The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Why are the 2024 presidential candidates so disappointing?

With the upcoming 2024 Presidential election, the current options for POTUS are disheartening
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on the campaign trail.

With two weeks left before the end of the term and Mock Con several months behind us, I suspect that most students at Washington and Lee are savoring the ease of Spring Term and anticipating their summer plans instead of agonizing over the upcoming presidential election. To be clear, I am not critiquing the actions of my peers—Spring Term is an excellent time to take a break from the chaos that is politics and spend time with friends.

But even though the 2024 presidential race may not be at the forefront of our minds, this November will be the first presidential election that many W&L students will be old enough to vote in, including myself.

I am thoroughly disappointed in both main party nominees and am currently of the opinion that neither of the forerunners, President Joe Biden nor former President Donald Trump, are appealing candidates to return to the White House.

First, the obvious must be stated: both men running for POTUS are concerningly old. Trump became the oldest sitting American president in 2016, and that record was quickly broken when Biden was elected president in 2020. According to a CDC report published in 2022, the average age of death for an American male is 74.8 years old. If either main party candidate was reelected, they would be several years past this national average, a concerning age demographic for the commander-in-chief.

Old age also calls into question the intellectual stamina of the candidate. This has become a particular concern for the Biden campaign. President Biden often misspeaks while reading the teleprompter or goes off script to his staff’s horror. A few weeks ago, as reported by CNN, Biden deviated from his speech at a WWII memorial and suggested that his uncle was consumed by cannibals in Papua New Guinea. These remarks have since been walked back, but it is one example that illustrates Biden is likely not intellectually equipped for a second term.

Former President Trump is capable of talking about business and finances, but I fear that he is unable to carry on an intellectual dialogue for any extended length of time. In the 2020 presidential debates, viewers aptly saw that Trump is more likely to insult his adversaries than rationally deconstruct their arguments. It is my impression that Trump is rude, obnoxious and an extremely polarizing force that is more akin to a wrecking ball than a president. To me, his divisiveness is likely a greater threat than an idle figure in the White House.

The intellects of Biden and Trump pale in comparison to some of their presidential nominee predecessors. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 are outstanding examples of intellectual prowess that can and should be embodied by American politicians. At the time, Abraham Lincoln, the Republican nominee, and Stephen Douglas, the incumbent senator nominated by the Democratic party, were running for the office of United States Senator from Illinois. This series of seven debates demanded performance and sophistication from its participants.

Each debate would begin with a candidate’s opening statements that lasted 60 minutes. The second candidate then had the opportunity to rebut their adversary’s claims for 90 minutes after which the first speaker would respond and provide his closing arguments for another half hour. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were widely publicized by newspapers and solidified the candidates’ position on the national political stage.

Lincoln would eventually lose the race to become the Illinois Senator, but he and Douglas would face off again in the presidential election of 1860, and, as some of you may know, Lincoln would become the 16th President of the United States in a field of four major party candidates.

I feel confident in my presumption that neither President Joe Biden nor Donald Trump would fare well in a three-hour-long debate. Undoubtedly, such a debate would deteriorate into incessant interruptions and mudslinging. Neither candidate would be capable of filling the allotted time with substantive political commentary or a convincing presentation as to how they would maintain and improve the country.

Finally, I don’t feel that I am alone in my disillusionment with the current presidential political scene. According to a recent poll by CNBC, the majority of American votes do not want a second Trump-Biden rematch this 2024 election and would prefer an alternative candidate. The saddest part is that there are alternative candidates, such as Robert Kennedy Jr., that might provide a livelier, more intelligent candidate in the field. RFK Jr. is running for president as an independent and a candidate that I am seriously considering; however, many voters feel that the chances of a third-party candidate winning are unrealistic and therefore refuse to “waste” their ballot.

As mentioned previously, the presidential election of 1860 had four main party candidates. Granted, the years leading up to the Civil War was a highly contentious period in American history resulting in a fervor of political activity, but why are Americans today constrained to two main candidates? The American people deserve more, quite literally.

In my eyes, both the Republican and Democratic party conventions failed to present the American people with compelling candidates. In the upcoming election, it seems that people will not be voting for who they like best but who they dislike the least. Throughout my previous education, I grew up on the tales of American exceptionalism, and now I am being forced to confront the reality of the messy (and disillusioned) state of American politics.

I welcome you to critique this article, it is merely an expression of the frustrations of a young, idealistic college student who has watched too much “West Wing.” But even if you disagree with the crux of my article, I believe that we can agree that the United States should be relentlessly seeking exceptional political leaders.

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