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. Wishing all a wonderful Easter weekend.

3 things to know

  1. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. picked his VP on Tuesday: Bay Area lawyer and businesswoman Nicole Shanahan. It was a timely move for Kennedy — as an independent candidate, Kennedy needs to meet state-by-state requirements for ballot access; on Monday, Nevada announced his filing was invalid, because he hadn’t yet selected a running mate. Read more here.
  2. Ronna McDaniel’s NBC tenure lasted only two days, after the network faced backlash for hiring the ex-Republican National Committee chair. Trump, who helped push McDaniel out of the RNC, was giddy: “If I knew Ronna was going to troubled MSNBC, I would have advised her to change her name back to Romney, she would have had a better chance!” More here.
  3. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman died on Wednesday at the age of 82. He spent 24 years in the Senate, first as a Democrat and later as an independent. He became the first Jew to run on a major-party ticket when he was Democrat Al Gore’s running mate in 2000. More here.

The Big Idea

Thanks, Obama

On Thursday night, beneath the bright lights of Radio City Music Hall, a bromance was restored.

President Joe Biden and former president Barack Obama, the rivals-turned-collaborators-turned-friends, paired up for a big-money fundraiser in New York City. Bill Clinton attended, too, marking a rare group appearance from the three most recent Democratic presidents.

The event, by most metrics, was a smashing success. The Biden campaign claimed it raised over $26 million, making it “the most successful political fundraiser in American history.” Basic entry tickets cost $225, which got attendees in the main hall for an “armchair conversation” with the three presidents — led by Stephen Colbert — plus musical performances from Queen Latifah, Lizzo, Ben Platt and others. For $100,000, a photo with the presidents. For $250,000 a reception with the presidents. For $500,000 an exclusive reception with the presidents.

Obama praised Biden’s economic record and warned about the repercussions of a second Trump administration. When pro-Gaza protesters interrupted Biden on several occasions, it was Obama who interjected. “You can’t just talk and not listen,” he told the demonstrators. “That’s what the other side does.” He pled for understanding toward Biden: “It’s a lonely seat,” he said. “One of the realities of the presidency is that the world has a lot of joy and beauty, but it also has a lot of tragedy and cruelty.”

For Obama and Biden, whose relationship during their eight-year White House tenure was often called a “bromance,” it was a wildly lucrative hang-out. But it was notable for another reason: the relationship between the Obama and Biden camps isn’t nearly as chummy as it may seem, and this newfound collaboration is huge for Biden’s reelection hopes.

Obama and Biden are drastically different people, as the Times’ Katie Rogers documents here. Biden is the old-school Senate dealmaker; Obama, the young visionary. Biden went to state school; Obama, to Harvard. Obama is “the cool head,” Rogers writes; Biden, “the Irish temper.”

Those differences led to disagreements during the Obama administration, often on foreign policy. Biden famously opposed Obama’s 2009 decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. Obama balked at Biden’s vengeance toward Russia after it invaded Ukraine in 2014. Now, with Biden in office, the two have taken a notably different posture on Israel.

President Joe Biden, center, and former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton participate in a fundraising event with Stephen Colbert at Radio City Music Hall, Thursday, March 28, 2024, in New York. | Alex Brandon

The relationship hit a bump when Obama prepared to leave office in 2016. Biden, assuming he was the natural successor, geared up for a presidential campaign. Obama saw Hillary Clinton as a stronger candidate, and backed her. Biden has said publicly he understood the decision, but his staff — some of his closest aides and confidantes — still harbor resentments. And even Biden often uses Obama as a measuring stick behind closed doors. “Obama would be jealous,” Biden sometimes says when speaking about a perceived accomplishment, Axios reported.

The knife cuts both ways. One of Obama’s top strategists, David Axelrod, caught fire late last year for publicly questioning whether Biden was capable of defeating Trump. Plenty of people in Obama’s orbit — including Obama himself — made the same argument in 2016. It’s nothing personal, they say, and can largely be chocked up to real strategic differences in running their campaigns: Biden relies on “instincts and guts,” and Obama is a technocrat, Politico’s Holly Otterbein writes. Obama’s on-the-ground strategy in 2008 and 2012 reinvented retail politics — so much so, that Trump’s 2020 national political director told me they “stole what they learned from the Obama campaign, tactics-wise.” Biden, whose 2020 pandemic campaign was largely sidelined by COVID, leaves him with a staff “unfamiliar with the complexities of a true national ground game,” Otterbein writes.

But for Democrats, the Obama camp included, worrying about whether Biden is the right man or not is now irrelevant. Biden has all but secured the Democratic nomination, and it’s too late in the cycle for a candidate swap. Obama seems to realize this. He’s the most popular former president alive. He still maintains significant sway in his party, at a time when many progressives are souring on Biden’s ability to handle the U.S.’ involvement in the Middle East. He has influence, and he doesn’t want a second Trump term.

So, Obama seems to be shelving his difference with Biden and getting to work. He’s spending time on the phone with top Biden aides. He’s calling Biden himself, talking through strategy. And, as we saw last night, he’s selling photo ops for $100,000-a-pop for his old vice president.

Weekend reads

Who is Nicole Shanahan? This account — written by a Silicon Valley beat writer who’s known her for years — paints a good picture. For those surprised by RFK Jr.’s VP pick, you aren’t alone: “Indeed, Shanahan’s only-in-Silicon Valley transformation — from patent lawyer to scenester to philanthropist and now, suddenly, a vice presidential candidate — has floored those who used to party or talk politics with her,” writes Theodore Schleifer. “It has stunned me, too.” Nicole in Wonderland (Puck) For a quick-hit, here are 55 Things You Need to Know About Nicole Shanahan (Peder Schaefer, Politico)

Biden’s immigration policy centers on “root causes” for migration. As such, he’s dispatched Kamala Harris to Latin America more frequently than he’s sent her to the U.S.-Mexico border. But Biden is missing something Trump had: a mutually beneficial relationship with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Why not? “The AMLO-Trump relationship bore fruit because the two populists are both transactional leaders who understand the value of cutting deals.” Lessons of the AMLO-Trump Bromance (Juan David Rojas, Compact Magazine)

Trump’s mother-in-law, Amalija Knavs, migrated to the U.S. from Slovenia. Newly unearthed documents suggest she followed a legal path that Trump attempted to end while in office. Knavs, who passed away in January, was sponsored by Melania Trump for a green card — a form of family-based immigration that Trump attempted to end with his 2017 Raise Act. Records confirm Trump’s mother-in-law came to U.S. through process he derided (Maria Sacchetti, The Washington Post)

Finally, if you missed our John Stockton profile, catch up here. What pairs better with a weekend of March Madness than Stock? Finding John Stockton

Friday mailbag

Today’s question is from reader Kerry H.:

I keep reading all of these articles (including yours) about all of the former Trump supporters who are campaigning against him in this election. What seems unclear to me is, are these people going to vote for Biden, simply not vote or write in some other candidate that effectively negates their vote?

Great question. Some will certainly vote for Biden, like many did in 2020. Bill Kristol, Sarah Isgur, Steve Schmidt ... all former Republicans who are openly supporting Biden.

I think a much larger group of voters, though, are repulsed by Trump but also dissatisfied by Biden. Many of those included in the “Republican Voters Against Trump” openly say they won’t support Biden, either, and don’t know how they’ll vote in November. Anecdotally, I’ve spoken in recent months with several Republican or ex-Republican voters who backed Biden in 2020 but won’t in 2024, because they feel like he’s gone back on his promise of being a transitional candidate.

I’m not sure that I agree with your premise that writing in another candidate negates their vote, though. Sure, if someone writes in Mickey Mouse instead of voting for Trump or Biden, it could hurt Biden in swing states like Arizona or Nevada — but in Utah, for example, where Trump should win handily, write-in votes against Trump could actually benefit Biden (even if those don’t equate to votes for Trump). If Biden gets the same 37% he did in Utah in 2020, and a third of Trump voters from 2020 decide to write in another candidate, Trump and Biden are now neck-and-neck. A hypothetical, but you get the point.

What’s more interesting to me here is the idea of third-party or independent candidates. If No Labels runs a candidate, they already have ballot access in 19 states. Cornel West and RFK Jr. are pushing for ballot access, too. West will draw from the progressive left — many of whom would otherwise vote for Biden. RFK’s voters, however, are an enigma — early polling showed him pulling from Trump, but now he’s selected a progressive as his running mate. While it’s nearly impossible that an independent candidate will win, they could certainly tip the scales a bit.

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.