Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.
Here’s my latest — a profile of Chad Connelly, a conservative power broker who’s training thousands of pastors to vet presidential candidates and get their congregants to vote. “Jesus ain’t running,” Connelly says, “so you’re voting for the lesser of two evils.” Read my story here.
Here’s more of the Deseret News’ 2024 election coverage:
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is reportedly planning to announce run for president as an independent by Madison Selcho
- Candidates spar in a Trump-less Republican debate
- Trump outlines vision of ‘economic nationalism’ in Detroit, while missing debate by Brigham Tomco
- 10 takeaways from the 2nd GOP debate by Hanna Seariac and Eva Terry
The Big Idea
Why political reporters should read the Bible
I arrived early to last Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, California. As the shuttle bus meandered its way up to the Reagan Library, my fellow journalists passed the time in any number of ways. Some conversed. Others pulled out their phones, scrolling through Twitter or checking email. But David Weigel, politics reporter for Semafor, surprised me: He opened a big-text copy of the Holy Bible.
I’ve admired David for some time. He joined Semafor last year, right when the upstart news outfit launched. Before then, he was a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he covered Congress. In the stratosphere of political journalism, he’s on the top tier.
After we got off the bus, I asked him what he was reading. David told me he’s a Christian but isn’t particularly religious, and he’s never read the Bible cover-to-cover. When tasked to cover another presidential election earlier this year, he decided he’d better learn to understand the language the candidates are speaking. He started in Genesis this spring; he’s now in 1 Chronicles.
Republican candidates often quote Bible verses or appeal to “Judeo-Christian values.” But the media does a poor job covering religious themes, not in small part due to newsroom demographics (where journalists are consistently less religious than the groups they cover). This is especially relevant during the fight for the Republican nomination, where conservative Christians make up a huge chunk of the electorate and a comparatively small portion of the media who cover it.
I appreciated this reporter’s candor. He noticed one of his blind spots and decided to address it (although there may be less-painful ways to understand Iowa evangelicals than trudging through Leviticus). It made me ask myself: How would the current coverage of Republican presidential campaigns be different if all the reporters were reading the Bible each day — maybe out of personal conviction, or maybe because they wanted to understand what their subjects were so keen on referencing?
I imagine more reporters would recognize that the candidates’ frequent references to a “city on a hill” were odes to the Sermon on the Mount, not to Ronald Reagan. When candidates quote the Bible on the stump or on social media, I bet more reporters would accurately characterize the references.
On the flip side, when polls show that Republican voters think a thrice-married, adulterous reality TV star — with a growing list of criminal indictments — is more of a “person of faith” than Mitt Romney, Mike Pence or Joe Biden, Biblically literate reporters might recognize that these voters’ definitions of faith must go beyond the morals outlined in the Bible.
As a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I feel comfortable writing about voting trends among my fellow adherents. (I do so frequently, like here and here.) But I’m admittedly less comfortable writing about, say, evangelicals or Jews or Muslims. I’m not alone — in a study last year, a significant portion of journalists said they avoid writing about faith or religious groups because they’re scared they will “get it wrong.”
That’s why I respect what David is doing, and I acknowledge the basic practices of good journalism — strong sourcing, fact-checking and elevating voices from within the communities you cover — are another worthy place to start. I’ll be writing about evangelical Christians a lot over the next year, as they make up a huge chunk of the national Republican electorate (and even more so in early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina). Today, I have a new profile up of this election’s evangelical kingmaker, a South Carolinian who’s training thousands of pastors to get their congregants involved in the political process.
There is more to come. Keep an eye out next week for an inside look at one presidential candidate’s relationship with an elite Jewish society, and more findings from our polling on the candidates’ faith.
What I’m reading
A wide-ranging interview with President Joe Biden, in which he weighs in on Fox News, Trump’s legal peril and the government shutdown. Most interesting to me was a question about No Labels and former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, who are mulling the possibility of a third-party run. Biden’s response? “Well, (Lieberman) has a democratic right to do it. There’s no reason not to do that. Now, it’s going to help the other guy. And he knows (that). … That’s a political decision he’s making that I obviously think is a mistake. But he has a right to do that.” The Biden Interview: The President Talks About the Supreme Court, Threats to Democracy and Trump’s Vow to Exact Retribution (John Harwood, ProPublica)
The best profile of Nikki Haley I’ve read this election cycle, focusing on her central pitch to voters: In a fractured political environment, people want someone who can compromise and appeal to both sides. Haley posits that she’s the perfect solution: “Haley is singular in her efforts to span what at times can feel like an unbridgeable gap between the pre- and post-Trump GOP. She neither hugs him nor hates him.” Nikki Haley Is Turning Her Biggest Criticism Into a Campaign Strategy (Michael Kruse, Politico)
On Sunday, a major Republican candidate visited Nevada for the first time since June, when Vivek Ramaswamy held an event in at a honky-tonk bar south of the Las Vegas Strip. Nevada’s Republican Party is in the middle of a legal battle to cancel the state’s primary election and instead hold a caucus, a move critics say favors Trump. Ramaswamy, however, seems keen about his chances in Nevada — and was the first candidate to file for the caucus. In Las Vegas, Vivek Ramaswamy campaigns under Trump’s shadow (Jacob Solis, The Nevada Independent)
As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. mulls ditching the Democratic Party and running as an independent, a Kennedy-aligned super PAC commissioned a poll of a hypothetical three-way contest between Trump, Biden and RFK:
- Biden: 38%.
- Trump: 38%.
- Kennedy: 19%.
A few caveats: This shows Kennedy much higher than most independent polls, and it was commissioned by a pro-RFK super PAC. Also, the poll didn’t include Cornel West or any other independent candidates.
Still, the fact that Kennedy is seen as competitive — and Biden and Trump neck-and-neck — is enough to excite Kennedy supporters. “Any outcome that allows people to be heard and that allows people to actually cast a vote for a candidate that they’ve decided on themselves is a good thing,” said Tony Lyons, co-founder of American Values 2024, the super PAC that commissioned the poll, according to Politico.
What to watch
Donald Trump appeared in court in New York for the first day of the civil fraud trial against him, his sons and their companies. This is the latest in a long string of Trump’s legal troubles, which run the gamut: business fraud, sexual assault, election interference, mishandling classified documents.
Will any of the charges lead to him dropping in the polls? So far, each successive indictment makes him more popular among Republicans and slightly less so in hypothetical general elections. We’ll be watching this week to see if there’s any movement.
Any election-related questions for our Friday Mailbag? Send them my way — email@example.com.
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.