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Biden versus Trump: Is this the best we can do? 

The primaries season has come to a rapid conclusion. Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have garnered enough delegates from their respective parties to secure their nomination to run for president. 

Yet many Americans are unhappy with these choices, particularly those under 30 years of age. However, the system used to determine who will be on the ballot has spoken, no matter how flawed such a system may be. 

In a country with over 330 million people, and an abundance of talent, it seems like the American people should have better choices than what the two parties are offering. With Election Day still seven months away, much can happen to force each party to pivot from the current path. What are some of these issues and scenarios? 

Age 

It is no secret (and old news) that both Biden and Trump are in the proximity of 80 years of age. Demographic charts show that people in this age group can face health issues that may surface with little warning. These issues, both physical and cognitive, may be difficult to detect from a distance, but can impair a person’s ability to work and function. If either of them becomes so incapacitated prior to Election Day, the affected party will be forced to pivot to another person. 

Biden has said that if Trump were not running for president, he was “not sure” if he would be running for a second term. Whether he still feels that way and would actually act upon such sentiments remains an open question. 

Running mate 

Biden appears to be sticking with Kamala Harris, in spite of her unpopularity. Meanwhile, Trump has yet to name his running mate. 

Recall that FDR had three different VPs during his presidencies. He opted to replace Henry Wallace with Harry Truman in 1944, which continues to be discussed. Given FDR’s health, a vote for him was a vote for the VP as the next commander in chief. This eerily parallels how some voters will likely view their vote for Biden. Even a vote for Trump could be a vote for his running mate, given that he will be 78 in June 2024. 

Note that in January 2025, Trump will be around five months older than Biden was in January 2021, which would make Trump that oldest president to assume office on Inauguration Day. 

Legal issues 

Trump has a  surfeit of legal issues, with some certain to be resolved before Election Day. In total, he has 91 felony counts, some of which have nothing to do with his time in the White House. One or more convictions could lead to him forfeit his right to be elected president. Such a quandary has no legal precedent, so how the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, rule on this matter is an open question. 

Biden’s family investigation also provides a distraction for his campaign. Though it does not receive the same media coverage as Trump’s legal woes, issues are being discussed that draw negative attention to Biden. Even if such investigations end up being baseless retaliation by Republican lawmakers against the legal attacks on Trump, they will provide a persistent cloud during his campaign.  

Family support  

People who have been conspicuously absent during Trump’s current campaign include some of his children, who strongly supported him during his first two campaigns. Where they stand on the issue, and whether they have been asked by the former president to stay out of the fray or they are choosing to do so, remain open questions. 

Ivanka Trump has gone on record that she is taking a pause from politics, focusing on her children, not her father’s political aspirations. However, as the campaign continues, being surrounded by a supportive family is good optics — something that Trump will need. 

On the other hand, Biden has no obvious family defectors. In fact, he has even garnered the support of the extended Kennedy family, hoping to derail Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign to undermine Biden’s reelection, which could put Trump in the White House.  

Plea bargain 

If the legal and financial strains on Trump become sufficiently great, he may be willing to negotiate a settlement. He could recuse himself from running for president in 2024, and for any public offices in the future, in exchange for all federal charges made against him being dropped and resolved. The legality of such a plea bargain is uncertain. It does offer Trump a way out whereby he can save face, something that is certainly important to him, and return to the private life a mostly free man. 

In such an event, the Republican Party would need to scramble to find a replacement. At that time, Biden may choose to step aside, effectively leveling the playing field for the 2024 election and giving some voters what they claim to want: namely, different choices in 2024. 

The likelihood of this occurring is close to zero. However, in the current political environment, anything is possible and, at the very least, should be put forward for discussion. 

Final points 

Someone is going to win the election, much to the chagrin of many people. Trump’s floor of support remains solidly in place. However, that is likely insufficient to guarantee him a victory. Kennedy’s presence in the race lowers Biden’s ceiling. Whether it is enough to deny him a second term remains an open question. Polls remain tight, though they remain uninformative until both conventions are held, and early voting begins.  

In the bizarre political world in which our nation now lives, fueled in part by how Trump approaches elections in which he is a candidate, there are only two possible outcomes: a fair victory or an unfair defeat. Losing is not considered possible. For some, that is sufficient to ensure that he does not get elected. For others, it is the best reason to support him. 

Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D., is a professor in computer science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. A data scientist, he applies his expertise in data-driven risk-based decision-making to evaluate and inform public policy. 

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