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Biden’s Last Campaign
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Biden’s Last Campaign

The president launches his long-awaited reelection bid, defining himself in opposition to his predecessor.

Happy Wednesday! There was an egregious oversight in yesterday’s newsletter, and we can’t tell you how sorry we are.

Yesterday was World Penguin Day, and those lovable flappers received nary a mention in Tuesday’s TMD. Here’s some make-up content:

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Fighting reportedly disrupted a U.S.-mediated ceasefire in Sudan on Tuesday as Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces battle for control of the country. A morning lull in the fighting did, however, allow thousands to flee Khartoum. The U.N. special envoy to Sudan said Tuesday neither side seems open to serious negotiations to permanently end the violence.
  • The Taliban has killed the suspected architect of the August 2021 attack at the Kabul airport that killed 13 United States service members and more than 150 Afghans, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday. The terrorist was associated with ISIS-K, an Islamic State affiliate operating in Afghanistan and a Taliban rival. American officials said the U.S. was not involved in the operation against the individual, whose name remains classified.
  • An Iran-linked hacking group breached a U.S. city’s website before the 2020 election, possibly intending to alter unofficial vote tallies on the website on Election Day, Army Maj. Gen. William J. Hartman, head of U.S. Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force, said at a cybersecurity event Tuesday. Hartman added the U.S. booted the hackers before they could do any harm.
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a law Tuesday banning the sale, manufacture, and distribution of 50 kinds of semiautomatic weapons, making his the 10th state to ban assault weapons sales. The Second Amendment Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new restrictions. 
  • Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts declined Tuesday to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee after Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic chair of the committee, invited Roberts to speak at a hearing scheduled for May 2 to discuss instituting ethical standards for Supreme Court justices. “Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare, as one might expect in light of the separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence,” Roberts wrote in his refusal.
  • Jury selection began Tuesday in writer E. Jean Carroll’s civil suit against former President Donald Trump. Carroll—who is suing for battery and defamation under a new law in New York allowing sexual assault victims to sue their alleged assailants even after the statutes of limitations have expired—alleges Trump raped her in the dressing room of a New York City department store in 1996. Trump—who denies Carroll’s claims—was not present in the Manhattan court Tuesday but has not ruled out testifying.
  • Shares in First Republic Bank fell almost 50 percent yesterday after a first-quarter earnings report showed it lost around $100 billion in deposits last month as small and mid-size banks stumbled in the wake of Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse. Shares are down 90 percent overall since early March, indicating the industry has not fully recovered from the instability last month.
  • Manufacturing giant 3M said Tuesday it will lay off 6,000 people in addition to the 2,500 manufacturing roles it cut in January. The company behind Post-it Notes and Scotch tape announced the layoffs as sales of its products declined compared to 2022.
  • Harry Belafonte—iconic singer, actor, and civil rights activist—died Tuesday at 96 of congestive heart failure. Belafonte, the son of two West Indian immigrants, brought calypso music to the top of the Billboard charts with songs like “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” and “Jump In The Line.” The first black performer to win an Emmy, he was active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, including through a close friendship with Martin Luther King Jr.

Biden 2024: Good Enough?

President Joe Biden acknowledges his supporters after addressing the North America's Building Trades Unions legislative conference at the Washington Hilton on April 25, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden acknowledges his supporters after addressing the North America's Building Trades Unions legislative conference at the Washington Hilton on April 25, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In the run-up to last November’s midterm elections, President Joe Biden was so bogged down—by runaway inflation, the end of Roe v. Wade, backlash from the Afghanistan withdrawal, Russia’s gains in Ukraine, his stalled legislative agenda—that it wasn’t certain he’d run again. Mainstream pundits mused about his possibly fading mental acuity and his definitely fading approval ratings, with one poll showing a dismal 33 percent approval rating and more than six in 10 Democratic primary voters shopping for a different 2024 candidate, most citing his age.

That was then. “When I ran for President four years ago, I said we are in a battle for the soul of America—and we still are,” Biden said in his campaign launch video released Tuesday morning. “The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom, more rights or fewer.”

Democrats’ historically good midterms performance—and the party’s failure to come up with a viable alternative—solidified Biden’s position as the largely uncontested Democratic nominee and made yesterday’s announcement near inevitable. He’s staffed up his campaign and, if his initial messaging is any indication, plans to frame himself as the last best hope against Republican efforts to dash abortion access—and democracy. Despite his built-in advantages as an incumbent, though, the (very preliminary) polling suggests a tight race. And Biden’s odds of victory aren’t helped by voters’ continued concerns about his age.

Biden has a clear runway to his party’s nomination as the incumbent—and as Democrats’ least bad option. But his campaign faces plenty of potential pitfalls: scandals involving his son Hunter’s business dealings, negative developments in the probe into his mishandling of classified documents, an economic nosedive, or even failing health for the aging president.

But erstwhile possible challengers like California Gov. Gavin Newsom or Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have faded from the spotlight, and Biden’s only declared opponents thus far are extreme longshots: Marianne Williamson, a spiritual thought leader and self-help author who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2020, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmentalist, anti-vaccine activist, and son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. The Democratic National Committee has no plans to hold primary debates, and—in a sign of just how resigned the party is to Biden—former 2020 opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders immediately endorsed the president Tuesday, ending speculation about his own prospective run.

So while Republicans beat each other up in what is sure to be a bruising primary, Biden can more or less float above his party’s internal divisions—and avoid getting dragged further to the left. His three-minute campaign launch video—which features a “finish the job” slogan and praise for American values—offers a primer on his planned talking points. Opening with a smoky shot of the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack, the ad spills most of its rhetorical ink on contrasting Biden with the big bad Republicans’ opposition—both real and perceived—to abortion access, same-sex marriage, voting rights, and freedom writ large.

This split screen is designed to overcome voters’ distinct disinterest in seeing more of Biden. According to a polling average by FiveThirtyEight, the president currently has a 42 percent approval rating. Previous incumbents have overcome similar ratings at this point in their presidencies—ever heard of Ronald Reagan?—but only when their popularity recovered somewhat before Election Day. Meanwhile, an NBC News poll out Sunday showed 70 percent of Americans don’t want the 80-year-old to run for a second term, with 69 percent of them citing age as a reason—numbers which won’t put much pep in the octogenarian’s step. Biden is already the oldest president in history and would be 86 at the end of a second term.

Whether he prevails over the eventual Republican nominee will depend on whether the voters who dislike but don’t hate Biden break for him or for his opponent—and on that score, Trump may be Biden’s best shot to stay in the Oval Office. A recent Wall Street Journal poll suggests 54 percent of voters who dislike both Biden and Trump would go for Biden, while just 15 percent selected Trump. The Journal poll suggests Biden would lose a head-to-head competition with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by three percentage points and defeat Trump by the same margin, though it’s too far out from Election Day for those numbers to mean much.

Republican candidates, meanwhile, are glad to have a specific punching bag to target—especially as they avoid tough questions about the future of a Trump-addled party. “Now the cat’s out of the bag,” Nashville-based GOP strategist Ward Baker told Politico. “We have someone to run against.” The Republican National Committee responded to Biden’s announcement with a dystopian AI-generated ad featuring a series of dire predictions if Biden’s reelected—rampant crime, open borders, et cetera. Trump has already been hitting Biden. “You could take the five worst presidents in American history, and put them together, and they would not have done the damage Joe Biden has done to our nation in just a few short years,” he said in a Monday evening web address. “Not even close.”

Biden’s campaign team has been waiting in the wings for the long-expected announcement. Julie Chavez Rodriguez, currently a senior adviser to the president and the director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, will serve as campaign manager. Rodriguez, the granddaughter of the famed labor organizer Cesar Chavez, was the deputy campaign manager for Biden’s 2020 run and played a key role in the campaign’s efforts to reach Latino voters—experience that could prove vital given the Republican Party’s gains among Hispanic voters in 2020.

For deputy campaign manager, Biden has tapped Quentin Fulks, who managed Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock’s successful reelection campaign last year. Biden won Georgia in 2020 by a quarter of a percent, while Warnock’s Fulks-led campaign managed a three-point victory—albeit over a decidedly flawed candidate in Herschel Walker. In that role, Fulks made waves for doing something that probably should be standard procedure, but isn’t: Trying to appeal to Republican voters. “In a tough environment, we chose to communicate with [Republican-leaning] voters,” Fulks said about the 2022 campaign. “It set us apart, quite frankly, from the Democratic slate and even from President Biden.”

Biden’s campaign also announced more than a half-dozen national co-chairs, including Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, whose endorsement of Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary proved a turning point for Biden’s path to the nomination. Democratic Sens. Chris Coons and Tammy Duckworth, Reps. Lisa Blunt-Rochester of Delaware and Veronica Escobar of Texas, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of DreamWorks and a major Democratic donor, will also serve as co-chairs. Additional senior campaign staff will be announced in the coming weeks.

But for a campaign launch day, Tuesday was relatively muted—which might be the point. Vice President Kamala Harris stopped in at Howard University to discuss abortion access, while Biden swung by a union conference to give a speech that didn’t explicitly make the case for re-election despite his audience chanting “four more years.”

The lack of fireworks made room for other headlines: House Republicans flailing over the debt limit, Nikki Haley flubbing an abortion talking point, the kickoff of a suit claiming Trump defamed E. Jean Carroll while denying her allegations that he raped her. Sure, voters may be meh on Biden—a February Washington Post-ABC News poll found 57 percent of Democrats said they’d be satisfied but not enthusiastic about Biden. But given the choice between Biden and Republican alternatives, Biden hopes meh will be enough.

Worth Your Time

  • “Kyiv remains in Ukrainian hands.” War correspondent Tim Mak has written those words many times since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in regular tweet threads and in stories for NPR updating readers on the progress of the war. After being laid off by NPR, Mak is going back to the front lines—this time as a freelancer with a daily newsletter, The Counteroffensive. “The Counteroffensive will cover the expected Ukrainian counteroffensive,” he writes. “But the name is meant to signify a broader campaign that continues no matter what the result of these next few months. It is a campaign against apathy, cynicism and ignorance about world events in general and the emergence of a new Cold War in particular. Many of you know me as an on-air correspondent and former U.S. Army combat medic. And many of you have read along as I traveled to nearly every major Ukrainian city, illustrating life during the war through daily vignettes and #DogsofWar. You’ve shared your #DogsofPeace, and asked smart questions, and showed me your support when my gas tank was low. I want to keep that conversation going. After all, war correspondence is almost as old as war itself. As long as there have been humans fighting, those humans have wanted to find ways to bring their stories home.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Is America fundamentally the same as it was a century ago? Was putting Teddy Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore the right call? What is a sash weight? Sarah, Kevin, Grayson, and Haley answered all those questions and more on last night’s special crossover edition of Dispatch Live and the Dispatch Book Club (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here.  
  • In the newsletters: Haley previews (🔒) the dynamics of House Republicans’ pending debt ceiling vote, Sarah says (🔒) “I told you so” about Biden’s re-election campaign announcement, and Nick checks in (🔒) on how Elon Musk’s doing. 
  • On the podcasts: AEI Senior Fellow Tony Mills joins Jonah to look back at the COVID-19 crisis and its lasting effect on Americans’ trust in institutions. 
  • On the site today: Jonah reflects on the rise of “Tuckerism,” Price breaks down how drug-induced abortions work, and Jacob Becker argues against the practice of prosecutorial nullification.

Let Us Know

Do you think Biden’s reelection bid boosts or bruises Trump’s chances of getting the Republican nomination in 2024?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

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.