Chris Cillizza

Who Will the Bear Eat? The Perils of Hiking in the Presidential Woods

The 2024 presidential election is reminiscent of a classic joke about two guys who are hiking in the woods and come across a grizzly bear, said political commentator and journalist Chris Cillizza during NAIOP’s Chapter Leadership & Legislative Retreat last week. One hiker takes off his hiking shoes, opens his backpack and puts on his running shoes. The other says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!” The second hiker replies, “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I only need to outrun you.”

“The American public is the bear. It’s going to eat someone before the November election,” Cillizza said. “The public is angry. The public is unhappy with their choices.” A New York Times survey of independent voters describe this year’s election using morose words like “stressed,” “lost,” “indifferent” and “abyss.”

Surveys have shown that voters across the political spectrum are extremely displeased with Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the two frontrunners in the presidential election. Cillizza noted that Biden, at 81, is the oldest person ever elected president; voters have expressed concern about his advanced age and his handling of the economy and immigration during a period of domestic and global strife. At 77, Trump is “hardly a spring chicken,” Cillizza said. More damaging for him in the voters’ eyes are his four indictments with 91 criminal charges; role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol; and refutation of the results of the 2020 election.

“We have two parties that are going to nominate two ‘hikers’ who the American public does not want. There is no debate about that,” Cillizza said. “So, which of these two ‘hikers’ is going to run faster?”

Trump likes to get down and dirty, so we can expect the race to get uglier, he said. “It’s not suddenly going to become a campaign about issues.”

“I think what the election will be about fundamentally will be a race to the bottom,” Cillizza said. “It will be the lowest common denominator race in some ways.”

Cillizza said he is often asked if there is a viable third candidate – someone, anyone! However, there is diffuse support for many other people – Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Nikki Haley, Gavin Newsom among them – but no groundswell of support coalescing around any one person. And neither Biden nor Trump is going to suddenly step aside to make way for an alternate candidate, he said. Both believe that they are the only one who can and should win.

What will the race ultimately come down to? “I think we’re probably talking about five states with 50,000 voters in each state that will decide this election: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia,” Cillizza said. “If I were a gambler, I would think Trump would win Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina.”

Besides the presidential election, there is a lot to watch in Congressional races with 468 seats up for election in addition to one special election in the Senate. Democrats currently have a one-seat majority in the Senate while Republicans hold the majority in the House. People usually vote the party line all the way down, Cillizza said. If there is unified Republican control, which could happen, he said, Trump’s policies would have a greater chance of passing.

“It will get ugly, it will get extremely expensive in a handful of states, and it will get extremely, extremely close,” Cillizza said.

Marie Ruff headshot

Marie Ruff

Marie Ruff is Director of Marketing and Communications at NAIOP.

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