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Is Trump using Biden’s ‘basement strategy’?

Plus, a look at the impact the U.S. House chaos could have on the presidential race

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Former President Donald Trump speaks during the Pray Vote Stand Summit on Sept. 15, 2023, in Washington.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during the Pray Vote Stand Summit on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, in Washington.

Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

This article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here.

Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.

If you missed it, here’s my profile of the BYU grad at the middle of the 2024 election’s biggest culture war. Trevor Packer, who oversees Advanced Placement courses for College Board, has navigated the new AP African American Studies course through challenges from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who called it “indoctrination” and banned it from his state. Read more here.

Here’s the latest from the Deseret News’ 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

Is Trump using Biden’s ‘basement strategy’?

Donald Trump’s challengers have rolled out a new attack line: claiming he’s “campaigning from his basement.”

It was one of Trump’s favorite jabs at Biden during the 2020 election, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Joe Biden’s campaign events were smaller and scarcer than Trump’s. It was a mark of Biden’s “weakness” or a way to hide his age, Trump asserted.

But now, Trump’s Republican challengers — including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — have whipped out the line to whack Trump, knocking the former president’s absence from the debate stage and his scarce campaign appearances in early-voting states.

After the last debate, Christie blasted Trump on Fox News for “hiding behind his golf clubs” and not speaking directly to voters. This week, DeSantis jumped on board, claiming Republicans won’t “beat the Democrats by adopting Joe Biden’s basement strategy” during two Fox News hits on Sunday and Tuesday.

“You owe it to the voters to show up,” DeSantis said. “You need to defend your record.”

A Biden-Trump rematch appears likely, if not inevitable. Democrats are adamant Biden is a lock for the party’s nomination. Trump boasts a bigger lead in the polls (north of 50 percentage points) than he’s ever had.

And yet, Trump is coming off perhaps his worst string of days since the election began. On Monday, a judge gave Trump a gag order — “the first major consequence of his life as a criminal defendant,” Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney wrote in Politico — to keep him from intimidating jurors in one of his four criminal cases. His lawyers are appealing, claiming his free speech rights are being violated.

And Trump faces continued backlash for blasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and praising terror group Hezbollah, just days after a terrorist attack on Israel left more Jews dead in one day than any since the Holocaust.

Trump’s comments drew public backlash — from his longtime allies, from his Republican challengers, from his own staff. His advisers are worried his comments could alienate American Jews or even evangelical voters, who are already wary about Trump’s new, softer rhetoric on abortion. “His Israel comments were a disaster,” a former Trump White House official told Vanity Fair. Even more so when the reason for Trump’s Israel disdain is speculated: Trump is furious Netanyahu called to congratulate Biden after the 2020 election, refusing to buy into Trump’s stolen-election narrative.

“You notice, (Trump) doesn’t do very many events,” DeSantis said on a radio hit this week. “He won’t debate, and when he does go out, they’ve got him on the teleprompter.” And when he goes off the teleprompter, DeSantis continued, “he tends to step in it.”

Maybe Trump’s scarce in-person appearances are just a symptom of a larger trend among Republican candidates this cycle, where “retail politics is flatlining” in early-voting states, Natalie Allison writes for Politico: compared to this point in 2015, candidate events are down 50% in Iowa, plummeting in New Hampshire and nonexistent in Nevada.

Or maybe there is a growing concern that Trump, on the stump, will attack his jurors or criticize an ally — both actions that could bring serious legal or political consequences. Might be better off in the basement, then.

Ad of the week

In a new ad, Nikki Haley claims she would “stomp all over Joe Biden” in a potential general election matchup.

The ad, called “Strength, Not Chaos,” includes a talking point Haley has used to call for Republican members of the House of Representatives to select a speaker.

“You can’t beat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos,” Haley said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “They need to get it together.”

Weekend reads

The ongoing border crisis has caused some prominent Democrats to rethink their messaging. How does the party, headed into 2024, sell its pro-immigrant message to a public increasingly enraged with what many see as a weak stance from Biden? Maybe start by listening to the people most affected: “Democrats have always taken their cue from non-Hispanics — they’ve never taken their cue on immigration from Hispanics,” former Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a longtime champion on immigration reform, said. With Republicans Winning on Immigration, Demoralized Democrats See Inflection Point (Adrian Carrasquillo, The Messenger)

My Tuesday newsletter focused on the ongoing debate at elite universities surround Israel and Palestine (and what Ivy League-educated presidential candidates are saying). This story in The Atlantic makes a lot of thought-provoking arguments — including the assertion that universities aren’t as “woke” as we might think — but this one has stuck with me: “If college presidents had not spent the past few years issuing watery, say-nothing statements about every crisis in current affairs, they would not now be expected to register their opinion on the conflagration in the Middle East.” And the absence of such an expectation would have saved Harvard, Penn and a number of others from headaches. What Conservatives Misunderstand About Radicalism at Universities (Tyler Austin Harper, The Atlantic)

The American political right, once unquestionably pro-Israel, is beginning to splinter — especially among far-right media personalities. The isolationist foreign policy impulses that emerged with Donald Trump have now spawned into Tucker Carlson arguing against U.S. involvement in Israel and Turning Point USA representatives to spread blatant antisemitism. Conservative influencers battle over Israel, ‘America First,’ and antisemitism after Hamas attack (Shelby Talcott and David Weigel, Semafor)

And finally, an interesting peek onboard Air Force One as it neared war-torn Israel: “ ... security folks were giving instructions to the traveling journalists about how to avoid, well, dying.” How to Fly an American President Into a Country at War (Peter Baker, The New York Times)

Friday mailbag

Have a question for next week’s mailbag? Drop me a line at onthetrail@deseretnews.com, or reply to this email.

Today’s question comes from reader Christian M: What are the candidates saying about the U.S. House Speaker drama?

After Kevin McCarthy was deposed earlier this month, Republican presidential candidates were fairly unified in declaring the ouster “theater,” a “distraction” and “chaos.” That is, all but Vivek Ramaswamy.

“Was the point to sow chaos? Yes, it was,” Ramaswamy said. “But the real question to ask is whether chaos is really such a bad thing in times such as these.”

Not much has changed. Christie said this week that Jim Jordan’s push for the gavel makes Republicans “look childish.” Haley has repeatedly said that candidates need to move beyond “chaos.”

Where things could get interesting, though, is what Jordan’s hoopla (and subsequent surrender) could mean for DeSantis and Trump. Both endorsed Jordan for speaker, and DeSantis and Jordan were members of the old Freedom Caucus together. DeSantis has seemed to remain cordial with his ex-colleague, even after Jordan said he is “100% behind Donald Trump” in 2024. And Jordan’s biggest critique from Democrats and his Republican naysayers is not just his general ineffectiveness as a lawmaker, but his support for Trump’s scheme to overturn the 2020 election. How long until Republicans find their speaker? Will Jordan make another push? Will DeSantis still be in the race by then?

See you on the trail.

Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.