Opinion: An open 2024 presidential race? Oh, we can dream

File photo/Kenny Holston/The New York Times / A Secret Service agent walks along the north front of the White House in Washington on July 5, 2023. Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce Federal Focus speaker Rob Engstrom suggested Tuesday that neither President Joe Biden nor former President Donald Trump may be on the tickets of their respective parties in 2024.

National polls for several years have said a majority of voters don't want a rematch of the 2020 presidential election in 2024. Indeed, they've said don't want either President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump as the nominees.

The keynote speaker at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce's Federal Focus meeting at The Signal on Tuesday said they just might get their wish.

Rob Engstrom, founder and chief executive officer of Wolfe Street Partners and a veteran political strategist, said he didn't believe either Biden or Trump would be the nominees of their parties. He did not elaborate but to note that Republicans already have a number of candidates running against the former president and that several Democratic governors — he named California's Gavin Newsom, Colorado's Jared Polis and Illinois' J.B. Pritzger — might jump into the race if the 80-year-old president decided against a second go-round.

He acknowledged that his was not a partisan statement, not a Chamber of Commerce viewpoint, just his personal opinion.

We would relish such a circumstance, which would set a fresh, new table for the American electorate. Instead of a noisy political campaign about Trump's indictments and the 2020 election or Biden's suspected involvement in his son's shady business matters, next year's presidential contest might involve how to solve some of the nation's most pressing problems.

Imagine two candidates openly discussing solutions for the country's debt crisis, the future of Social Security and Medicare, the country's illegal immigration flow, crime and education.

Engstrom, a former senior vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, made his statements about the presidential candidates during a conversion with moderator Justin Groenert about what the outlook for the 2024 campaign might be.

He also opined that the U.S. Senate balance of power — currently 49 Republicans, 48 Democrats and three independents (two of whom caucus with Democrats) — was likely to be close again, either a seat or two either way. He said the U.S. House — currently with 222 Republicans, 212 Democrats and one vacancy — was likely to stay in Republican hands.

The conventional wisdom about the 2024 campaign, as Engstrom acknowledged, was that 2024 would be a rematch of 2020.

However, Trump just Monday was indicted in the fourth criminal case to be brought against him. Authorities in Georgia have alleged he tried to illegally overturn his narrow loss to Biden in the state. Meanwhile, Biden, whose frequent gaffes and confusion in front of a microphone have concerned many voters, is also the target of a Republican House investigation involving his son's business activities while Biden was vice president.

National voters in a Yahoo News/YouGov poll as recently as late last month said Biden (55%) and Trump (53%) were unfit for the presidency.

A plurality in a June poll by CNN/SSRS viewed neither candidate favorably, with 33% finding Trump favorable and 32% saying Biden is favorable.

Healthy majorities in an April NBC News poll said neither candidate should run in 2024, with 70% saying Biden shouldn't run (including 51% of Democrats) and 60% saying Trump shouldn't run.

Engstrom, though, said people shouldn't pay attention to national polls, especially 15 months out from next year's national election. State polls, he said, would give people a better idea of how the candidates are doing.

Unfortunately, state polls aren't asking about whether voters would prefer neither Biden nor Trump, but which of the two they plan to vote for.

Tennessee, which gave Trump more than 60% of its votes in 2016 and 2020, still wanted Trump by a whopping 55%-34% margin in a Beacon Center poll early last month. They also were solidly behind the former president as the GOP nominee, with 61% supporting him, 12% Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and 8% for former Vice President Mike Pence.

But the Volunteer State is not a battleground state for 2024. Experts say only four states — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin — may decide it all if Biden and Trump are the nominees.

As far as those states, the most recent polls give Trump a 1.5-point lead in Arizona, a 7-point lead in Georgia and a 3-point lead in Nevada but Biden a 1-point lead over Trump in Wisconsin.

What may be most disheartening for Republicans is that a June NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll said 63% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe it is more important that the 2024 GOP nominee stand on conservative principles than have the best chance to beat Biden.

Fifteen months is a long time in politics, but we see the only chance for Engstrom's prediction to come true is for Trump to quit the race, saying he could have won (naturally) but claiming the best way he can make America great again is by defending himself against the evil lawsuits filed against him (donations welcome), and then for Biden subsequently to step down, saying he had accomplished far more than he imagined he could and that he wanted to spend more time with all of his grandchildren.

Unikely, but we can dream.