If you want an anti-establishment president—if such a thing is even logically possible—you should take heart as 2024 nears, since there’s at least a possibility that each of the four largest political parties in the U.S. will have as its presidential nominee a firebrand who wants to tear apart the system.
All sorts of unexpected things could happen between now and the election, but there’s at least some chance that disaffected Democrats, wary of renominating the faltering Biden, will continue flocking to the buff and conspiracy-theorizing Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Republicans seem likely to give Trump another try, even with all his psychological and legal baggage—and this time, for what it’s worth, he vows if elected to oust the entrenched, bureaucratic “villains” of the Deep State once and for all (not that he changed things much last time, despite all the apocalyptic screaming from the left).
Perhaps the most prominent declared Libertarian Party candidate so far is lawyer turned thinktank president Jacob Hornberger (my favorite of all the figures listed here), who’s pretty straightlaced and rational—but also hosts a podcast about JFK assassination conspiracy theories, so on that front and many others, he should be generating at least as much excitement among Libertarians as RFK Jr. is.
Finally, professor and longtime foe of systemic classism, racism, and imperialism Cornel West is seeking the nomination of the Green Party, which might just be left-wing enough to welcome him (they’re not just environmentalists).
If we really end up with an RFK vs. Trump vs. Hornberger vs. West general election, 2016 might look bland in comparison (which is no insult to fine public servant Hillary Clinton). Some refreshingly radical conversations might go mainstream with this hypothetical 2024 lineup. Or maybe the CIA will just step in more openly than usual and decree that democracy has finally gone too far. (Then again, there are rumors West would be the preferred candidate of the intel establishment in this hypothetical field. Might they put a thumb on the scale for an Ivy League anti-imperialist who appeared in the Matrix sequels?)
The more likely outcome—since the incumbent usually wins and people understandably fear change—is that nominee Biden beats nominee Trump (one way or another) and that some time after Biden’s second inauguration, he resigns for health reasons, ushering in a surprisingly mainstream and Clinton-like single term for President Kamala Harris, with the media far too elated about finally having a non-white non-male in the Oval Office to keep thinking about wars or over $30 trillion in federal debt.
It’s a testament to how far we’ve fallen that Harris’ grinning, question-dodging, logic-mangling pseudo-syntax might be the sound of normality amidst all the possible strange outcomes in this imminent electoral cacophony. That’s not to say that a Harris presidency is the best possible outcome, mind you. To those desiring a clean sweep of the current order—a populist on the order of Hal Phillip Walker and his Replacement Party from the movie Nashville—a few of the other candidates above would be superior. Harris may be female and non-white, but she hasn’t touted anything like a vision of fundamental change to the current system. It may be for the best that she’s not an inspiring speaker.
If it’s coherent sentences from a major party candidate that you want, though, Ron DeSantis seems to be your man, whatever his flaws. Behind the culture-war rhetoric is a politics-as-usual establishment guy who’s willing, for example, to ban direct-to-consumer auto sales by car manufacturers if doing so pleases car dealerships, who are frequent medium-size political donors. That ban’s not a very libertarian, laissez-faire thing to do, but it also means that despite the anger DeSantis sometimes inspires, he’s prone to unambitious, symbolic policy moves—trimming some corporate special privileges, as in the Disney fracas, instead of banning a company outright.
Unambitious is the natural alternative to radical in contemporary American politics, so if the handful of real radicals noted above made you nervous, I’d advise learning to love Harris or DeSantis.
It’s hard to imagine any of the bizarre aforementioned candidates, the radical ones or the establishment ones, running the country from 2025 to 2029, really, but somehow one of them probably will. Like a Mobius strip, each seems doomed, but so does the next, and so each still seems a possibility.
The weirdest possibilities in all this—the ninth-dimensional pathways, if you will—arise if we imagine some of these figures forming unexpected coalitions. Trump has expressed sympathy for fellow populist RFK, an oddly coincidental echo of the QAnon cult’s dream of a Trump/JFK Jr. alliance.
RFK, for his part, reached out to my fellow libertarians at their annual PorcFest event in New Hampshire this month. He still presumably believes like a near-socialist in the power of fines and regulations to improve the world but nonetheless manages to check off a list of concrete priorities shared by at least some anti-establishment activists across the political spectrum: pardoning Assange and Snowden (and maybe reviewing Ross Ulbricht’s imprisonment for running the black-market site Silk Road), suspecting the CIA of killing his uncle and/or dad, promising UFO disclosure on “day one,” fighting corporate/governmental cronyism, and punishing anti-Covid regulatory excesses.
RFK dodged a bit when PorcFest-attender Carla Gericke asked him if he respected the right of secession, saying he prefers to bring people together. That’s classic fuzzy politician-speak for the collectivist impulse, but that hasn’t stopped the New Hampshire Libertarian Party from proclaiming (absurdly) that RFK is more libertarian than the national Libertarian Party’s last two presidential candidates. Will the LP end up endorsing him? Will Trump instead pick him as a Republican or independent running mate? Probably not, but stranger things have happened.
Meanwhile, back in normal, humdrum DC, libertarian-Republican Sen. Rand Paul and socialist-Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders are co-sponsoring a bill to audit and budget-cut the usually scrutiny-free Pentagon. It’s pleasant to think that in the current radical atmosphere, something like that might actually happen and not seem all that strange, regardless of who’s in the White House.