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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Biden v. Trump: A local examination of the presidential ‘lesser of two evils’ debate

Gainesville community unsatisfied with likely 2024 candidate options

Gainesville, along with the rest of the nation, anxiously anticipates the potential of a choice between two candidates they’ve already seen clash for the presidency four years ago.

In light of the quickly approaching election season, UF students, professors and Gainesville residents have begun examining the impacts of political polarization and weighing the most likely presidential candidates to emerge from the primaries: President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. 

Florida’s primary election is slated for March 19, with 22 others remaining nationwide before the finalization of which Republican and Democrat candidates will advance to the November general election. 

Biden, the incumbent and Democrat nominee, ran largely uncontested, but challenger and author Marianne Williamson, who suspended her campaign in February and rejoined less than a month later, is still in the race. 

However, Florida will not offer registered Democrats a chance to cast a ballot in the primary, automatically listing Biden as the state’s chosen Democratic nominee. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped out of the race in January, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley followed suit March 6, leaving Trump as the only remaining widely supported Republican candidate. 

Faced with the possibility of a replay of the heated 2020 presidential election between Trump and Biden, UF Political Science assistant professor David Macdonald said there’s a possibility constituents could experience frustration and a turn-off toward politics. 

“I certainly think it can lead to people feeling down or discouraged, irritated, that they have to go through another election with these two candidates again,” he said. 

However, he also acknowledged an upturn in voter participation. The 2020 election saw a turnout of 66.8% of all citizens 18 years of age and over, even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, making it the largest turnout in the 21st century, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

“One thing is that the choices are much clearer, and the stakes both are a lot higher and they seem a lot higher,” Macdonald said. 

While voters have expressed a certain level of dissatisfaction with both Trump and Biden, they never seem to back smaller rivals, he said. 

There’s an audience for the “attack campaigns” against the major opposing candidates sparked primarily by the political right, Macdonald said, and that type of publicity could lead to an increase in hostility on both sides and branch into consequences as extreme as the storm on the capital on Jan. 6, 2021. 

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“Trump has sort of just supercharged something that was already there, which is growing polarization,” he said. 

In an era of close elections and intense division at the elite level, people have become less willing to work with the other side both within places of governance and even in everyday life, he said. 

As a UF employee currently without tenure, Macdonald declined to share his own personal candidate choices. 

Conversely, Richard Conley, another UF political science professor, was quick to express his support for Trump. While Biden has more political experience, he no longer seems lucid enough to effectively run the country, he said. 

Conley did, however, criticize the former president’s fall into what he called “incivility” toward other policymakers, which “robs us of a conversation.” 

“Would I vote for Trump? Probably. Is it a satisfying vote? No, I’d prefer a different Republican,” he said. 

As a practicing Catholic, he said he couldn’t support a pro-abortion candidate, and further expressed concern for the expansion of gender-affirming care, undocumented immigration and the expenses associated with a push toward sustainability, especially electric vehicles. 

Despite this, he said candidates on both sides haven’t taken much effective action to resolve the problems that fuel their campaigns, naming Trump’s border policies as an example. 

“Sometimes it’s better to have an issue than to resolve it,” he said. 

One of Conley’s former students wrote a paper comparing political advertisements to the light motives of a horror film. He said the tactic is dehumanizing to the other side’s candidates and is capable of heavily influencing voter behavior, especially as it relates to two polarized public figures. 

“Negative answers are cognitive shortcuts,” he said. 

Alachua County Republican Party Chairman Tim Marden expressed similar sentiments as Conley toward both candidates. He said Biden has been a “disaster,” but Trump still wouldn't be his ideal choice if they’re the pair that emerge from the primaries. 

Trump began the increase in government spending toward the end of the coronavirus pandemic, he said, an action that later contributed to high inflation rates. 

The Economic Research Service reported that the Consumer Price Index, a statistic of economy-wide inflation, increased by 3.1% from January 2023 to January 2024. 

“Biden contributed to that, but a lot of Republicans don’t want to acknowledge that it did, in fact, start under Trump,” he said. 

While he expressed criticism from an economic standpoint, Marden said he felt the current state of immigration, which he disapproves of, was not a product of Trump. 

According to the Pew Research Center, the undocumented immigrant population reached 10.5 million in 2021, with 4.6% of U.S. workers being members of that group during the same year. However, the center reported that the employee percentage was “nearly identical” to that of 2017 during the same period of Trump’s presidency. 

Dr. J. Maggio, vice chair of the Alachua County Democratic Party, felt differently. 

“Trump is never an option,” he said. 

Having never voted for a Republican, Maggio said his candidate choice depends on three core issues: labor and union protection, support for national healthcare and pro-choice policy. 

He also pointed out the complexity of U.S. foreign relations, especially as it relates to the Israel-Hamas war. 

Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, launched an attack on Israel last year that sparked a declaration of war. Israel has since launched blockades and attacks on the entire Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip, an area reported by the United Nations to be experiencing a humanitarian crisis. 

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. currently provides Israel with about $3.3 billion annually dedicated primarily to purchasing U.S. military equipment, and the Senate approved Biden’s proposal to send approximately $14 billion in emergency funding.

“I think Biden is balancing that as best as he possibly can,” he said. 

If Biden and Trump advance to the general election, UF College Democrats President Sabrina Briceno said her position was clear. 

“There’s no ethical choice, but there’s a less unethical one, and that one is Joe Biden,” she said.

Unlike Maggio, the 22-year-old UF public relations and political science senior heavily criticized Biden’s continual aid to Israel amid the Gaza humanitarian crisis, a conflict that has sparked pro-Palestinian protests tied to UF students and Gainesville locals along with a national response. 

However, she said ensuring abortion access was at the top of her list and further expressed approval of the Democratic Party’s approach toward immigration and student debt relief.

“I think you have to sort of think about what party is willing to listen more and which one is willing to change or at least push the needle for progress,” she said. “I think that’s Democrats.”

With the loss of America’s political middle ground, there’s a need for different candidates who are open to diverse opinions and more willing to work with the opposite party, said Bryson Richards, a 25-year-old UF construction management graduate student.

However, faced with the choice between Biden and Trump, he found himself with a decisive opinion. 

“Where our nation currently sits, I will be personally voting for Trump,” Richards said.

As a primarily middle-ground conservative, he said the nation’s economic stability, as he extends his career beyond higher education and begins to consider supporting a family, is his main priority. 

Additionally, he expressed concern about military strength, supporting Trump’s approach toward prioritizing national security.

Despite swaying more to the political right than in past years, he said remaining open to varying opinions is important. In an era where the people have never been more divided, he ultimately emphasized the need to resolve turmoil between parties and find common ground before it’s too late. 

“America is starting to slip away,” he said. 

Contact Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp at rdigiacomo-rapp@alligator.org. Follow her on X @rylan_digirapp.

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Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp

Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp is a second-year journalism and environmental science major covering enterprise politics. She previously worked as a metro news assistant. Outside of the newsroom, you can usually find her haunting local music venues.


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