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This composite file photo shows former U.S. president Donald Trump attending the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York, and U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington.Reuters/Reuters

This was supposed to be the invisible phase of the American presidential election.

The major-party nominations are set. The party conventions are three months away. The election is seven months away. Logic – plus public desire – dictates that politics takes a breather.

But this is not an election where logic rules. This is not an election when public desire is satisfied or even addressed.

The country may be exhausted. Its voters may find both apparent nominees distasteful. It may be springtime, as Shakespeare taught us to expect, “proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim/Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing.”

But there is no such sentiment in a country where major snowfalls continue to pound the Northeast and where the youngest presidential candidate is 77 years old. And while this is a season when presumptive nominees might otherwise be raising money in stealth, polishing their positions quietly, vetting running mate possibilities out of the public glare, and resting up for the sprint that lies ahead, the invisible season has become unsettlingly visible.

There are many reasons. The Gaza war has exposed significant divides in American society, inevitably spilling over to the presidential race. The restiveness among conservatives in the House of Representatives has created yet another wave of contention in the chamber, endangering yet another House Speaker, and providing a disruptive backdrop to the campaign. The persistence of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a potentially decisive force in the election has added additional uncertainty to the campaign. The amplification of rhetoric in the contest has unnerved voters.

“There’s an oddity here that the presidential candidates won by large margins, and yet people are still dissatisfied by the choice,” Matt Grossman, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, said in an interview. “We’ve had a lot of political turmoil in this country and people feel that they didn’t have a role in the nomination process.”

Joe Biden and Donald Trump quietly won primaries this week in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin and hardly anyone noticed. But in 1960, when senator John F. Kennedy was fighting senator Hubert H. Humphrey for the Democratic presidential nomination, the political world paid attention when the Massachusetts senator upended Mr. Humphrey in Wisconsin, a state adjacent to his native Minnesota. Two decades later, in 1980, when Edward M. Kennedy was challenging Jimmy Carter, an incumbent president of his own party, the political world paid attention when the senator from Massachusetts won Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Hardly anyone was watching cable television for the results of any of those states this week. But had they, they would have noticed that 15 per cent of Democratic primary voters in Rhode Island, and 12 per cent in Connecticut, voted for “uncommitted” rather than for Mr. Biden. That, following the 13 per cent who did the same in Michigan last month, is an indication of Democratic uneasiness with Mr. Biden’s policy in the Middle East.

But Mr. Trump should not be comforted by the Democratic divisions. The divide in the GOP also is significant. More than 16 per cent of voters in the Republican primary in Wisconsin, a major 2024 battleground, voted for former governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina (12.8 per cent), who left the race less than a month earlier, or for Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida (3.3 per cent), who departed the race two-and-a-half months ago.

Here’s why that’s important: Mr. Biden carried 94 per cent of Democrats in his 2020 victory. Mr. Trump carried 90 per cent of Republicans in his 2016 victory. Neither will likely perform that well in 2024.

New poll numbers show a slight advantage for Mr. Trump, who in this week’s Wall Street Journal Poll leads in six of the seven battleground states – but in none does he win a majority.

That suggests a close race among voters who may be suffering from a case of political vertigo.

Four years ago, Mr. Biden ran in part on opposition to Mr. Trump’s immigration policies and Mr. Trump ran in part on opposition to abortion. Now it is Mr. Biden who is stressing abortion (this week he described the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the state’s six-week abortion ban as “outrageous” and “extreme”) and it is Mr. Trump who is emphasizing immigration (the former president held an event titled “Biden’s Border Bloodbath” while the Republican National Committee began chronicling crimes it says are committed by immigrants in its new website).

Note, too, the changing geopolitics of the race. Mr. Trump was speaking in Grand Rapids, Mich., a state whose 16 electoral votes Mr. Biden won in 2020 by about 3 percentage points but where Arab-American voters troubled by the President’s position on the Gaza war threaten turnout in November. Mr. Biden was focusing on Florida – which the Republicans have won in 13 of the last 18 elections, including the two in which Mr. Trump was a candidate – while the Biden campaign was indicating that it thought the state was within its grasp.

The invisible phase of the campaign has shone a light on the visible tensions and divisions in the American electorate. The calendar may caution patience, but the voters are impatient.

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