This may be an understatement, but it is a strange time in US politics. I am not talking about some of the day-to-day happenings, balloons which are either part of an elaborate spying strategy by the Chinese government or simply ‘sky garbage’ left over from school science projects being shot down. Or the fact that it now seems ok to heckle a president during the State of the Union speech, I am talking about something deeper.

Currently no one is sure who wants to be president.

At this point in the Trump presidency, when the then President gave his 2019 State of the Union address, a number of Democrats watching him inside the House had already stated they would run against the sitting president.

In contrast, as President Biden delivered his State of the Union, no Republican had officially announced their intention to run. Shortly after the speech, Nikki Haley, (born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa to Indian immigrant parents) the former Governor of South Carolina, and US ambassador to the United Nations did make an official announcement – but she remains the only one.

The question is, ‘why?’ The answer is best summarised by Russell Berman from The Atlantic who noted:

“Until Haley put out word about her announcement last week, no one in the emerging field—which could include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others—was willing to be the first target of the barrage of insults and invective Trump would surely hurl their way.”

No movement amongst the Democrats either…

Meanwhile, there is not much happening on the other side of the aisle. There are rumours emerging that President Biden will formally announce his intention to be re-elected – rumours that strengthened following a well-received State of the Union address.

Even so, this is likely to be a few months away as incumbent presidents want to be seen as focussing on their presidential duties rather than planning their next campaign. If he does make the announcement, it is almost certain that no one will challenge him, and he will run through the primaries unopposed.

There are many who feel that given Biden’s age, he should voluntarily move aside – something that seems increasingly unlikely. The last president to have had his ability to govern linked directly to his age was Ronald Reagan when, in 1983, he was the oldest president in American history.

We should note that Reagan was eight years younger than Biden is now – younger than Trump. In fact, Bill Clinton at 76 years old, is four years younger than Biden and a few months younger than Trump.

Why are the Republicans paralysed?

The Republican Party remains captured by Trump. The time for them to have moved away from the Trump influence was after the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol Building. Fearful of losing Trump’s rusted-on base however, they offered muted condemnation followed by outright support.

If they thought that this kind of manoeuvring would result in the former president agreeing to play nice, then they were either naive or not paying attention.

As we saw after the mid-terms when Texas Governor Ron DeSantis was one of the few bright stars for the Republicans in a campaign that many Trump candidates failed, the former president does not like been shown up no matter which side of the aisle they sit on. DeSantis seems the natural heir to the Trump phenomenon – a populist who enjoys confronting liberals – though with a much more sophisticated and palatable edge. Trump, however, has continued to attack DeSantis, even warning off a 2024 run.

Now most Republican officials are seeing that that a 2024 Trump campaign could damage the GOP rather than be a path to victory.

If Trump wins the nomination, then we must ask why they would back someone who has presided over three failed election cycles. If he doesn’t, the chances are he would rather burn down the GOP than see it move on without him.

As Peter Wehner reminded us: “Trump has no attachment to the Republican Party or, as best as one can tell, to anything or anyone else. His malignant narcissism prevents that. Trump is an institutional arsonist… now causing growing unease among his past supporters and the GOP establishment by signalling that he may very well turn that skill against their party … If Republicans turn on him, he is likely to turn on them, filled with the burning rage of a thousand suns.

So, what will happen?

With Nikki Haley announcing her candidacy, we may now begin to see other possible Republican contenders officially entering the race. This is likely to see Trump attack each of the candidates as they step forward.

The challenge for the US political establishment is that the best it seems it can do is put forward two white men who will be octogenarians during the next election cycle. Though age is not something that should automatically remove you from being in office, former president Jimmy Carter did suggest there should be an upper age limit.

The GOP is hoping that Trump behaves himself – even endorsing a candidate that may defeat him in the primaries. The Democrats are hoping he doesn’t.

As someone who wrote his PhD on the philosophical underpinnings of hope, I understand how important it is as a binding thread for communities to together.

The problem is, however, that both parties appear to have forgotten that hope is not a strategy.

Professor James Arvanitakis, is Director of the Forrest Research Foundation. He was formerly the Pro Vice Chancellor at Western Sydney University, and Executive Director of Fulbright Australia. He is a regular on ABC News 24 and The Drum and has over 100 publications. He is a Fulbright alumnus, having spent 12 months at the University of Wyoming as the Milward L Simpson Fellow.