Mike Pompeo, left, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Ron DeSantis.

Mike Pompeo, left, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Ron DeSantis. Credit: AP/John Raoux, AP/Alex Brandon, AP/Meg Kinnard, AP/Phil Sears

The Democratic nomination for next year’s presidential election poses tough but relatively simple questions. Will Joe Biden, now 80, really be on the ballot? If not, who heads the party's national ticket?

That may well hinge on whether his team can build up his approval ratings and sell his current term as a success — which might be a tall order.

At this early hour, Biden looks like he’s running. No primary challengers have emerged.

On the Republican side, the 2024 question is more complicated. There is no precedent in memory for restoring to power Donald Trump, a president who, despite all his incumbent’s advantages, was decisively unseated in both the Electoral College and by millions of ballots in the popular vote.

The most devastating fact that Trump still tries to obscure is that he proved himself a loser who divisively failed to face the pandemic — and looked to have his loss nullified through a bizarre fake-elector scheme.   

Now there is a growing belief that to recover from the 2020 debacle, the GOP will need to go a different way. That won’t be easy. The party powerful aren’t shaking off Trump or the so-called MAGA movement, as you can hear from the loudest voices of the new House majority.

Each would-be Republican successor to Trump could face a unique challenge in revising their back story to show separation from his toxicity. The candidates are supposed to make a logical and legitimate case for themselves as American leaders, not just as narrow partisan icons.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's ambitions seem to require a need to revise his record as appointee. This week he tweeted: “Vladimir Putin should not be underestimated. He wants to do the American people harm. Which is why helping Ukraine is in our interest.”

Oh? In 2019, Pompeo acknowledged he was on the famous phone call when Trump linked U.S. military support for Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government to his request that Ukraine probe Biden.

The White House ultimately pushed out the U.S. ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, who resisted this stunt for which Trump would be impeached and acquitted. Pompeo never stood up for her.

Trump never confronted the Kremlin — yet his second secretary of state now warns that Putin wants to do us harm.

Vice President Mike Pence was steadfastly loyal to Trump until after the pair lost. Pence became the target of his boss’s public wrath for shunning Trump's dark Jan. 6 nullification plot.

Thus the ex-veep joined the ranks of Republicans targeted for humiliation by his president — apparently never anticipating that Trump's verbal degradations would turn dangerously toward Pence.

It's one thing for Pence to defend his actions, but another to make the case that he’s an independent leader of the people.

Cravenly absorbing nasty public abuse from Trump without showing the gumption to strike back in kind became an ingrained habit years ago among many elected Republicans.

Before Nikki Haley was Trump's U.N. ambassador, she famously answered his political attacks with “Bless his heart.”

Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered a strong Trump challenger, did not counterpunch recently after Trump dubbed him “DeSanctimonious” — and spread rumors about the governor's behavior with students while a teacher years ago.

To this day, Trump retains the potential to play filthy against his own and cow critics by impulsively sliming them. That much has yet to change.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.

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