Jan 2, 2024 - Politics & Policy

5 political X factors to watch in 2024

Illustration of magic eight balls with some colored in red or blue.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

It was around this time four years ago that Chinese officials began hunting for the cause of a mysterious respiratory illness in Wuhan, an outbreak that upended the 2020 election and transformed our world forever.

Why it matters: Political predictions are a dangerous game, especially in an era of perennial black swans. Instead of pretending we have a crystal ball, here are five 2024 X factors we're watching for their potentially explosive impacts on the election.

1. A Trump conviction.

  • Facing 91 criminal charges in four jurisdictions, the former president's best hope of avoiding a conviction — and potentially derailing his nomination — could be to delay his trials until after the election.
  • Trump's federal election interference trial set for March 4 would be the first of the four, but it's currently on hold as an appeals court considers his claims of presidential immunity from prosecution.
  • Nearly a quarter of Trump's own supporters believe he shouldn't be the GOP nominee if he's convicted, according to a New York Times/Siena poll.

2. A Biden impeachment.

  • House GOP leaders insist they're not prejudging the outcome of their impeachment inquiry, but it's hard to see them allowing President Biden to claim exoneration in an election year.
  • That exact scenario could unfold, however, if just a few vulnerable House Republicans conclude there's no smoking gun tying Biden to his son's foreign business dealings.
  • One possibility: Biden is impeached on a narrowly tailored charge of "obstruction," but articles related to bribery or corruption fail on the House floor.

3. A chaotic Dem convention.

  • Democrats' return to Chicago, where riots famously erupted during the 1968 convention, has the makings of a potential debacle both inside and outside the United Center.
  • Biden is far and away the likely nominee, but concerns about his appeal to key Democratic constituencies — as well as his age and risk of health scares — mean a brokered convention in August is not out of the realm of possibilities.
  • Protests over Israel, scrutiny of crime and policing, and the ongoing migrant crisis could test the progressive leadership of Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson on the biggest stage in Democratic politics.

4. More war.

  • An Israeli drone strike killed a senior Hamas leader in Beirut on Tuesday, underscoring the unpredictability of war and further raising the prospect of regional escalation.

5. A.I. havoc.

  • Deepfakes, cyberattacks and other AI-driven disruptions could be the ultimate black swan in 2024, upending the campaign in ways we haven't even considered.
  • Fake audio recordings last year of political leaders in the U.K. and Slovakia — including two days before the latter's elections — portend more sophisticated threats set to test democracy in 2024.
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