An earlier version of this article was 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, friends.

3 things to know

  1. Trump, a moral exemplar? A new Deseret News/HarrisX poll of U.S. voters shows that a big majority — nearly 80% — of Republican voters say Donald Trump reflects their moral values “a great deal” or “some.” A similar share of Democrats say the same of President Joe Biden. Read more here.
  2. No Labels plans to run a presidential candidate, the centrist political group announced Friday after months of polling and speculation. But because they want a Republican to top their “unity ticket,” their options are limited, as several rumored options — like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. — told the Deseret News they’re out. Read more.
  3. Trump continued his RNC takeover this weekend, successfully installing his handpicked options as the organization’s new leaders (including his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as co-chair). “People have to understand that America First, the MAGA movement is the new Republican Party,” declared Donald Trump Jr. More here.

The Big Idea

Less Bidenomics, more Bidenocracy

Americans got an early glimpse at Biden’s 2024 campaign strategy Thursday night. During his State of the Union address, Biden delivered a starkly partisan speech, teeing up the major themes of his 2024 reelection campaign and taking repeated shots at “his predecessor” (mentioned 13 times).

To many Democrats, the emphatic, impassioned Biden offered a strong rebuttal to concerns about his age and cognitive fluidity. To many Republicans, the speech was overtly political and an “utter disgrace.”

Pundits spent the weekend debating whether the speech was effective, appropriate or even good. Let’s move beyond those conversations and think toward November. A major criticism of the address was that it sounded like a campaign speech. If so, what did Biden’s State of the Union tell us about the president’s reelection campaign?

A few observations:

Democracy is on the ticket, or so Biden will claim. It’s an attempted sequel to Biden’s 2020 campaign message — that Biden can return America to normalcy and democratic strength. This time around, Biden has the added ammo of persistent falsehoods about a stolen 2020 election and the Jan. 6 riot (”the gravest threat to democracy since the Civil War,” he said). Biden opened his speech on the theme, and as he ticked through other issues — the economy, immigration, abortion — he painted them all in the shadow of a bigger issue: democracy.

Even some of Trump’s biggest critics question whether the message will resonate with voters. “Jan. 6 will be four years old by the election,” Mitt Romney told The New York Times in January. “Biden needs fresh material, a new attack, rather than kicking a dead political horse.”

“Bidenomics” have been demoted. Once the centerpiece of Biden’s reelection pitch, the president waited to talk economics until he marched through other issues — the economy, foreign policy, abortion, IVF, mental health, COVID-19. And while he touched on his administration’s wins, like reducing post-pandemic unemployment and promoting domestic manufacturing, he mentioned his efforts to decrease inflation only in passing, despite inflation once being a central part of his message. Perhaps he’s recognizing the disconnect between what economists are saying and what voters are seeing. (I’ve written on this here.) Regardless, an interesting shift.

Foreign policy is here to stay. In October, shortly after Hamas attacked Israel, I noted that foreign policy rarely plays a major role in U.S. presidential elections. (“Voting ends at the water’s edge,” the saying goes.) I readily admit that I was wrong on this, if Biden’s speech was any indication. Biden spoke of Russia’s war on Ukraine before mentioning a single domestic concern. He chided Trump for his NATO comments. He spent a significant amount of time discussing his support for Israel and his concern for Palestinian civilians. Trump is doing himself no favors by praising Putin and criticizing U.S. allies. Biden is rightfully capitalizing.

What I’m reading

NATO braces for conflict: Last month, Trump encouraged Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO countries who don’t spend 2% of their annual GDP on defense. Today, Polish president Andrzej Duda visits Washington, and he plans to propose an increase to 3% “because of growing threats” from Russia and beyond. NATO members must raise their defense spending to 3 percent of GDP (Andrzej Duda, The Washington Post)

The toughest job in Washington? Within a year of taking office, Jake Sullivan — Biden’s national security adviser — oversaw the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Six months later, war broke out in Ukraine. Now, Sullivan navigates the U.S.’ continued response to Russia and negotiations with Israel and Palestine. A prescient look at the role of a firefighter when the world is ablaze: Biden’s National Security Adviser Navigates a World of Chaos (Vivian Salama, Gordon Lubold and Sabrina Siddiqui, Wall Street Journal)

TikTok time: The House is rushing a vote to force TikTok’s Chinese parent company to sell the app to a U.S. company, garnering bipartisan support. But after TikTok encouraged its users to call their congresspeople — flooding congressional offices with thousands of calls from pre-teens — a more influential opponent weighed in: Trump. Four big questions for Washington on TikTok (Mallory Culhane, Politico)

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.