Former president Donald Trump boards his plane to fly back to New Jersey after pleading not guilty to federal charges on Tuesday in Miami. Image Credit: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

Power transition matters in almost any country in today’s interconnected world. But it is especially critical when it concerns a superpower like the United States. Almost 18 months separate us from what could be one of the most dramatic political comebacks not only for the US but for the world.

Former President Donald Trump, who on Tuesday appeared before a federal judge in Miami to face a host of charges involving his alleged hoarding of top secret and other sensitive documents after he left the White House, is also the strongest contender facing President Joe Biden.

The 76-year-old billionaire will stand trial and he has already made history for being the first former president to be indicted on federal charges. If convicted he could spend the rest of his life in jail. But he is also leading in the polls as a Republican candidate for the highest office in the land. He could still run, and win, even if he is convicted. What happens then, which is plausible, is also unprecedented.

But between now and November 2024 Trump, the populist, the narcissist, the quirky and the sensationalist, will continue to polarise the nation—just as he did when ran for office and won in 2016, and just as he did when he rejected the results of the last election and provoked a riot that ended in the horrific storming of Congress in January 2021.

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Victim of a political witch hunt?

Trump, who is also facing another trial in New York over fraud and falsifying business records in addition to paying hush money to a prostitute, has managed to convince his followers, who are in the millions, that he is a victim of a political witch hunt. His followers believe him when he accuses the FBI, the Justice Department and the Biden administration of corruption.

His rise as an outsider in 2015 has divided the Republican Party and his current lead in the polls, over other Republican hopefuls who include his former Vice President Mike Pence, a former ally and former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, promises to divide and fragment the party even further.

Trump’s defeat in 2020 presidential elections was thought to have truncated the populist, ultranationalist and xenophobic wave that he had the US and the world by storm. Indeed, the election of Joe Biden sent a message that the US had come back to the world as a trusted, responsible and stable power and ally.

But while the world breathed a sigh of relief, America remained polarised and the attacks against the sitting president became more personal while the conservative media engaged in conspiracy theories that further poisoned the political atmosphere.

Clash of the titans

While the Republican Party tried to close ranks, especially as Trump was kept busy with lawsuits and business woes, the Democrats were not doing any better. The party lost the House of Representative in the last legislative poll and Biden was left to battle a hostile Republican speaker.

Biden, who at 80 is now the oldest president to ever run for re-election, is facing a backlash over the state of his mental health. His decision to run again for a second term has left the party in an awkward position.

His approval ratings, at 40 percent, are the lowest of his presidency. While the economy is recovering, illegal immigration remains a major challenge.

As things stand today and according to recent polls it’s a toss between Biden and Trump. The trial and the media frenzy surrounding it have actually helped Trump and are mobilising his followers. Criticism from his Republican rivals does not seem to have dented his campaign. He is presenting himself, again, as the underdog who is waging a crusade against a corrupt Washington.

Trump Biden presidential debate Ohio
As things stand today and according to recent polls it’s a toss between Biden and Trump

Avenues for speculation

Trump’s victory next year cannot be ruled out and it will have repercussions for America and the rest of the world. The former president claims that, if elected, he will end the Russia-Ukraine war there in 24 hours.

Closer to home a Trump victory will be met by some with relief. One of his biggest political achievements was the conclusion of the Abraham Accords between Israel and two Gulf states. His victory will be welcomed in several capitals as well. But the geopolitical realities in the region have changed.

The US has lost much of its sway in the region under Biden. Saudi Arabia and Iran are in a state of rapprochement and the GCC wants to normalise ties with Tehran and ensure Gulf security as a whole. China and Russia are friends not enemies and their presence in the region is a peaceful one.

May things could happen between now and November 2024, but one must not discount the possibility of a Trump comeback. What his triumph means for the world and our region opens many avenues for speculation.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.