame Stein for costing Hillary Clinton the election in 2016 and fear that history may repeat itself this year. The Libertarian Party will also be on the ballot in most states, but infighting has weakened the party.

The second trend is that incumbent presidents with low approval ratings always lose. Since modern polling began in the 1930s, four incumbents have lost reelection: Ford in 1976, Carter in 1980, Bush in 1992 and Trump in 2020. In June of the election year, all had job approval ratings below 45 percent. With an approval rating just under 40 percent, Joe Biden is in a perilous position; only Jimmy Carter had a lower approval rating. By contrast, incumbents such as Clinton and Reagan with approval ratings over 50 percent won reelection easily.

Sudden events could easily influence the race, but the combination of third-party candidates and low approval ratings weighs heavily on Biden.

For South Korea, this means that the chances of a second Trump presidency are higher than not. Korea policy in Trump’s first term swung wildly from warmongering to peacemaking. Predicting what Trump will do is a fool’s errand, but he might, to satisfy his massive ego, start a second term by trying to reengage with North Korea.

Robert J. Fouser

Robert J. Fouser, a former associate professor of Korean language education at Seoul National University, writes on Korea from Providence, Rhode Island. He can be reached at The views expressed here are the writer’s own. -- Ed.