Unhappy events of the past weeks suggest that both parties start searching for new presidential candidates for 2024. As Americans grow more depressed, mostly over COVID-19, current front-runners suffer stronger negatives. I offer some early hunches for replacements.

In Afghanistan, a restless herd was ready to stampede, and three successive announcements provided the thunderclaps: (1) We are withdrawing all U.S. forces; (2) all Americans should leave immediately; (3) the U.S. embassy is closing. No administration could keep these steps secret; public announcements are, after all, public. At the third thunderclap, the herd, led by President Ghani, stampeded. Could it have unfolded much differently?

President Biden, whose approval rating was never much above 50%, is now below that, thanks to our chaotic withdrawal that cast doubt on his competence. Drone strikes on ISIS-K — yet another Islamist terrorist group — give Americans brief revenge and bolster a tough Biden image but also kill civilians, including children.

Four presidents conducted our Afghan war, two Republicans and two Democrats, but final collapse came on Biden’s watch, and he gets the blame. Democratic candidates in next year’s elections criticize Biden’s handling of the withdrawal. Republicans fume at our abandonment of sprawling Bagram air base, but it is 25 miles north of Kabul. How could evacuees get there? How many more U.S. forces would it take to secure Bagram?

What might save Biden is the rapid fading of Afghanistan as an issue. With our troops out, COVID and extreme weather occupy public attention. Just as the 1976 election ignored Vietnam (Watergate dominated), Afghanistan may be a minor if distasteful memory by 2024.

Much blame falls on Trump, whose February 2020 giveaway to the Taliban set up the ignoble end. He had 5,000 Afghan extremists released from prisons and praised the Taliban as good fighters and negotiators. Smooth talk might work in real-estate deals but not in war. Visas for Afghan helpers could have been issued much earlier, but Trump aide Stephen Miller, who hates immigrants, stalled the visa process. Trump fanatics are uninterested in Afghanistan except as an issue to make themselves look tough.

Trump’s ripening legal problems will be on full display by 2024, and Trump-allegiant politicians are already backing away. Some no longer support him on specific policies. When Trump belatedly urged a (maskless) rally to get vaccinated, some booed. We need polling data on the political effects of COVID-19 deaths in Trumpist counties. Which party loses the most?

Would Vice President Kamala Harris make a viable presidential candidate? Her polling negatives outweigh her positives and her pronouncements have alienated both mainstream and progressive Democrats. Many Democrats up for re-election next year keep away from her.

Representative Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) may have a better chance. With an elite education (Andover, Harvard), he joined the Marines before 9/11 and served four tours in Iraq (Bronze Star). He now comes across well on TV, including about what went wrong in the Gulf. His recent unauthorized visit to Afghanistan angered the House but did him no harm; it showed a maverick touch. Somebody should find out what’s happening there.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has polled second-favorite for president among Republicans, but surging COVID cases in Florida dog his re-election as governor in 2022. He will be an easy target for Democrats: “Anti-Mask, Anti-Vaccine, Pro-Death.” I suspect that Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Governor Jeb Bush will eventually outpoll DeSantis.

Of Republican senators, I suspect that Ben Sasse of Nebraska will do better than Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, whose support of Trump now looks increasingly foolish. Cotton (Harvard undergrad and law) served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan (also a Bronze Star). The 2024 contest could be between a Marine captain and an Army captain.

Sasse (Harvard, Yale Ph.D.), an evangelical Christian, comes across well on TV, like Moulton. Sasse is scathing on Biden’s handling of the Afghan exodus. He was, however, one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. Sasse is conservative but no Trump sycophant and was elected to a second term in 2020. Even if he doesn’t win in 2024, he could be the Republican to reconstruct a traditional, pre-Trump party.

Are there any viable candidates among Democratic progressives? I doubt it. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be vulnerable to Republican cries of “socialism” and too far left for the indispensable independent voters.

So, at this early point I’d venture Moulton for the Democrats and Sasse for the Republicans. They could hold their parties’ identifiers and draw independents. One Democrat worth watching for 2028 if not 2024 is Eric Adams, a Black former police officer and likely winner of New York City’s mayoral election. (NYC primaries used ranked-choice voting for the first time.)