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Joe Biden to Kick Off 2024 in Valley Forge
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Joe Biden to Kick Off 2024 in Valley Forge

Plus: Trump’s grip on the House GOP keeps tightening.

Happy Friday! To whatever subset of our readers still have their new year’s resolutions going—don’t give up now, we’re pulling for you!

Up to Speed

  • Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley made their primetime pitches to Iowa voters in back-to-back CNN town halls last night. Batting leadoff, DeSantis talked up his strengths as a disciplined, relentless leader intent on “overdelivering” on his campaign promises: “When I tell you I’m going to do something, you can take it to the bank. I’m going to do it.” And when asked about his pledge to push for the courts to rule on whether children of illegal immigrants should qualify for birthright citizenship, he used the moment to suggest Donald Trump’s word was less reliable: “Donald Trump ran in 2016 saying he would do exactly what I just said. Did he ever sign his name to an executive order when he promised voters that he was going to do it? Never signed it. What does he now tell people in Iowa this time around? He says he’s going to do the same thing that he didn’t do the first four years. I mean, sometimes you can say Congress stymied you, all this other stuff. All he had to do is put his John Hancock on a piece of paper, and he did not do it.”
  • Haley faced somewhat tougher sledding in her town hall, as she had to clean up some recent off-key moments from the campaign trail. She offered her fullest walkback yet of her controversial answer last week about what caused the Civil War. (“I should have said slavery right off the bat … I was thinking past slavery, and talking about the lesson that we would learn going forward. I shouldn’t have done that.”) And she laughed off criticism of her off-the-cuff remark this week in New Hampshire that Granite State voters “correct” the results of the Iowa caucuses: “We have done 150-plus town halls. You gotta have some fun too.” But she also offered a clear pitch for why voters should select her over Donald Trump: “The reality is, rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him, and we all know that’s true,” she said. “We can’t have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive it.”
  • The super PAC supporting Nikki Haley’s presidential bid indicated that part of its advertising strategy is to help her finish ahead of Ron DeSantis in the January 15 Iowa caucus to set up a de facto head-to-head clash with former President Donald Trump in the January 23 New Hampshire primary. “At this point, this is a functional one-on-one race of Trump versus Nikki Haley,” SFA Inc. lead strategist Mark Harris told reporters this week, adding: “There’s no doubt, now, that once we get on the other side of Iowa, it really is a two-way race.” SFA Inc. has lately upped its spending in Iowa, with a significant portion of this latest investment funding ads attacking DeSantis.
  • Of course, there’s no way New Hampshire can truly be a Haley-Trump, head-to-head affair as long as Chris Christie sticks around (to say nothing of DeSantis and wealthy biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy). And so far, the former New Jersey governor is giving no sign that he’s remotely interested in dropping his White House bid before the Granite State votes. On Thursday, Axios reported the Christie campaign unveiled a new television advertisement featuring the candidate speaking directly to camera with “an admission” that he “made a mistake” by endorsing Trump in the GOP primary eight years ago. Christie previously defended his support for the former president despite breaking with him after the 2020 election.
  • But is Haley as competitive with Trump in New Hampshire as her supporters claim? The former president’s campaign certainly seems to think so. The Trump campaign is running a new television advertisement in New Hampshire accusing the former South Carolina governor of being soft on illegal immigration. “The ad tries to connect Haley’s immigration positions with those of President Joe Biden by arguing that both opposed ‘Trump’s border wall’ and ‘Trump’s visitor ban from terrorist nations,’” NBC News reported. How did Haley respond? “Trump’s New Ad Shows He’s Terrified of Haley,” her campaign said in a press release. New Hampshire Journal flagged a video of the ad here.

Biden to Blast Trump in January 6 Anniversary Speech

President Joe Biden talks to the press before at the White House on December 23, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden talks to the press before at the White House on December 23, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden will deliver a speech near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, this afternoon to commemorate the third anniversary of the January 6 ransacking of the United States Capitol by grassroots supporters of Donald Trump. 

Choosing proximity to this hallowed Revolutionary War site wasn’t happenstance. Rather, it was Biden’s latest move in an aggressive effort to paint his predecessor as antithetical to the American traditions of freedom and democracy.

“President Biden will lay out the stakes of this election near Valley Forge, the same spot where nearly 250 years ago, our nation’s forefathers transformed a disorganized alliance of colonial militias to a cohesive coalition united in their fight for our democracy,” Biden’s principal deputy campaign manager, Quentin Fulks, told reporters during a conference call this week. 

But this association with the historically significant rallying point was not the only reason Biden’s campaign selected Valley Forge for the president’s first political address of the election year. The site roughly 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia where the Continental Army spent a crucial winter is, Fulks emphasized, “where General Washington united American willpower and went on to lead this nation as commander, and as president, before relinquishing power—the ultimate precedent and experiment of American democracy.” 

Translation: Washington willingly and peacefully transferred power to his successor, establishing a pattern that lasted more than two centuries, until Trump. And that pattern may cease to exist if the former president wins the White House again this fall.

“Our campaign is running an operation like our democracy depends on it—because it does,” Fulks said.

These striking claims about the dangers Trump supposedly poses to the country are not new for Biden—he’s been saying this for months. But the president’s decision to begin the election year near Valley Forge, followed Monday by a speech at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, reveals his reelection strategy. No matter how much Biden talks about the economy, abortion rights, or other poignant issues, he wants voters to view his campaign—a likely rematch against Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination—as American democracy versus “MAGA” authoritarianism. (Trump, who released a new television ad Friday to counter Biden’s speech, rejects the charge, arguing his multiple criminal indictments are part of a Democratic plot to interfere in the election so as to illegitimately secure a second term for his successor.)

“The choice for voters [this] year will not simply be between competing philosophies of governing,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said on the call. “The choice for the American people in November 2024 will be about protecting our democracy and every American’s fundamental freedoms.”

To drive this message home, the Biden campaign is dispatching both the president and Vice President Kamala Harris to key electoral battlegrounds and communities crucial to the Democratic coalition—as well as to symbolic venues and events. That includes sending Harris to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Saturday to address an annual women’s gathering hosted by a local black church. In 2020, it was black Democratic primary voters in South Carolina, now host of the Democratic Party’s first sanctioned presidential primary, that propelled Biden to the nomination.

Two-plus weeks later, on the January 22 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide (overturned by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center in 2022,) Harris will travel to Wisconsin, the first stop on a planned “reproductive freedoms tour.” The vice president’s trip to this crucial swing state will be just one component of what the Biden campaign says will be a robust program to highlight the Republican Party’s opposition to abortion rights.

Biden campaign officials added that more details about its ramped up activities—involving advertising, voter turnout and candidate travel—would continue to be unveiled. 

Indeed, on Thursday, the campaign rolled out a new 60-second television advertisement featuring the president speaking about the preservation of American democracy and traditions. Advisers said the spot was backed by $500,000 and would run on broadcast stations during national and local news programs in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The campaign said it would also run shortened versions of the ad on digital platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Connected TV, among others.

Meanwhile, Biden campaign officials claimed there are plenty of resources to fund everything, courtesy of “stronger than expected” fundraising in the fourth quarter of last year, although they declined to disclose how much was collected October 1 through December 31. 

One thing is clear: The president is going to need every penny. He entered this month with a subpar job approval rating and trailing Trump in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls such that the former president is now considered the favorite to win in November by some political observers.

Trump’s Tight Grip on the Congressional GOP

GOP congressman Don Bacon, who represents a purple Omaha-based district, sees a lot to like in Nikki Haley’s candidacy. “She had great energy. I think she has the Ronald Reagan message,” Bacon told The Dispatch of the Haley event he attended in Iowa in December. “She’s getting the growing crowds.”

Like Bacon, Haley supports a robust foreign policy, including the provision of aid to help repel the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Nebraska congressman told us he’d vote for Haley if the primary were held today. But he’s holding off on a formal endorsement. Why? Bacon says he wants to “be tactful because I’m in an R+1 seat, and I want to be respectful because we’ve got people in our district—some like Trump, some like DeSantis, and some like Nikki Haley. … I need the whole team.” 

As Semafor’s Kadia Goba noted earlier this week, Bacon is part of “small crop of lawmakers quietly rooting for Haley.” Bacon’s support-but-not-endorse stance toward Haley practically makes him a Haley cheerleader compared to his more reticent unnamed colleagues. Bacon tells us: “I do know there’s a lot of other folks too, that totally feel the same way” about Haley as he does, but he wouldn’t name them.

Bacon wouldn’t rule out an endorsement of Haley if the presidential race makes it closer to the Nebraska primary that is months away, but his reluctance to formally endorse her now and his fellow Haley fans’ unwillingness to speak up are just a couple more sign of how strong Trump’s grip is on the congressional GOP—where the number of Trump endorsements have outpaced Haley endorsements by nearly 100 to 1.

A few more signs of Trump’s strength: 

Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who was a reliable ally of Trump during the administration but sharply rebuked the president on January 6, endorsed Trump on Thursday.

Louisiana congressman and House majority leader Steve Scalise also endorsed Trump this week, despite the fact that Trump opposed Scalise’s speakership bid this fall. 

But if you really want to see how strong Trump’s grip is on the congressional GOP, look at Minnesota congressman and House majority whip Tom Emmer. Trump opposed Emmer’s bid for speakership in a particularly nasty and personal way. “Voting for a Globalist RINO like Tom Emmer would be a tragic mistake!” Trump wrote on social media in October. On Wednesday, Emmer announced: “I am proud to endorse Donald J. Trump for President.”

Notable and Quotable 

“They always bend the knee.” 

—Donald Trump on Rep. Emmer’s endorsement, according to the New York Times, January 5, 2024

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

John McCormack is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was Washington correspondent at National Review and a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. When John is not reporting on politics and policy, he is probably enjoying life with his wife in northern Virginia or having fun visiting family in Wisconsin.