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The New Year’s season is often a time to look both back and ahead, to draw lessons from the past year and make predictions about the next one, as scary as that’s been recently.
After some 56 years in the business of news and politics (and some decades of parenting), I’ve never been big on public predictions.
My one prediction in 2022 turned out to be prescient. Back in May, I wrote here that based on historical precedents, the November midterms looked very good for Republicans. But I suggested holding off on the party’s party plans because a lot could happen to change things. And that did happen.
I became even more wary of predictions up front in my correspondent’s career. It was the early days of domestic airplane hijackings. Editors rushed me to St. Louis where a hijacker held passengers hostage aboard a plane well after midnight close to my final deadline in New York.
As the airliner refueled for the next leg of the drama in those pre-cellphone days, I ran a very long way to the terminal to a payphone to dictate my story about the hijacker’s escape. Then I ran a very long way back to the police line.
As I watched, mouth open, a local citizen, who’d grown tired of hijackers and law enforcement as spectators, crashed his Cadillac through fencing to face off on the runway with the plane ready for takeoff. Like an old West drawdown. He flashed his lights, then drove at high speed into the nose-wheel.
The Cadillac driver may have been fueled with alcohol. But what I learned was that predictions and expectations are precarious things.
WTH, I’ll try some anyway for 2023.
Prediction No. 1: A major story this year will be positioning for the 2024 presidential primaries and election.
Joe Biden decided not to visit blizzard-stricken Buffalo where at least 40 people died. That’s because he hadn’t had a vacation in a week. Instead, he took the entire crime family on another long vacation to another billionaire’s borrowed home on another island, this time in the Caribbean.
There, apparently emboldened by the “success” he sees in only losing control of the House that can now block his entire progressive agenda, Biden will pretend to ponder a reelection campaign at age 82.
No suspense though. He’s already decided to go for it and will announce in the New Year.
Prediction No. 2: Joe Biden will not be the Democrats’ nominee in 2024.
At this moment, conventional political wisdom suggests Biden — even a frail, faltering Biden — must be granted a rerun like most incumbents. But tell me, what has been conventional about the politics of these last few years?
In virtually every public Biden appearance, we witness routine displays of mental fog, anger, dementia, and serial dishonesty, followed by adverse polls overwhelmingly rejecting him for 2024.
I suspect the money-changers of his party and the senior pols whose futures are directly tied to the 2024 outcomes will collude to devise a gentle way to put this man on honorable Injured Reserve.
Biden’s involuntary retirement won’t be as decisive as the rash of oligarch plunges from high-rise apartments in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But someone else will be nominated, and it won’t be Vice President Word Salad.
Historical note: The last two times an incumbent president chose not to seek reelection (Harry Truman 1952, Lyndon Johnson 1968, both Democrats), he turned the White House over to Republicans for two straight terms.
As for Republicans, they’re in for an epic, potentially destructive struggle that will be covered copiously and eagerly by the same media outlets that were unable to find and verify Hunter Biden’s incriminating laptop.
The GOP in DC has a perverse way of screwing up victory. The petty displays of arrogance and pride by a few members are weakening Kevin McCarthy in his bid to become House Speaker over a very tenuous majority.
And in the Center Ring of this new year’s circus will be the race for the 2024 GOP nomination at its convention in Milwaukee in 18 months.
Given his impressive policy achievements, Trump has every right to compete for another term. He’s already announced, which he hopes will head off administration legal action against him.
But that also makes him a target for far longer, and it crimps his ability to legally spend the large war chest he’s building from an immense merchandising and fundraising operation.
Trump is, however, running a strange campaign dotted by self-destructive acts like blithely dining unapologetically with a white supremacist and anti-Semite and calling to suspend parts of the Constitution to put him back in office.
With a surplus of potential opportunities to criticize Biden’s policies, Trump instead goes after fellow Republicans, Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the savvy architect of Trump’s conservative Supreme Court majority.
Trump’s attack on DeSantis is actually a compliment to the overwhelmingly reelected governor. He’s an obvious and potent challenger with an impressive and newer conservative record than Trump.
DeSantis has praised Trump as a mentor and not fired back, yet. He won’t either until after announcing, which won’t be until at least the end of his legislative session in late spring.
DeSantis will likely position himself as an effective conservative leader and culture warrior without the tumultuous distractions and needless confrontations of Trump. That image has already vaulted him to national party prominence close to Trump in hypothetical polls.
Their campaigns will highlight significant policy differences on COVID, for instance, and on priorities. DeSantis will talk about his strong legislative record and future plans. Trump continues harping on 2020 at his peril.
One other important asset: DeSantis is only 44. Trump is three decades older; he’ll be 78 in 2024, same age as Biden in 2020.
If my intuitions are on course, American voters are primed for a generational change next year of the kind that came so dramatically in 1960.
That’s when 44-year-old John F. Kennedy and 47-year-old Richard Nixon competed to replace 70-year-old Dwight Eisenhower. Voters narrowly chose Kennedy, who became the youngest elected president at the same age as DeSantis today, also a Navy veteran.
Other Republicans may jump in too. Mike Pence, who will be 65, just released his autobiography, always a precursor to White House runs. Trumpers feel he betrayed their man by certifying the 2020 results. That wing is still potent but diminished and increasingly realistic.
The GOP prefers executives as nominees. Pence was a two-term governor after the House, like DeSantis. Nikki Haley was a successful two-term governor and an effective UN representative in Trump’s cabinet. She’s 44 too, with a compelling personal story as the daughter of immigrants from India.
Mike Pompeo, a West Point graduate, served three House terms before joining the Trump administration and becoming the first person to serve as CIA director and then Secretary of State.
Pompeo has been making the GOP speaking rounds, showing off his newly trim physique, another sure sign of political ambitions.
None of these three have shown well yet in GOP preference polls. But it’s early and they’re quietly preparing, as they must to have any chance, should the anticipated Trump-DeSantis combat and news coverage seriously wound one or both.
Historical Note No. 2: Cabinet members do not directly become president, not since Herbert Hoover 95 years ago. Ask Hillary Clinton.
As I’ve written, Trump could cap his unique and amazing political career as an honored statesman.
Maybe a year or so from now the former president could accept a new reality. He could announce that replacing the damaging, aged Biden crowd with a fresh, young, responsible Republican team is way too important to let internal GOP politics interfere and the best way to cement his legacy.
Trump could recount how he set the scene for 2024 with tax cuts, energy independence, a stronger military, a secure southern border, and America First policies. Then, he could bow out and let primary voters pick a nominee.
Or, Trump could anoint a successor, hopefully displaying better judgment than he did in his midterm endorsements.
This would more than likely ensure a Republican victory. It would stuff Trump’s ultimate victory down the throats of Never Trumpers and hostile media. And it would cement Trump’s status as an historic leader of his adopted party who put the country first.
Trump could do all that and serve both himself and the country.
He could. But he won’t.
As usual, Mr. Phelps, should any of these predictions turn out to be wrong, the author will disavow any knowledge of you or them. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.