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Aizenberg ’26: Why Trump and Biden could both lose

In the 1992 presidential , both major party candidates faced challenges from the outset. Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush bore the blame for a poor economy and faced a stiff primary challenge from Pat Buchanan. Meanwhile, Democratic contender Bill Clinton was embroiled in controversy after he was revealed to have allegedly had a 12-year extramarital affair. It was under these conditions that third-party candidate , an unconventional Texas billionaire, entered the race. He railed against the status quo, government bureaucracy and the seeming shortcomings of both candidates. Through his widely viewed political , Perot ratcheted up significant support, even the polls at one point. Ultimately, Perot did not win the election, but for a significant portion of the campaign cycle, there was a genuine chance that neither Bush nor Clinton would win the presidency. While today’s political conditions differ significantly from those in 1992, the upcoming presidential election in November is the best opportunity for a third-party candidate to win since Perot.

The most compelling reason is the immense unpopularity of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. As of April 25, of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Trump, while only 42.1% view him favorably. In the past three years, Trump’s best net favorability rating — calculated by subtracting the unfavorability rating from the favorability rating — is . No president has had such consistently low ratings for such a long time. But Biden does not fare any better. Currently, of Americans do not approve of his performance in office, and just 39.9% do. His net favorability rating has not surpassed in over a year. Outside of the 2016 election, there has been a presidential matchup where both candidates are so widely disliked. This discontent also applies to their respective parties more than ever before. A significant have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party and 60% disapprove of the Democrats. Americans’ collective dislike of Trump, Biden and their parties makes this election a unique opportunity for a third-party, Perot-like candidate to emerge.

There may already be a relatively strong option in Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Though many Americans know about him, he has a much approval rating than Trump, Biden and many national political figures. Kennedy has some to Perot: he is anti-establishment, positions himself as a risky truth-teller, and is independently wealthy — albeit close to reaching Perot’s billionaire status. Most obviously, he enjoys the benefits of having perhaps the most last name in American politics. However, RFK Jr.’s conspiratorial , such as the false notion that vaccines are dangerous and cause developmental disorders, may be too polarizing to win him an election. 

There is still time for someone else to enter the fold. Michael Bloomberg’s late entry into the 2020 Democratic primaries sets a recent precedent for this. The billionaire and former mayor of New York a comically short 100-day campaign and still became a major Democratic candidate; at one point, he even the polls in Florida, one of the largest primary states. Though Bloomberg’s campaign ultimately failed due to his policing record and of charisma, he made inroads that proved a candidate (particularly a wealthy one) could quickly make an electoral impact. Some candidates who could conceivably play a Bloomberg-like role in November include businessman , JPMorgan CEO , or former hedge fund CEO , who ran and lost in the 2020 Democratic primaries. These possible candidates are longshots — none have even expressed interest in running in 2024 — but elections are inherently . 

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Even if a strong third-party candidate doesn’t emerge, there are several scenarios in which Trump or Biden may not be on the ballot come November, allowing a different politician to steal their momentum. Trump, for instance, could go to prison, automatically disqualifying him from the presidency. He is facing court cases, four of which are criminal and could entail jail time. And either candidate could conceivably back out of the race, which is actually more plausible than it might seem: Lyndon B. Johnson, the incumbent Democrat in 1968, shocked the establishment when he announced he would run for reelection just seven months before voters cast their ballots. Additionally, it is feasible that Trump or Biden could experience medical issues that render them unable to continue their campaign. Biden is 81 years old and, although his primary care have deemed him reasonably healthy, there have been questions about his mental fitness. Trump is 77 and has also inquiries about his cognitive state — and unlike Biden, he has not released a full medical screening. Both candidates have the American life expectancy and, according to actuarial , face at least a five percent chance of passing away in the coming year. While it may be unexpected, the possibility of Trump or Biden not being on the November ballot is not far-fetched.

With two exceedingly unpopular candidates, both of whom represent unpopular parties, there has never been a better time for a third-party candidate to shake up the election. Like Ross Perot, a well-funded contender could emerge — seemingly out of nowhere — and make the election far less predictable. Perhaps more realistically, the dynamics of the race could change if one of the two current candidates drops out for personal reasons, health concerns or, in the case of Trump, legal troubles. There is no cut-and-dry way to discern America’s political future. Ross Perot it well: “” As we approach the presidential election, we must expect the unexpected.

Ben Aizenberg can be reached at benjamin_aizenberg@brown.edu. Please send responses to this op-ed to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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