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Aizenberg ’26: Why Trump and Biden could both lose

In the 1992 presidential election, both major party candidates faced challenges from the outset. Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush bore the blame for a poor economy and faced a stiff primary challenge from firebrand Pat Buchanan. Meanwhile, Democratic contender Bill Clinton was embroiled in controversy after he was revealed to have allegedly had a 12-year extramarital affair. It was under these conditions that third-party candidate Ross Perot, an unconventional Texas billionaire, entered the race. He railed against the status quo, government bureaucracy and the seeming shortcomings of both candidates. Through his widely viewed political infomercials, Perot ratcheted up significant support, even leading the polls at one point. Ultimately, Perot did not win the election, but for a significant portion of the campaign cycle, there was a genuine chance that neither Bush nor Clinton would win the presidency. While today’s political conditions differ significantly from those in 1992, the upcoming presidential election in November is the best opportunity for a third-party candidate to win since Perot.

The most compelling reason is the immense unpopularity of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. As of April 25, 53.0% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Trump, while only 42.1% view him favorably. In the past three years, Trump’s best net favorability rating — calculated by subtracting the unfavorability rating from the favorability rating — is -7.6%. No president has ever had such consistently low ratings for such a long time. But Biden does not fare any better. Currently, 55.1% of Americans do not approve of his performance in office, and just 39.9% do. His net favorability rating has not surpassed -8.0% in over a year. Outside of the 2016 election, there has never been a presidential matchup where both candidates are so widely disliked. This discontent also applies to their respective parties more than ever before. A significant 61% have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party and 60% disapprove of the Democrats. Americans’ collective dislike of Trump, Biden and their parties makes this election a unique opportunity for a third-party, Perot-like candidate to emerge.

There may already be a relatively strong option in Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Though many Americans know little about him, he has a much better approval rating than Trump, Biden and many other national political figures. Kennedy has some parallels to Perot: he is anti-establishment, positions himself as a risky truth-teller, and is independently wealthy — albeit not close to reaching Perot’s billionaire status. Most obviously, he enjoys the benefits of having perhaps the most recognizable last name in American politics. However, RFK Jr.’s conspiratorial beliefs, such as the false notion that vaccines are dangerous and cause developmental disorders, may be too polarizing to win him an election. 

There is still time for someone else to enter the fold. Michael Bloomberg’s late entry into the 2020 Democratic primaries sets a recent precedent for this. The billionaire and former mayor of New York ran a comically short 100-day campaign and still became a major Democratic candidate; at one point, he even led the polls in Florida, one of the largest primary states. Though Bloomberg’s campaign ultimately failed due to his questionable policing record and lack of charisma, he made inroads that proved a candidate (particularly a wealthy one) could quickly make an electoral impact. Some candidates who could conceivably play a Bloomberg-like role in November include businessman Mark Cuban, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, or former hedge fund CEO Tom Steyer, who ran and lost in the 2020 Democratic primaries. These possible candidates are longshots — none have even expressed interest in running in 2024 — but elections are inherently unpredictable


Even if a strong third-party candidate doesn’t emerge, there are several scenarios in which Trump or Biden may not be on the ballot come November, allowing a different politician to steal their momentum. Trump, for instance, could go to prison, automatically disqualifying him from the presidency. He is facing five court cases, four of which are criminal and could entail jail time. And either candidate could conceivably back out of the race, which is actually more plausible than it might seem: Lyndon B. Johnson, the incumbent Democrat in 1968, shocked the establishment when he announced he would not run for reelection just seven months before voters cast their ballots. Additionally, it is feasible that Trump or Biden could experience medical issues that render them unable to continue their campaign. Biden is 81 years old and, although his primary care screenings have deemed him reasonably healthy, there have been questions about his mental fitness. Trump is 77 and has also faced inquiries about his cognitive state — and unlike Biden, he has not released a full medical screening. Both candidates have outlived the American life expectancy and, according to actuarial tables, face at least a five percent chance of passing away in the coming year. While it may be unexpected, the possibility of Trump or Biden not being on the November ballot is not far-fetched.

With two exceedingly unpopular candidates, both of whom represent unpopular parties, there has never been a better time for a third-party candidate to shake up the election. Like Ross Perot, a well-funded contender could emerge — seemingly out of nowhere — and make the election far less predictable. Perhaps more realistically, the dynamics of the race could change if one of the two current candidates drops out for personal reasons, health concerns or, in the case of Trump, legal troubles. There is no cut-and-dry way to discern America’s political future. Ross Perot put it well: “War has rules, mud wrestling has rules; politics has no rules.” As we approach the presidential election, we must expect the unexpected.

Ben Aizenberg can be reached at Please send responses to this op-ed to and other op-eds to


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