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Happy Tuesday! We’re very excited to announce a new addition to the team! Peter Gattuso—a former Dispatch intern—is back in the fold, joining us as a reporter on TMD. There are lots of reasons we’re happy he’s here, but chief among them is the fact that he’ll be an invaluable addition to our softball team this summer.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • European leaders met in Paris on Monday—the one-year anniversary of the start of the Sudanese Civil War—and pledged more than $2 billion in aid for the war-torn country on the brink of famine. The conflict has displaced more than 8 million people, and more than 14,000 are estimated to have died in the fighting between the Rapid Support Forces—a paramilitary group—and the Sudanese military. The United States pledged $147 million in aid, while the U.K. pledged $110 million and announced sanctions on three companies linked to the conflict—two associated with the RSF and one with the Sudanese armed forces.
  • The FBI on Monday launched a criminal investigation into the container ship crash last month that caused Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge to collapse in an effort to determine whether the vessel’s crew was aware of major mechanical issues before departing the Port of Baltimore. The National Transportation Safety Board, which has been conducting a separate probe into the cause of the crash, anticipates releasing its preliminary report in early May. Meanwhile, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott announced on Monday the city hired two law firms to “hold responsible all entities accountable for the Key Bridge tragedy, including the owner, charterer, manager/operator, and the manufacturer of the M/V Dali, as well as any other potentially liable third parties.” The incident resulted in the deaths of six members of a road crew working on the bridge and caused an estimated $2 billion in damages. 
  • The Biden administration on Monday granted Samsung up to $6.4 billion under the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 to enhance semiconductor production in Texas. The administration expects Samsung’s investment to create 21,500 construction and manufacturing jobs over the next five years, with the first factory set to become operational in 2026, followed by a second in 2027. The Commerce Department forecasts that the U.S. will produce about 20 percent of the world’s leading-edge logic chips by 2030.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson announced on Monday that the House will vote this week on separate aid packages for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, rather than taking up the Senate-approved $95 billion joint aid package for the three countries. The House is also expected to vote on a fourth bill—meant to assuage hardline Republicans—that would include provisions requiring some Ukraine funding to be repaid and allowing the U.S. to seize Russian assets, as well as regulations that could potentially result in a TikTok ban. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries criticized Johnson earlier this week for not introducing a vote on the Senate bill, warning him the current situation resembles a “Churchill or Chamberlain moment.” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday the Biden administration “will not accept” a standalone Israel aid bill without funding for Ukraine.
  • In a 6-3 decision yesterday, the Supreme Court allowed an Idaho ban on gender-transition treatments for minors—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—to broadly go into effect, with exceptions for the two minor plaintiffs who challenged the law. Idaho Gov. Brad Little first signed the law back in May 2023, but a U.S. District Court Judge in December temporarily blocked its enforcement.
  • Caitlin Clark, the women’s college basketball phenom who set a number of records during her time at the University of Iowa, was drafted first overall by the Indiana Fever in the WNBA draft on Monday. 

Checking in on a Weird Election

A combination of pictures shows Joe Biden and Donald Trump speaking during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSONSAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
A combination of pictures shows Joe Biden and Donald Trump speaking during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSONSAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

The first time Donald Trump faced off against Joe Biden in a presidential election, Trump coined the nickname “Sleepy Joe” to describe his Democratic challenger. Four years later, the Biden campaign’s rapid response team relished the opportunity to return the favor following a report that Trump appeared to doze off on Monday during the start of his criminal trial in New York.

That riveting back-and-forth is just a preview of the vigorous and substantive debates that await the country as we embark on a 2020 rematch, with both candidates having secured enough delegates to win their parties’ respective nominations. And like four years ago, the election in November looks set to be a nail-biter. While polls have, for much of the past year, struck fear in the hearts of Democratic politicos everywhere, recent surveys show Biden on the upswing. But there’s lots of time left on the clock before November, and a number of factors that could determine the victor in November—including two major overseas conflicts and the state of the economy—are still very much in flux. Plus, the narrow margin between the two major candidates and their high unfavorable ratings means third-party candidates could wield outsized power in the states where they plan to compete. In short, things still have plenty of time to get weird—or perhaps just weirder. 

Over the weekend, the New York Times and Siena College released a poll that must have had the folks at the Biden campaign HQ popping bottles of champagne. In a survey in the field from April 7-11, 46 percent of registered voters polled said they’d vote for former President Donald Trump if the election were held today, while 45 percent indicated they’d pull the lever for President Joe Biden. And with the survey’s margin of error sitting at 3 percentage points, that’s a statistical dead heat. 

If that doesn’t sound like the kind of good news that should have pro-Biden operatives tweeting triumphantly, consider where Biden was before the State of the Union on March 8. As we wrote last month, widespread concerns over Biden’s age had the Democratic commentariat proclaiming the Biden campaign a nonstarter, with some even calling for Biden to step down as his party’s nominee. 

The numbers backed up the bad vibes. The RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling average has had Biden running behind Trump since October, with the gap widening to a four-point Trump lead at one point in January but settling closer to a two-point margin in February and most of March. 

Beginning late last month, though, that gap began to narrow in several national polls. “[Biden] did appear to get a bump from the State of the Union onward,” Dave Wasserman, an elections analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told TMD. Biden delivered a combative performance that seemed effective at deflecting the friendly fire from his fellow Democrats. A little more than a month later, the RCP average now has Trump leading by a negligible 0.2 percentage points—not just because Biden has shored his support, but because Trump has lost some ground since earlier this month.

(Graph via Joe Schueller)
(Graph via Joe Schueller)

While the State of the Union performance very well might have helped the octogenarian president assuage voters’ widespread concerns about his mental acuity, it doesn’t fully explain the shift. “It’s probable that there are Democrats who are coming home to Biden, who were eventually going to vote for him once they realized this was a binary choice,” Wasserman said. And indeed, the New York Times poll shows that, compared to the Times’ early March survey, Biden won a larger share of his own 2020 voters this month—89 percent, up from 83 percent. 

Trump is still besting Biden in this category, though, winning 94 percent of his former voters in the Times poll. Trump seems to have retained the support of his 2020 voters to an extent Biden has been hard-pressed to match, including in polls of key swing states, as The Dispatch’s Chris Stirewalt explained earlier this month. While this is good news for Trump on net, it could also spell trouble in the long run. “Trump, who has always had a high floor but a low ceiling, looks almost topped out to me,” Stirewalt argued. “Biden could lose if those swing state voters don’t feel the lift, but if they do, the incumbent is the one with the most room to grow.”

Though just one among many, the Times’ survey suggests the possibility that Trump could still lose the support of those who previously voted for him. As his first criminal trial kicks off this week, any sordid details that emerge about his past dealings with porn stars could sour a small, but meaningful, chunk of his own voters on him. Indeed, a number of exit polls conducted during the GOP primaries earlier this year suggested Trump could lose a significant percentage of Republican voters’ support if he is convicted of a felony before the election.

What’s holding some of Biden’s 2020 backers from supporting him this time around? As James Carville famously said, it’s “the economy, stupid.” The Times poll showed that 63 percent of respondents disapproved of the way Biden has handled the economy—including 29 percent of those who voted for him in 2020. And in a Politico/Morning Consult poll released this weekend, 41 percent of voters surveyed said the economy was the most important issue to them. Nearly two full years after inflation hit its peak of around 9 percent year-over-year, the rate of price increases has slowed, but it still remains stubbornly above the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent goal. Consequently, the Federal Reserve has not yet cut interest rates from 5.25-5.50 percent—and those cuts might not come for months if current inflationary trends hold. That makes borrowing money—to finance the purchase of a house or a car, or carry a balance on your credit card, for example—more expensive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, $100 dollars in March 2024 has the same purchasing power as about $81 did in March 2019. 

As Stirewalt pointed out, swing states where voters were more satisfied with the economy were also states where Biden did better according to a Wall Street Journal poll of six battlegrounds earlier this month. 

And the battleground states—some of which Biden won by barely ten thousand votes in 2020 and Trump by similarly tight margins in 2016—are the key to either candidate’s victory in November, which makes the presence of a handful of third-party candidates an all the more chaotic addition to the 2024 race. It’s why Wasserman says 2016—not 2020—is the right point of reference for this year’s election. “Democrats are the incumbents right now,” he told TMD. “They’re defending a record that is less popular than Obama’s record was in 2016. We have two very unpopular candidates, which was also the case in 2016. And that’s driving an unusually high third-party percentage in many polls.”

Although a presidential bid from the centrist group No Labels is officially off the table, there are still three third-party and independent candidates of note. As a general measure of popularity, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is at 2 percent nationally in the New York Times poll when in a five-way race with Biden, Trump, Green Party Candidate Jill Stein, and independent progressive Cornel West, while the latter two candidates poll at less than 1 percent nationally. Of much greater importance than their national standing, though, is how popular they are at the state level—in states where they’re on the ballot. 

It’s not entirely clear where voters for RFK Jr.—by far the most popular independent candidate, polling at 8 percent in a three-way matchup with Biden and Trump—will be able to pull the lever for him without having to write his name in themselves. He’s definitely on the ballot in Utah, and his campaign claims it’s qualified for ballot access in Nevada, Idaho, Nebraska, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Iowa. His campaign hosted a “convention” in Iowa over the weekend for the “We The People” party RFK Jr. invented out of whole cloth as a way to bypass the standard rules requiring 3,500 signatures. His campaign has said it’s aiming to be on the ballot in all 50 states, though the prospect seems unlikely. In any event, it won’t be evident until the summer whether he’s succeeded or not.

West will be lucky to see his name printed on ballots in more than a handful of states. But Stein—his former Green Party compatriot—has a better shot of appearing on more ballots because of her party’s existing infrastructure. Her team currently has its sights set on Pennsylvania, a key battleground state where Biden and Trump are in a statistical tie, according to the RCP average, and where Democrats are still reeling from her impact on the 2016 election.

And in a race as strange and as close as this one, even someone whose name most of the country has never heard could play spoiler to the Republican and Democratic candidates. “Stein’s vote share in 2016 in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin was larger than Donald Trump’s margin of victory over Hillary Clinton,” Wasserman told TMD. “So even a small amount of support can make a critical difference.”

Worth Your Time

  • In August 2022, novelist Salman Rushdie—on whose head the Iranian regime placed a bounty in 1989—was stabbed multiple times in the neck and abdomen before he was slated to give a lecture at Chautauqua Institution in New York. While his injuries were severe—he lost sight in one eye and the use of one hand—he miraculously survived. Now, he has written a memoir on the ordeal, Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder, a portion of which he read aloud for The Telegraph in a video that’s worth a watch. “I have never believed in the immortality of the soul, and my experience in Chautauqua seemed to confirm that,” Rushdie read. “The ‘me,’ whatever or whoever it was, was certainly on the edge of death along with the body that contained it. I had sometimes said, half humorously, that our sense of a non-corporeal ‘me’ or ‘I’ might mean that we possessed a mortal soul—an entity or consciousness that ended along with our physical existence. I now think that maybe that isn’t entirely a joke.”
  • For Law & Liberty, Brian Domitrovic managed to make tax policy interesting in his explanation of the convoluted taxation system that made the 1950s materialism possible. “We continue to hear a drumbeat for higher tax rates, in particular on high earners and corporations, on the grounds that we used to have higher rates and we did fine,” he wrote. “An essential aspect of the fiscal structure of post-World War II prosperity is that the federal government abjectly declined to collect taxes at posted rates because of the deduction culture. High tax rates existed as a holdover of Herbert Hoover, FDR, and World War II, but the public, especially its rising and affluent members, made clear that it was not going to comport with them. The government obliged and did not enforce the rates, and instead, offered a massive suite of legal tax-avoidance opportunities. Everyone went along to get along. … We did not get this—halcyon days—while in any material way having high tax rates. We got this while not enforcing high tax rates due to high deductions, by making nosebleed numbers on a tax table inapplicable and irrelevant.”

Presented Without Comment

Politico: [Former GOP Rep. George] Santos’ Threatened Comeback Bid Hasn’t Raised a Single Dime

In a report filed with the Federal Election Commission Monday morning, Santos’ new campaign committee reported no fundraising and no spending, suggesting he has not yet mounted an actual campaign operation. 

Santos’ campaign committee from his previous congressional run also filed a report on Monday, continuing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Its latest report showed only a handful of small donations, while refunding $21,000 to donors.

Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! The team will discuss the news of the week and, of course, take plenty of viewer questions! Keep an eye out for an email later today with information on how to tune in.
  • In the newsletters: Kevin makes the case (🔒) that fiscal policy is best decided at the local level, the Dispatch Politics crew covered Speaker Mike Johnson’s trip to Mar-a-Lago, and Nick argued (🔒) that Israel should hold off on a counterstrike against Iran—for now.
  • On the podcasts: Jack Goldsmith and Bob Bauer, co-authors of After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency, join Sarah and David on today’s episode of Advisory Opinions to discuss reforming presidential power.
  • On the site: Chris examines dropping murder rates in certain cities, Dean Ball explores what a digital ID could look like and the regulatory framework such infrastructure could enable, and Emily Zanotti writes on the Vatican’s recent statement warning of the effects of modern gender theory, abortion, euthanasia, and war.

Let Us Know

How big of an impact do you expect third-party and independent candidates to have on the 2024 presidential election?