When Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the 2020 election — and, yes, Biden did beat Donald Trump; if you don’t believe me, just check Tucker Carlson’s emails — the last thing I expected was that the most likely scenario for the 2024 election would be a Biden-Trump rematch.

But that, incredibly, seems to be where we’re headed — a replay pitting the oldest president in American history vs. the most corrupt (give or take) and certainly most dissembling president in American history. If age bothers you, you should probably note that Trump is nearly as old as Biden and, as you may have noticed, bows to no one in his ability to, uh, ramble.

If you’re looking for someone to blame for this replay, you can start with those mainstream Republicans who, despite so many opportunities over so many years, have simply refused to kick the Trump habit.

We knew Trump would never accept — could never accept — that he had lost an election. He said before the votes were even counted in 2020 that if he lost, it meant the election was rigged. Of course, in 2016, when he actually won in the Electoral College vote, he said much the same thing.

What we didn’t know — what we couldn’t know — is that two years after the fact, Republican election-deniers would have co-opted the party, just as the MAGA team co-opted Fox News to the tune of the $787.5 million they had to pay Dominion Voting Systems for promoting the Big Lie.

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If Trump weren’t a factor, I don’t know if Biden would be running again. Biden would be 82 in 2024 and, if I’m doing the math right, he’d be 86 when his term ends. I’m old enough, though, to remember the last time an incumbent president’s age was an issue. Ronald Reagan, then a mere 73 in 1984, carried 49 states against Walter Mondale.

If Trump weren’t a factor and Biden had still chosen to run, I think you might have seen him facing real competition in a primary, by which I mean opponents slightly more credible than spiritualist Marianne Williamson and anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr.

But Trump is obviously a factor. It’s not just that he is leading in the early GOP primary polling. It’s way too early for Ron DeSantis, assumed to be Trump’s most formidable opponent, to think about polls. Here’s DeSantis’ problem: It’s hard to find a Republican who isn’t a Never Trumper who is willing to even criticize Trump. And that includes DeSantis, who can’t win without winning over Trump voters. 

It’s not loyalty, I promise you, that keeps Republicans in line. It’s fear. And for those Republicans who loathe Trump — and there are many — their fear has trumped their loathing time after time after time.

When Biden was elected president — finally fulfilling a lifelong dream in what has, been, yes, a long life — I assumed that Biden’s “bridge” talk was for real, that ridding the country of Trump would be accomplishment enough for anyone and that Biden would very possibly step aside for the 2024 election and let the kids, meaning someone under the age of 60, have a chance.

And so, the “meh” reaction from Democrats to Biden’s reelection announcement can’t be a surprise. First of all, we’ve known for a while he would run again. He had been dropping hints like DeSantis was dropping poll numbers. And you couldn’t expect much excitement in any case, given that Biden’s approval rating is in the low 40s, which is problematic even in these polarized times. The numbers are nearly as pathetic as Trump’s approval ratings.

As we know, many liberals don’t think Biden is progressive enough. And, yes, Biden does stumble over his lines, and even though he has been stumbling over lines for his entire political career, it looks worse when Biden rarely meets the press and when Republicans continue to use age as a principal weapon against him.

I assume you heard GOP candidate Nikki Haley’s prediction that Biden would die — yes, she openly speculated he would die before his term would be up — in a declaration you’d expect from, I don’t know, someone named Donald Trump or, even more likely, Donald Trump Jr. 

But this was Haley, the former South Carolina governor, who figured to run in the moderate-for-a-Republican lane of the GOP primary. She told Fox News that a vote for Biden was really a vote for Kamala Harris because, she said, “the idea that (Biden) would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely.”

Is she right? If Biden wins, does that mean VP Harris — whose poll numbers are worse than Biden’s and Trump’s — is a lock to be president? I put Biden’s birthdate into the Social Security Administration life-expectancy calculator, which spit out these numbers: a male currently aged 80 years and five months, like Biden, can expect to live until he’s 89. I admit that as a 70-something I worry about Biden’s age, but I worry more about a candidate who’s running her own death panel.

Look, Biden was nominated the first time — after a slow start, finally moving past Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg and Harris and the rest of the Democratic gang —  because a majority of Democratic voters believed Biden had the best chance of beating Trump.

And it worked. It was everything else that didn’t work.

We know about the Trump base — the MAGA Republicans, the cultists who really believe, and not simply tell pollsters they believe, that the 2020 election was rigged. These are the same people who can watch Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell and the Pillow Guy and Lauren Boebert and Tina Peters and say to themselves, yeah, they sound reasonable.

But what about the rest of the Republicans? And I don’t mean the Never Trumpers. I’m talking about those who have stuck with the Republican Party but who don’t wear MAGA hats.

If Republicans had voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, coming after the January 6 assault on the Capitol that Trump surely encouraged — again, if you don’t believe me, try Mitch McConnell — then Trump would have been ineligible to run for president again.

Speaking of convictions, Trump is now facing a civil suit based on an allegation that he raped journalist E. Jean Carroll. Trump has taken to social media to call the trial a “made up SCAM,” which caused the judge to call out Trump and Trump’s lawyer. He has already been indicted, of course, by the Manhattan DA and may well be indicted by DOJ special counsel Jack Smith — Mike Pence just sat for five hours with a grand jury, presumably testifying about Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election — and by another grand jury in Georgia. 

And what does Trump do? He offers up little hint of a future, only of a plan for retribution against those who refuse to say he had been cheated the last time. At a campaign stop Thursday night in New Hampshire, Trump actually embraced a January 6 rioter who spent two months in jail for her role at the Capitol and who has called for Pence to be executed.

And yet. And yet. 

Still, he is defended by lawmakers, and not just Marjorie Taylor Greene. One-third of Florida’s GOP congressional delegation hasn’t even waited for DeSantis to officially announce before endorsing the dark prince of Mar-a-Lago. DeSantis is now begging the rest of his state’s delegation to hold off.

What could Trump do to discourage Republicans? We know the Trumpism that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a vote. But what is a mere shooting compared to Trump’s top-secret document fiasco? Or how about the repulsive sight of Trump opening campaign events featuring a video of the so-called J6 chorus, made up of January 6 rioters serving in prison, rioters whom Trump calls patriots? We could go on. Or we could just put in our own perfect phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Here’s where the fear comes in. If Trump were to lose in a GOP primary, the likely guess is that his MAGA voters would stay home in the general election, meaning Biden would obviously win.

What would the Republican Party do if Trump were nominated and was beaten once more?  Could it separate from him at last? It’s not just Trump’s issues we’re talking about here. In an article in the Atlantic called “The Coming Biden Blowout,” David Frum, a longtime Never Trumper, describes the Republican Party’s problems in presidential elections. You’d have to be 36, he writes, to have participated in a presidential election in which the Republican candidate won the popular vote. You have to be 52 to have participated in two such elections. 

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And all those elections came before Trump’s Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and before a host of Republican-led states rushed to basically ban abortion altogether. We saw what happened in the 2022 midterms.

But now the Republican Party may well be nominating Trump, who has lost the popular vote twice. And if not Trump, maybe culture warrior DeSantis, who thinks he can win over the country by beating up on immigrants, drag queens and Mickey Mouse.

We know what Biden will do. He’s already doing it, sticking as close to the Rose Garden as possible and sticking just as close to the plan, in which he says, as he did the other day, that the very future of democracy is at stake and that “MAGA  extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms, cutting Social Security that you paid for your entire life … dictating what health-care decisions women can make, banning books, and telling people who they can love.”

We’ve seen this movie before. But as you expect from Hollywood these days, it looks like we’re headed for a sequel.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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Mike Littwin

Special to The Colorado Sun Email: milittwin@gmail.com Twitter: @mike_littwin