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.

Hello, friends. Welcome to On the Trail 2024.

3 things to know

  1. Joe Biden is walking a tightrope with Israel, as Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in Washington — criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership Thursday and called for a two-state solution. Read more here.
  2. Donald Trump spent Thursday in court, dealing with his mishandling of classified documents. The prosecutor dismissed any comparisons to the Biden case, saying “there was never a situation remotely similar to this one.” More here.
  3. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s VP picks include Aaron Rodgers and Jesse Ventura, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Kennedy plans to reveal which of the lucky men will get the rose during an event in Oakland later this month. More here.

The big idea

Biden’s other Middle East problem

Ever since Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7, the Biden White House has made Middle East foreign policy a chief concern. Nearly every White House press briefing has included an update on negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Biden’s State of the Union speech — a formality usually focused on domestic policy, except in times of war — prioritized declarations of support for Israel and Ukraine before mentioning many issues at home.

The war is weighing on Biden’s reelection efforts, too. While some conservatives have praised Biden’s measured approach, some progressive voters have begun to abandon Biden. Though the president secured the Democratic nomination this week, he will need to regain his party’s left in order to win in November.

But another growing threat in the Middle East poses a threat to American security — and Biden’s response could be detrimental to his reelection campaign.

Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism globally, has increased aggression in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel. Since Oct. 7, Iranian-backed militia groups have launched over 170 attacks on American troops stationed in Iraq and Syria. In late January, an Iran-backed drone strike killed three U.S. service members in Jordan. The attacks were motivated by the U.S.’ support for Israel, the militant groups claimed; the U.S. responded with a series of airstrikes.

The attacks subsequently paused, and as Politico reported, over a month has passed since an Iranian-backed attack on U.S. troops. But the Houthi rebels continued to attack Israeli and other countries’ commercial vessels in the Red Sea, leading the U.S. to hold indirect negotiations with Iranian officials, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Now, Republican legislators are criticizing the Biden administration of a double-standard in its policy toward Iran. On Tuesday, Biden announced an extension of the existing national emergency related to Iran, citing the country’s “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” But on Wednesday, the administration reportedly re-approved a sanctions waiver unlocking up to $10 billion for Iran, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Biden faced scrutiny in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack for unfreezing aid to Iran in exchange for hostages. The House of Representatives voted to block Iran’s access to the funds, and Biden’s opponents claimed the unfrozen aid was used to help Hamas plan its attack, a claim the White House disputed. In both cases, the White House insisted the aid was for humanitarian purposes. “How naïve can you be?” Tim Scott, then a GOP presidential candidate, said in October. “Money is fungible. We just gave a terrorist-supporting regime billions of dollars and room in their budget.”

Now, as the Israel-Hamas war enters its sixth month and Iran continues its aggression, Republicans are re-upping their critiques of Biden’s foreign policy. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney has called on Biden to fully enforce sanctions toward Iran. A group of House Republicans wrote a letter this week criticizing the White House for “maintaining a financial lifeline for the Iranian regime, even as it continues to support terrorist organizations around the world.”

Thomas Friedman, the foreign policy expert and Biden ally, recently predicted a coming shift in Biden’s approach to the Middle East. His proposal includes a “strong and resolute stand on Iran,” a position that many Republicans would celebrate. But Friedman posits that restoring legitimacy against Iran is only possible by pushing hard against the current Israeli leadership, as some top Democrats have already begun to do, and working toward a demilitarized Palestinian state. Such a proposal would likely anger most Republicans.

That leaves Biden with an ongoing crisis in Israel and a growing threat from Iran — and, at home, opposition from Republicans and angry progressives alike.

Weekend reads

TikTok could be banned in the U.S. soon, thanks to a bipartisan bill working its way through the Senate. Some presidential campaigns — including Biden’s and RFK Jr.’s — are on TikTok. But how helpful is the app for campaigns, really? This analysis of one Senate race in California answers: Primaries Show Candidates Can Win on TikTok But Lose at the Polls (Alex Barinka, Bloomberg)

The RFK Jr.-Ventura-Rodgers news shines a spotlight on Kennedy’s social media strategy. For a campaign doing all it can to gain traction on social media and target young voters, it’s a smart move — but online, young voters are only a fraction of the general electorate. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Targets a Generation of Politically Disaffected, Extremely Online Men (Anna Merlan, Wired)

Trump has vowed not to touch Social Security, but some of his recent comments on entitlements have Republicans worried. An attempted cleanup on Bret Baier’s Fox News show may have dissuaded some concerns — but the Biden campaign is doing its best to keep voters from forgetting. Trump tries to clean up his Social Security comments (Sam Stein, Politico)

Friday mailbag

This week’s question comes from Christopher D.:

Who would dark horse POTUS contenders be for future cycles?

Let’s imagine two scenarios. In the first, Trump wins the 2024 election, cementing the MAGA movement’s takeover of the Republican Party and setting off a major shakeup among Democrats. In the second, Biden wins in November, allowing Biden four years to effectively hand-pick his successor. Republicans either blame Trump for the loss and work toward a post-Trump GOP, or Trump’s claims of a stolen election again overtake the party and cement him as the party’s de-facto leader.

In the first scenario, a four-year Trump term serves as a probationary time for prospective Trump successors. Whoever he chooses as his vice president would likely be the front-runner in 2028. But others undoubtedly will try their luck, too. Ron DeSantis seems to be gearing up for 2028. Tim Scott will be up for reelection but has said he won’t pursue another Senate term. Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley don’t seem to be going anywhere. Other Trump loyalists, if tapped to serve in a second Trump White House, could foray that experience into a candidacy: Marjorie Taylor Greene, Kristi Noem, Byron Donalds, and so on.

But if Trump loses, and the GOP doesn’t course-correct, he could very well be the front-runner again in 2028.

Democrats, meanwhile, suffer either from a shallow bench or a refusal to think beyond 2024. If Biden wins, Kamala Harris will likely be the front-runner entering 2028, as vice presidents often are. But she’s widely unpopular, and her underwhelming candidacy in 2020 could hamper support. The same could be said of the other 2020 hopefuls — Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders.

If Biden loses in 2024, expect the party to look for a younger candidate. If the election were tomorrow and Biden were to lose, it would be because of his age and his cratering support from progressives. So, that could lead the party to pick a younger, progressive successor. Gavin Newsom, Jared Polis and Gretchen Whitmer are strong governors who could throw their hats in the ring.

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.