This combination of pictures created on March 06, 2024 shows US President Joe Biden in Maryland, on January 30, 2024 and former US president and 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump in Claremont, New Hampshire, on November 11, 2023. Donald Trump marched March 6, 2024 towards a bitter rematch against President Joe Biden in November as his final Republican rival Nikki Haley thew in the towel after a thumping defeat in the "Super Tuesday" primaries. Image Credit: AFP

You might be excused if you were not aware of the origin of the term “Hobson’s choice” which was derived from the practice of English Tudor businessman Thomas Hobson who hired out horses but gave his customers no choice as to which horse they could take. In short, the term translates, bluntly, as “like it or lump it”.

American voters will face a similarly disconcerting choice of selecting between the present incumbent Joe Biden and his rival, former President Donald Trump, when the two butt their heads in what could possibly derail into a free-for-all verbal fight in November this year. But this year’s rematch is different from the 2020 rematch: Biden had better poll ratings in 2020 than Trump during the campaign. But now, Biden seems to limping, rather than making a head start, towards the goalpost.

Many Republicans, including Trump, have been mocking Biden’s old age — he will be 82 if he is sworn in for another Presidential term — but age is also catching up with Trump who is turning 78. Both the candidates are showing signs of old-age fatigue, forgetfulness and irritability, sometimes giving blank stares or incoherent replies when fielding media questions.

Biden’s supporters are not exactly heartened by recent surveys by the New York Times/Siena College, CBS News/YouGov, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, all of which indicate that Trump’s share of the votes would exceed that of Biden by 2 to 4 points.

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The polls currently give Trump a narrow lead in the minimum of states to win the Electoral College and, in effect, the presidential election. However, the polls have a limited time frame though things could change for Biden as we get closer to the November election.

But let us also discuss issues weighing heavily on voters who are worried about the economy and immigration. There is a clandestine trafficking of illegal migrants at the borders with Mexico from where illegals are pouring in, mainly, from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Columbia, Ecuador, etc who are not only draining America’s resources and finances but also creating serious law and order problems in big cities.

While the dramatic rise in illegal migration may well become Biden’s Achilles heel, American voters are, increasingly, convinced that Trump could be more trusted to take a much tougher stand on illegal migration, and actively work towards drastically reducing the trafficking, in sharp contrast with the Biden administration’s softer approach that has encouraged the illicit migrant trafficking from the south.

Trump's edge over Biden

If Biden succeeds, in the coming months, to arouse consumer confidence and act resolutely on illegal migration, he could considerably strengthen his position against Trump. Also, many Democrats point out that Biden’s approval ratings do not necessarily mean an end to his presidential reign. After all, Trump is also unpopular despite his slight lead over Biden.

Biden’s chances could significantly improve from the four criminal indictments pending against Trump, but the dates of commencing the trials are still not decided, except in a New York hush money case. Biden could benefit if Trump is indeed convicted. Some 18% of his supporters acknowledged that Trump had indeed committed a serious federal crime but they would still support him.

While Trump and his lawyers argue that holding any of the four criminal trials before the US election in November would be “election interference” and invoked his presidential immunity, many legal experts, including former justice department officials, sees this as a mere ploy to delay trials until after the election when Trump, if elected, could order the justice department not to pursue them. Trump, according to legal experts, faces 91 felony counts, including 17 about conspiring with his supporters to overturn his 2020 defeat to Biden.

Trump is due to stand trial on March 25 in New York where he faces 34 felony counts. Previously Trump has described the New York case and three other federal and state cases as “massive election interference at a scale never seen”.

However, legal experts have repudiated the Trump defence team, arguing that once anyone is charged with a crime, the setting of a trial is decided by an independent judiciary, regardless of the political timing.

Meanwhile, America’s European allies, nervously watch developments in the US, and refrain from making any public comments about Trump’s return to power, even as he recently threatened that he would ask Russian leader Vladimir Putin to attack Nato allies if they did not pay more money for their defence.

For many American voters, Trump may seem to be a better choice for fixing the economy and stemming the illegal migration rot that is ending in street violence and gang wars in many big cities; but for many others, Biden is a better choice for stability and for America’s international standing.

Both the candidates have their strengths but also profound weaknesses; for the voter, it is a Hobson choice!

Manik Mehta is a New York-based journalist who specialises in foreign affairs