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Biden’s toughest 2024 challenger? His own party

Plus, a new DeSantis ad touts his endorsement from the Iowa governor

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President Joe Biden speaks at a welcome reception for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative leaders in San Francisco on Nov, 15, 2023.

President Joe Biden speaks at a welcome reception for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative leaders at the Exploratorium, in San Francisco on Wednesday, Nov, 15, 2023.

Doug Mills, The New York Times via 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. To submit a question to next week’s Friday Mailbag, email onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

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

I’m writing from Des Moines today, ahead of a big week for Republican presidential candidates. All of the front-runners are in Iowa: Trump, DeSantis, Haley, Ramaswamy. Those latter three are sitting down for a “Thanksgiving Family Forum” today — essentially a political debate, but all are seated around a table. Or, like most Americans call it, Thanksgiving dinner.

If you missed it, Ron DeSantis unloaded on Mitt Romney this week, calling him a member of the “surrender caucus” and lamenting his noninvite to Romney’s E2 Summit. The problem? “He was 100% invited” and “opted not to come,” E2 organizer Spencer Zwick told me. More on that here.

Here’s more of the Deseret News’ 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

Biden’s toughest challenger? His own party

President Joe Biden has faced pressure from the Democratic Party’s far-left flank for weeks over his position on Israel. After he condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, some progressives called on him to cut U.S. support for Israel. After he visited Tel Aviv, some of his staunchest Arab American donors began backing off. And now, as he continues to support Israel’s ground operation in Gaza, protesters took to the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington on Wednesday night, where calls for a cease-fire turned violent.

It’s the latest sign of Biden’s complicated relationship with certain factions of his own party, a year removed from an election that looks increasingly unfavorable for the incumbent. This week alone, several polls projecting a hypothetical Biden-Trump rematch show the former president with a slight edge: in a Reuters/Ipsos poll, Trump +2; YouGov/The Economist, Trump +2; Beacon/Fox News, Trump +5; YouGov/Yahoo, Trump +2; Quinnipiac, Trump +3.

But it’s not only voters who have concerns. Some prominent members of Biden’s own party have become increasingly outspoken about Biden’s ability to win next November. David Axelrod, the chief strategist for both of the Obama-Biden presidential campaigns, stirred the pot last week when he tweeted a New York Times/Siena College poll that shows Biden trailing in a number of key swing states. “It’s very late to change horses,” Axelrod acknowledged. But the polls — and the threat of a second Trump term, if Biden is unable to win handily — should bring “legitimate concern.”

“If (Biden) continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party,” Axelrod continued. “What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?”

Within days, Axelrod had softened his comments, at least in part. “It’s overreacting to say I told him to drop out,” he told Politico. “I didn’t do that.” What he did do, though, is rip open the curtain shielding the Democratic strategy machinery, where Biden clearly has the party’s backing, though he may not have its full confidence. And with the Republican Party inching closer to selecting its own nominee — and that choice looking increasingly like Trump — the pressure within the party to ensure that Democrats choose well increases.

It should be noted that Biden and Axelrod have a history. Axelrod backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, much to Biden’s chagrin, splintering Axelrod’s relationship with Biden’s son. After Axelrod’s tweets, Biden reportedly called him a pejorative term. And Axelrod’s off-the-cuff, uninvited insights are no surprise to Biden’s inner circle; when Axelrod sends out one of his “head-scratching” tweets, as one ex-Biden aide put it, the Biden staff rolls its eyes.

But Axelrod isn’t backing down. His concern is shared by “many, many Democrats,” he claims, who recognize that the person on the other side isn’t Mitt Romney, who Axelrod came to respect. “This is Donald Trump,” Axelrod said. “It’s a fundamental question as to what American democracy is going to look like the day after the next election. So the stakes are very high.”

Axelrod, like a growing clip of Americans, are worried about Biden’s age. His economic record, too, is failing to garner much enthusiasm. And intra-party dissension over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war is only getting louder. Do Democrats think Biden needs to step aside? If he does, who’s on deck? Is it already too late?

Weekend reads

Now you know Biden has a problem. One unorthodox solution? Win over support from moderates, like Mitt Romney. “Democrats are sufficiently alarmed by the possibility a No Labels candidate could hand the election to Trump,” Jonathan Martin writes. “But the way to preemptively undermine No Labels is to dispatch Democrats such as Joe Manchin or Republicans like Romney and Dick Cheney to articulate the risk they pose. These individuals may be reluctant to do so, but they can be prodded, charmed and shown the data detailing the danger of inaction.” Here’s How Biden Can Turn It Around (Jonathan Martin, Politico)

Nevada is projected to be a swing state next fall, potentially deciding the election. Early polls show the bluish-purple state slowly turning more red. Here, Jon Ralston — the resident expert on everything Nevada — gets a byline in a national publication, and notes that for all the quirks of polling the state, two things are true: Biden seems to be struggling with nonwhite voters, and he is losing his grip on young voters. Why a Blue-Leaning Swing State Is Getting Redder (Jon Ralston, The Atlantic)

If you’ve never heard of the 1873 Comstock Act, you’re not alone. It prevents mailing “obscene” materials like pornography and abortion drugs, and according to a new Axios post, a president could effectively outlaw abortion single-handedly by enforcing the Act, cutting off access to abortion medication for both individuals and medical providers. This could shift the GOP field, as some candidates — like Nikki Haley — have avoided calling for a nationwide ban on the pretext that such would never get through Congress. Maybe it wouldn’t need to go through Congress: How the next Republican president could stop most abortions without Congress (Caitlin Owens, Axios)

Ad of the week

DeSantis’ new TV ad focuses on his endorsement from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. The ad, titled “Endorsement,” highlights Reynolds’ surprising decision to back DeSantis, the first time a sitting Iowa governor has endorsed in a contested GOP primary since 1996.

DeSantis has gone all in to win Iowa voters, trimming his campaign operations in other states to focus on the first-in-the-nation caucus. Will it work? We’ll find out in less than two months(!).

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

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.