Editor’s Note: Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author and editor of 24 books, including his forthcoming co-edited work, “Myth America: Historians Take on the Biggest Lies and Legends About Our Past” (Basic Books). The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
CNN- These days, even off-cycle years in American politics can be quite significant in shaping the future of the country. As we head into 2023, there are 10 major political questions that will be critical to determining what comes next in Washington, DC – and beyond.
- Will Biden run in 2024?
By all indications, President Joe Biden is likely to run for reelection. After all, he is feeling good about his presidency. He starts year three with a formidable legislative record, and his party defied the traditional dynamics of the midterms as Democrats expanded their Senate majority and staved off a red wave in the House. Nonetheless, there have been reports that he is still deliberating and he has yet to announce an official decision, which creates the greatest political uncertainty for 2023.
- Will any Democrats challenge a reelection bid by Biden?
Regardless of the President’s decision, Biden may still face a challenge from within his own party, particularly given concerns about his age. Should Biden decide to run, the odds of any major Democrat taking that step are low. Nonetheless, there have been a number of high-profile Democrats, such as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, whose names have been floated. A primary run by a formidable candidate could cause the kind of problems that then-President Jimmy Carter faced when Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts took him on in 1980, dividing the party and creating opportunities for the GOP.
- How much will inflation concerns continue?
This is the big economic question that will impact the way voters are feeling about the state of the union. Over the past year, rising prices have led to the economy being the central emerged as the central problem facing the Biden administration, with concerns about grocery bills and gas prices fueling anxiety in the electorate and causing turbulence in the stock market. As the Federal Reserve ramped up interest rates, the chances of recession increased. There are many indications that inflation might finally be cooling down, which would allow the Fed to pull back and create more pocketbook stability in family budgets. But should inflation continue to dog the economy – or should a recession set in – the administration will certainly struggle at the ballot box in 2024.
- How successful will Biden’s policies be?
Whereas the first two years of the Biden presidency were about legislating, now it’s about implementing. This is often the most difficult part of the policymaking process. Over the next two years, Americans will be feeling more of the effects of Biden’s new programs, including the Inflation Reduction Act. How well these programs are implemented will influence how voters interpret what the administration has accomplished.
- What will a House GOP majority mean?
With Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia emerging as a significant voice in the House Republican caucus, anything goes in 2023. But Democrats who lived through the partisan wars of the 1990s will remember how Republicans ultimately helped bolster embattled former President Bill Clinton’s standing, as his approval ratings skyrocketed. That’s because Americans felt that the House GOP, under the direction of Speaker Newt Gingrich, was too radical and extreme to govern. The current House Republican caucus makes the Gingrich era GOP leaders look like statesmen.
It’s also possible that having control of the lower chamber could turn into a mixed blessing for the Democrats. Although Republicans will be able to stifle new initiatives from the White House, investigating people like Hunter Biden or bolloxing up the routine processes of governance, such as raising the debt ceiling, could help Democrats make the case that their opponents can’t handle the responsibilities of power.
- How will Trump handle his reelection campaign?
Former President Donald Trump has already announced that he is running in 2024. He has started to roll out the same kind of anti-establishment vitriol, centered on the war against the world message that he deployed successfully in 2016 against a crowded field of Republican challengers. But this time may be more difficult for him because he comes to the campaign trail with more baggage than the first time around. He faces multiple investigations and the possibility that the Department of Justice will move forward with criminal charges referred to them by the House January 6 committee. (Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has diminished the investigations as politically motivated, calling them a “witch hunt.”)
And unlike 2016, when he was the outsider, voters now have vivid memories of the turbulence and instability of his first term. Perhaps most importantly, Republicans have seen the losses he brought to the party in 2020 and 2022. He now faces a field of potential Republican opponents, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who can do Trumpism in a way that is more politically effective and doesn’t carry the same kind of risks.
- What is coming from the Supreme Court?
In the 2022 midterms, it became clear that the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade played a huge role in the success of Democrats. Many Democratic voters were energized to elect officials who would support the right of women to determine their own reproductive decisions. There are many big decisions that SCOTUS is currently deliberating, including how it will rule on a radical legal doctrine of “independent state legislative theory” – which would hand state legislative bodies power to overturn the results of an election – and a case involving Harvard University that could undercut affirmative action. These and other decisions have the capacity to deeply impact the state of the election process, as well as the motivation of voters from both parties going into November 2024.
- How will conflicts overseas affect us?
The Russian war against Ukraine has already had huge ramifications in the United States. Inflation has many roots, but the cost of losing Russia’s oil supplies has been significant. There have been emerging partisan tensions within the US about how much support to provide Ukraine, while policymakers at the Department of Defense keep a close eye on Russia to see if desperation will drive it to, for example, attack a NATO country. And there may be more than Ukraine to consider. In international policy, we never know what is around the corner. A major crisis can flare up at any time to fundamentally reshape our national conversation.
- Will public health be a major concern?
The pandemic showed how public health crises can upend politics within the span of a few days. Covid-19 forced new issues to the top of the agenda, defining the litmus test by which our elected officials would be measured. Currently, because of the successful vaccine program, the recent impact of Covid-19 largely has been curtailed even though the virus continues to cause sickness and death. And as we now see with the triple combination of Covid-19, the flu and RSV, we will not be out of the danger zone for a while. There is always the possibility that another pandemic will bring challenges into the political realm.
- Will our democracy enjoy stability?
While the midterm elections posed a blow to most election deniers running for offices to oversee elections, election denialism remains a strong force in the GOP. And in certain states, there are individuals still ready to challenge results that don’t go their way. Red states are also continuing to insist on voting restrictions. The January 6 committee report exposed just how vulnerable our democracy remains. Even with the passage of the Electoral Count Reform Act, there are many ways in which anti-democratic forces can exert influence in 2024. The ability of the democratic system to withstand these attacks will influence the results.
And of course, there are always the unexpected questions that await us. Any good list about what is to come must account for all the things that aren’t even being imagined right now. Few predictive pieces in December 2019, after all, would have included a global pandemic.
But we can know this for certain: 2023 will be a big one, a political rollercoaster which will clarify the terms that will help determine the next president of the United States.