How Can _____ Win in November?

In Barry Schwartz’ seminal 2004 study, The Paradox of Choice, we learned that too many choices “can lead to decision making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress.”[i] Ironically, twenty years later, Americans are being made more than anxious, indeed many are despondent about the lack of choice in the 2024 presidential election. For the first time, the majority of Americans want neither major party candidate. And, in two different polls (CNN and NYT/Sienna) the “never vote,” as in never Trump or never Biden, are both near or above 50%. In fact, to my Biden-supporting friends, in swing states the never Biden vote exceeds the never Trump vote.[ii] Those still clinging to their Biden hopes need to reconsider their stubborn resistance to a new nominee. Or, make sure your passports are current.

Last year, I took two extended road trips around America—one in the Midwest and one in the West—sharing my findings with you in two posts: “Healing the Heart in the Heartland” and “Altered States: My Road Trip West.”[iii] While I hesitate to boil my findings down to one comparison, the most fundamental difference between the two regions was that in the Midwest people were open-hearted but close-minded, while in the West they were open-minded but close-hearted. What they shared, though, was more important and illuminates the key to anyone seeking the presidency in 2024.

In America today, Americans do not feel good about being Americans. Yes, it sounds simple; perhaps even obvious, but also potentially profoundly powerful. Whomever crafts a message and campaign to uplift Americans from this uncommon condition—who liberates us from our malaise—can win in November. For those who think it’s too late in the election year (typically party elites who have guzzled the institutional Kool-Aid), you might want to think again. Americans are hungry for a new candidate—perhaps never hungrier in the history of presidential elections. Whichever party makes a switch at their convention could very well waltz into the White House next January.

Neither major party candidate is addressing this condition in a direct, let alone creative and compelling, manner. Both are so immersed in their own egos and their hatred for each other, they are missing the proverbial forest for the trees. And, third-party candidates do not appear to understand this either while also being electorally irrelevant—systemically relegated to the role of spoiler.

Americans do not believe their federal government serves their interests. On domestic issues, our national leaders treat Americans like pawns to affect their petty political games of gotcha. In the international realm, both allies and enemies believe our leaders have squandered American power. Both inside and outside of America, our leaders are seen as unreliable. We have more confidence (relatively speaking) in our states and local communities, but certainly do not feel like waving the American flag. Finally, we are simply tired. We’ve just come through a hundred-year pandemic crisis from which we are still recovering. We are restless; we are weary and wary; many are borderline despondent. We are mired in malaise.

To exacerbate the problem, although my Boomer generation can recall triumphant moments in American history like our emergence as a superpower after World War II, the largely successful civil rights movement, landing a man on the moon, and defeating the Soviet Union, if you are under forty years-of-age you have no direct and memorable experience with a big American victory. You have no touchstone with which to affirm America’s greatness. To be sure, younger Americans have enjoyed the spoils of these victories and the age of abundance that has followed, but do not—cannot—understand or access those patriotic feelings that accompany the connection between sacrifice and the jubilation of victory. Younger Americans have not experienced America as a master of its destiny, since 9/11 they have mostly seen America as a victim of circumstance. Their general lack of enthusiasm for America—let alone patriotism—while lamentable, is also understandable.

The good news is there exist lessons from history which, if a 2024 presidential candidate would follow, would almost certainly get them elected in November. The period to reflect upon is the late 1970s and the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan as president.

Historians often refer to the presidency of Jimmy Carter as the “malaise presidency.” It was not all his fault. America was coming off a failed attempt to curb communism in Viet Nam that severely divided the country and cost tens of thousands of American lives. Then, Watergate. The Nixon presidency ended in shame. Like today, Americans were deflated and tired and facing the highest inflation in the modern era. Sound familiar? To make matters worse, Carter’s religious heritage as a Southern Baptist informed his disposition that redemption of the soul of America was only possible through sacrifices. He became the jeremiad president; woe are we who have sinned and we must repent/sacrifice to be saved from ourselves. Enter Ronald Reagan who simply and powerfully offered Americans absolution: you are not the problem; government is the problem. He transferred the very concept of original sin from the individual to the government and won in a landslide.[iv] Four years later, he was reelected with an even more powerful message: it was “Morning in America” again full of sunrises in a country that was “prouder, stronger, better.”[v] Once again, Americans felt good about themselves; they were proud to be Americans.

I hold little hope that either Trump or Biden will adopt Reagan’s 1980 strategy. While MAGA could become MAFGA (Make Americans Feel Great Again), Trump is too narcissistic; he has zero capacity to make anyone but himself feel better, and it seems highly unlikely—nigh impossible—that Trumplicans will force him out. And, he desperately needs the presidency to stay out of jail. For Biden, it is too late to affect a MAFGA strategy. Too many voters have entered the “Never Biden” column as his own stubborn ego may cost Democrats the White House. Further, his “Saving Democracy” strategy does not resonate with young, minority, or marginalized voters for whom democracy doesn’t appear to be particularly beneficial with a now clearly corrupt Supreme Court, a congress afflicted by toddler tantrums, and an executive branch that appears old, weak, and ineffectual. For them, it doesn’t seem like a government worth saving. The Democrats’ last hope is to switch horses at their convention. If they both wake up and find the courage to do so. As for third party candidates like RFK, Jr., they have no electoral hope of success outside the two-party system. Voting for them is just political masturbation. Their participation amounts to little more than self-aggrandizement and the pursuit of personal financial gains.

There is an answer to our malaise and to electing someone in 2024 who is younger, energetic, and optimistic about America—who will make Americans feel good about being Americans, again.  Fear and anger and shame are not sustainable, they are just depressing. Optimism is sustainable, and can even be transformative. Optimism causes people to lean into life, not retreat from it. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was criticized for being too old. He was 69. The Washington D.C. Democratic presidential advisor and attorney, Clarke Clifford, called Reagan an “amiable dunce.” Amiable? Yes. Dunce? Hardly. Reagan’s preternatural sunny disposition was exactly what the country needed at the time, and he transformed his party and America. Why not in 2024?

Vote for ____ in November!


[i] Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (HarperCollins, 2004), front matter.

[ii] Aaron Blake, “ ‘Never Trump?’ ‘Never Biden’ Voters Might Loom Larger,” May 18, 2024,

[iii] See William Steding, “Healing the Heart in the Heartland,” and “Altered States: My Road Trip West,”

[iv] See William Steding, Presidential Faith and Foreign Policy: Jimmy Carter the Disciple and Ronald Reagan the Alchemist (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014).

[v] See Reagan’s 1984 campaign ad here: