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364 Days and Counting
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364 Days and Counting

A year out from the election, how do the two leading presidential contenders stack up?

Happy Tuesday! Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is putting that age-old Beatles maxim to the test, hoping to dig his way out of dismal approving ratings in the high-20s with a tax rebate. So far, it seems like the Japanese people “want the kind of things that money just can’t buy.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Israeli military continued its advance into Gaza City on Monday, and though the exact position of its forces remains unclear, Israeli officials said the army is currently destroying Hamas tunnels found in the area. President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday and pushed for “tactical pauses” in the war to allow for more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza, continue negotiations for the release of additional Hamas-held hostages, and permit additional civilians to flee the area. The Gazan Health Ministry, which is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, claimed yesterday that more than 10,000 Gazans had been killed and 25,000 had been injured in the war thus far; Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, said on Monday that the number of civilian casualties thus far is “in the thousands” but did not provide a more precise figure. Meanwhile, rocket attacks launched from Lebanon continued to target towns and cities in northern Israel on Monday.
  • Pentagon officials disclosed on Monday that 46 American troops—more than double the number the Defense Department previously reported—were injured in drone, mortar, and rocket attacks carried out by Iranian proxy groups against United States military installations in Iraq and Syria last month. Officials said that the revised figures owed mainly to an increased number of self-reported traumatic brain injuries. The attacks reportedly ratcheted up this weekend, and there have now been 38 such incidents targeting U.S. troops since October 17. One attack in late October came incredibly close to killing troops when a drone filled with explosives struck military barracks but did not detonate. U.S. Central Command made a rare public announcement over the weekend that the USS Florida, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, has been deployed to the Persian Gulf in an apparent show of force to deter Iran from continued attacks. 
  • With his five-year term drawing to a close in 2024, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday evening that “now is not the right time for elections.” Under normal conditions, Zelensky’s five-year term would expire in March—but the nation’s elections remain suspended while the country is under martial law as a result of its war against Russia. Zelensky had previously not ruled out holding elections next year, but some of his political opponents—as well as Ukrainian civil society groups—have vocally opposed such a plan.
  • Former President Donald Trump took the witness stand in his New York civil fraud trial yesterday, at times lashing out at the court and delivering long winding answers unrelated to the questions posed to him. “It’s a terrible thing you’ve done,” Trump said directly to the judge overseeing the case. “He called me a fraud, and he didn’t know anything about me.” Engoron told Trump’s attorney Christopher Kise to “control [Trump] if you can,” adding, “If you can’t, I will.” After the proceedings concluded, Kise told reporters, “In my 33 years, I have not had a witness testify better.”
  • Peter Meijer, a former GOP congressman from Michigan who voted for Trump’s second impeachment, launched his bid for retiring Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s Senate seat on Monday. Meijer lost his House seat in 2022 to Trump-endorsed primary challenger John Gibbs, who went on to lose to Democrat Hillary Scholten in the general election. Two other Republicans are already in the Senate race—former Rep. Mike Rogers and Detroit police chief James Craig—and the National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly came out against Meijer’s bid, saying he “isn’t viable” and wouldn’t turn out the base. “[We] are confident we have the best chance of taking back this seat for the Republicans and fighting hard for a conservative future,” Meijer said in his announcement on Monday.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Donald Trump and Joe Biden debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. (Photos by Brendan Smialowski and Jim Watson/ AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. (Photos by Brendan Smialowski and Jim Watson/ AFP/Getty Images)

As this newsletter hits your inbox, there are now 364 days until the 2024 presidential election—and if that sentence gave you slight heart palpitations, President Joe Biden probably feels that way, too, considering the steady drumbeat of less-than-stellar polling he’s seen in the last few weeks. 

Even some Democrats have recently been forced to admit that the math isn’t looking great for a Biden reelection victory in 2024, with his age a legitimate concern for voters of all political persuasions and different parts of his agenda alienating various factions of his Democratic coalition. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump—far and away the frontrunner in the GOP primary—has remained fairly stable in general election polling, despite his increasingly radical rhetoric on the campaign trail and ever-mounting legal trouble.

Over the weekend, a New York Times/Siena poll of battleground states Biden won in 2020—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—struck fear into the hearts of Biden-friendly Democrats. These states helped deliver Trump and Biden their respective wins in 2016 and 2020, making them crucial for both campaigns in order to put together a total of 270 electoral college votes come November 2024. The topline poll numbers had Biden trailing Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in five of the six purple states—by 4 points in Pennsylvania, 5 points in Arizona and Michigan, 6 points in Georgia, and by a whopping 10 points in Nevada—not necessarily because Trump is making big gains, but because Biden is bleeding support among key constituencies. Trump has a “modest, but meaningful” lead in those five states, Times pollster Nate Cohn said Monday, referring to the fact that Trump’s advantage is outside the poll’s margin of error.

Drilling down into the crosstabs, the poll, which was in the field between October 22 and November 3, revealed shortcomings for Biden among Hispanic voters in swing states—two of which are in the minority-heavy West and Southwest. While the incumbent president still barely wins the cohort in the topline combining all six states—43 percent to 39 percent, just outside the margin of error—it’s a far cry from his comparatively dominant performance with the group in 2020, which according to Times exit polling was roughly 65 percent to 32 percent. Trump was already making inroads with Hispanics in 2020, a trend that may continue. “[The poll] just shows the continued attrition of working-class and minority voters from the Democratic coalition, independently of Biden’s troubles, but also just Biden exacerbating those issues pretty badly,” Patrick Ruffini, a pollster and founding partner at Echelon Insights, told TMD

The tune was the same for Biden’s support among young voters, ages 18-29. Usually a reliable part of the Democratic electorate, Biden is functionally tied with Trump for support from young people in the six sampled swing states, 41 percent to 40 percent. In 2020, election exit polls conducted by the Times showed Biden beat Trump among voters in that age range 60 percent to 36 percent.

It’s just one poll, sure, but it’s part of a larger trend for Biden—and the numbers have Democrats spooked. “Joe Biden Is in Trouble,” read the title of an op-ed from the pollster for Biden’s 2020 campaign, John Della Volpe. Former Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan—a moderate Democrat in what was once a swing state—called on Biden to drop out. “I think it would be the right thing to do for the president to not run,” he said Monday, pointing to a question that suggested a generic Democrat on the ballot could beat Trump. “So what’s in the best interest of the country here?” David Axelrod, the chief strategist for former President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, echoed the sentiment. “If [Biden] continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party,” Axelrod tweeted over the weekend. “What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?” (A representative of Biden’s campaign did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this piece.)

Other Obama administration alumni have aired their panic in recent days—while insisting they weren’t actually panicking. “The new [New York Times] poll is bad,” wrote Dan Pfeiffer,* a former Obama adviser. “There is no sugarcoating it. But instead of panicking or naively un-skewing the poll, we should start doing the work of rebuilding the anti-MAGA majority.” Jon Favreau, another Obama alum, concurred. “Never productive to panic over polls a year out from the election, but I also don’t think it’s very productive to just dismiss/unskew a high quality poll that also happens to be roughly in line with the averages,” he wrote. “Dan’s right, the message of this poll is: we gotta get to work.”

But rebuilding the coalition that brought Biden to the White House may be tough, as he battles several seemingly intractable problems—the first being his age. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed in the Times poll think Biden, who turns 81 later this month, is “just too old to be an effective president.” By contrast, only about a third think Trump, 77, is too old to be president. “It’s not age, but it’s vitality,” Ruffini told TMD. “I think [Biden] is showing his age in a way that is troubling to a lot of voters.” 

Biden’s youthful vigor—or lack thereof—is not the only factor that has divided Biden’s once-fortified blue wall. The crisis in the Middle East is proving to be another barrier to rebuilding the president’s winning coalition, with his fairly unflinching support for Israel fracturing his party. In a Economist/YouGov poll conducted late last month, just 56 percent of self-identified Democrats approved of Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. 

The conflict could help explain Biden’s polling struggles with younger voters of late. Among 18-29 year olds surveyed by YouGov, just 24 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” approved of Biden’s handling of the crisis. While only 22 percent of all respondents in the poll believed the U.S. should provide Israel with less military support, a full 40 percent of 18-29 year olds surveyed would like to see U.S. arms aid to the Middle Eastern democracy reduced. In a video posted to X last week, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan—an uber-progressive “Squad” member—accused Biden having “supported the genocide of the Palestinian people,” which “the American people won’t forget.” If Biden doesn’t support a ceasefire in the conflict, Tlaib’s video—which also features the antisemitic “from the river to the sea” chant—claims, he shouldn’t “count on us in 2024.” A small sample poll in Michigan suggested Biden could be losing support among the fairly sizable Muslim minority in the state. 

And what about Trump? Though he’s been less omnipresent than Biden in recent months, the former president—facing more than 90 felony counts and currently standing trial in a civil case in New York—beat Biden 48 percent to 44 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in the full sample of the Timesbattleground states survey. In that same survey, majorities of respondents told pollsters they believe Trump “committed serious federal crimes” and “went so far” with his 2020 election challenges that he “threatened American democracy.” 

On both the campaign trail and on Truth Social, Trump has struck an increasingly authoritarian—and sometimes just downright weird—tone, calling those serving jail time for crimes committed at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 “hostages,” suggesting the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley deserved to be executed for his post-January 6 phone call to Chinese officials, and saying NBC News, protected by the First Amendment, should be investigated for its “Country Threatening Treason” (also known as its “vicious” coverage of Trump).

At the end of the day, both candidates are plagued by the same problem—they are simply extremely unpopular, with “unfavorable” numbers underwater at 56 percent for Trump and 57 percent for Biden. That could depress turnout—or send people running to a third-party candidate—in ways that may hurt Biden. “The issue is more than the ballot numbers,” Ruffini said. “It’s what the ballot numbers signal about enthusiasm.” 

The Biden campaign has pointed out that Obama, too, was trailing a year out from his 2012 reelection—but perhaps the more apt historical comparison is Trump’s first presidential bid. “I think it’s 2016 all over again,” Ruffini said. “They’re nominating the only candidates who can lose to the other one.”

Worth Your Time

  • Writing for his Substack, Noah Smith presents a novel theory for why the Israel-Gaza war has yet to escalate into a broader regional conflict. “The region may simply be exhausted after two decades of wars. U.S. deterrence may be restraining Iran’s hand and the hand of its proxies,” he wrote. “The Israel-Palestine conflict may simply not be as important to the region as the longer-term cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. But I think it’s also possible that population aging has something to do with it.” Smith notes that scholars disagree about whether any causal link can be drawn between population age and conflict but that “the general consensus in the field seems to be that a very young population is correlated with instability and violence.” He argued a look back at the past 40 years of war and violence in the Middle East supports his theory. “When Iran threw hundreds of thousands of soldiers against Iraq in ‘human wave’ attacks in the 1980s, the median Iranian was just 17 years old; now, the median Iranian is in their early 30s,” he wrote. “That may be one reason Iran has moved away from direct belligerence and toward the use of proxy militias like the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Saudi Arabia got involved in the Yemen war, but was reluctant to send ground troops against the Houthis—possibly because the Houthis are formidable, but possibly because the Saudis have relatively few young people to send.” 
  • In his Bloomberg column on Monday, Matt Levine explained why the Sam Bankman-Fried fraud case—which ended last week with seven guilty verdicts—was so open and shut. “I am probably the person in the world who was most susceptible to Sam Bankman-Fried’s ‘actually it’s complicated’ defense of the collapse of his crypto exchange, FTX Trading,” Levine wrote. “You could imagine a world in which Bankman-Fried was right, one where FTX’s terms of service made it clear that he was allowed to reinvest customer money, where FTX’s good-faith risk management was overwhelmed by a market crash. It’s just that in the actual world none of that was true. The terms of service did not say that, Bankman-Fried was taking insane risks with customer money and lying about it constantly, and FTX’s apparently pretty good risk management engine was just turned off when it came to Bankman-Fried’s own trading firm, Alameda Research, which took and lost all that customer money. Also, FTX’s insurance fund that was meant to protect customer deposits did not exist; it was just a number displayed on a website and produced by a random number generator. Ten seconds after FTX collapsed, it was possible to think ‘Well, that happens sometimes at leveraged financial institutions.’ A year later, it was not.”

Presented Without Comment

Axios: U.S. Military Members’ Personal Data Being Sold by Online Brokers

Also Presented Without Comment

Fox 59 News: “[Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department] officers arrested a woman, who they labeled a ‘terrorist,’ after she drove her car into a building that she thought was a Jewish school. However, the building is used by the Israelite School of Universal and Practical Knowledge which has been labeled an anti-semitic hate group.”

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Pittsburgh’s Action News 4: Democratic Sen. John Fetterman responds to anti-Israel protester: “The joke is on you. I had a stroke. I can’t fully understand what you are saying.”

Toeing the Company Line

  • Reminder: The Dispatch is looking for an assistant editor to play a key role on our editing team. An obsessive focus on detail and accuracy is crucial, as is the ability to see the big picture and provide substantive and structural edits. Think you—or someone you know—might be a fit? Apply here.
  • Seattle-area readers can join Jonah and Kevin for a meet-up at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue on December 14 at 6 p.m. PT. Tickets are $15 and include two drink tickets, mingling with other Dispatch readers, and access to a Q&A session with Jonah and Kevin. Dispatch members will have exclusive access (🔒) to tickets until November 19—and they’re going quickly!
  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew previewed Ohio’s abortion ballot measure and Virginia’s legislative elections, Kevin argued (🔒) that Israel’s primary focus should be defeating Hamas, and Nick lamented (🔒) growing illiberalism on both the left and the right one year out from the 2024 election. 
  • On the site: Chris Stirewalt previews Election Day by looking at five races he thinks will tell us a lot about 2024.

Let Us Know

What presidential election of your lifetime do you think featured the “best” two major-party candidates? Where would a hypothetical Trump-Biden rematch in 2024 rank for you?

Correction, November 7, 2023: Corrected the spelling of Dan Pfeiffer’s last name.

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.