| Halls of Power |

Uncharted Waters

7 key scenarios that could shape November’s outcome

Many Democratic politicians were quick to declare Trump’s presidential run over after his recent conviction. Can you blame them? No presidential candidate in American history has ever been convicted and then won election. We are in new political waters.

But as we’ve noted in this column many times, “a week is a long time in politics,” and five months from now is whole generations living and dying in swirling media cycles and ever-changing political currents. I believe that the conviction is a factor, but there are seven other factors that could upend the race, any of which are plausible.


1. Game-changer vice presidential pick

Historically, most presidential candidates pick a vice president (VP) that helps balance the ticket, and although it might produce a temporary news cycle win, it doesn’t lead to serious help at the polls. But what if Trump were to pick a VP who is a game-changer? For example, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has consistently been drawing support away from both Trump and Biden, depending on the issue. What if Trump were to convince RFK Jr. to run with him? This would lead to both an enthusiasm boost and a win for Trump with desperately needed independents.

The game-changer VP pick could work equally well for President Biden. Kamala Harris remains unpopular; a new Politico-Morning Consult poll showed her with a net disapproval rating of 52%. That is a startling number that is likely to hurt Biden’s reelection chances. Should Biden choose to replace her, it would be unconventional, and could change his campaign.

How Likely: Likely in some regard…

Trump will likely pick a game-changer VP pick. There’s no downside for him. I still don’t see Kamala Harris being replaced, but should Trump’s VP start highlighting the Harris negatives, we may see a change. This entire VP dynamic is critical to watch.

2. Judicial surprise

Sentencing for the Trump conviction could take place before the election. There are myriad scenarios, including the remote possibility of jail time.

Currently, Trump continues to not be impacted substantially by the conviction. A June Marist Poll has Trump leading Biden by two percentage points in the swing state of Pennsylvania. If Trump isn’t sentenced to jail time, then Republicans will spin this as a major victory. If Trump is required to serve jail time, he can cast himself as a political prisoner.

He wouldn’t be the first to run such a campaign. In 1920, Socialist Eugene Debbs ran his presidential campaign from prison. His supporters used it as a rallying cry and he ended up winning nearly one million votes. But Debbs still lost resoundingly. Centrists may have a difficult time casting their vote for an inmate and the resulting constitutional crisis that would inevitably follow.

How Likely? Unlikely

Everyone I’ve spoken to doubts prison time for Trump this year. It’s a bad look for America to have a president in jail, and no judge wants to trigger such a crisis.

3. Pardons and Hunter Biden

Now that Hunter Biden has been convicted on federal gun charges, his sentencing could remain in the news and muddle the Trump sentencing. But there is also a possibility, albeit remote, that the president will pardon or commute his son’s sentence. The president has vowed this won’t happen, but should it take place, it will draw a firestorm from Republicans.

How Likely? Unlikely, but..

I don’t see a pardon for Hunter as likely. But both Trump and Biden will have their names in the news for convictions. This will be worth watching.

4. Sonia Sotomayor retiring

Democrats have called publicly for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to retire. The 70-year-old justice has diabetes and the calls for her retirement seek to avoid a repeat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg dying in office and being replaced by conservative Amy Coney Barrett. Should Sotomayor retire, it would lead to a scramble to replace her before the November election and send partisanship to new heights (or depths) in the Senate.

The stakes of the presidential election would be far greater. Here’s why. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade continues to galvanize the Democratic base. The Biden reelection isn’t currently doing that. Adding a Supreme Court justice vacancy to that fight would motivate the Democratic base in a substantially different way.

How Likely: Unlikely

This would have happened already. Justices don’t simply give up their seats, especially due to outside political pressure.

5. Health perceptions

Social media is replete with videos showing Biden making gaffes and errors in his public appearances. At the G7 Summit in Italy, Biden was seen losing focus or standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. These are not good optics for the oldest president ever to seek reelection.

This is also a problem for Trump, to a certain degree. He is 78 years old, historically old to win the presidency. This is a bipartisan concern. A quarter of voters in a new CBS News poll think neither candidate has the cognitive or mental health to serve as president. Any perception of negative health surrounding one candidate would immediately boost the other candidate ahead in the polls. This is one of the biggest issues in this race.

How Likely: Very likely

I do believe that a perception of negative health is extremely likely and will worsen as the campaign continues. I would almost bet this will be the central talking point after the upcoming debates. How did Biden look? How did Trump look?

6. Foreign conflicts resolution

There are two major world conflicts whose handling the Biden administration has been both criticized and lauded for, depending on the day — Israel’s war against Hamas, and Ukraine’s war against Russia. A resolution to either of these would make Biden look more presidential. It could also have a negative effect if politics are perceived as playing any part in the resolution. For example, both Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon were accused at different points of playing politics with the Vietnam War to help their parties get elected.

How Likely: Unlikely.

A resolution to either conflict that is so clear as not to allow Trump to take some share of the credit is a remote possibility.

7. The Economy

In a Financial Times/University of Michigan poll on the economy, Trump’s lead was only four points, down significantly from an earlier poll in February that had him up by 11 points. This issue is a big wrecking ball in this race. The economy has always played an outsized role in elections. The latest was in 2008 when a global recession changed the political landscape and helped elect Barack Obama. A politician remarked to me recently that at the end of the day, voters just want to see more money in their pocket and will elect the person who makes that happen. A positive economy come November will help Biden, and a negative one will hurt him.

How Likely: Very Likely

This is something that Biden’s other negatives can’t impact. If the economy recovers, it can greatly impact this race and will only help Biden. —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1016)

Oops! We could not locate your form.