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The Election Nobody Wants
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The Election Nobody Wants

Despite low favorability ratings, a Trump-Biden rematch in 2024 is looking more and more likely.

Happy Tuesday! German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tripped and fell while on a jog over the weekend, and he now has to wear an eyepatch for a few days.

In related news, Germany just announced a new aid package for Ukraine: five schooners, three sloops, 150 cannons, 1,200 hooks, and 15,000 gold doubloons.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ousted his defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, on Sunday, announcing he’d be replaced by Rustem Umerov, the chief of Ukraine’s State Property Fund. The most significant shakeup of Zelensky’s cabinet since the beginning of Russia’s invasion comes as the defense ministry battles high-profile allegations of graft in military procurement—though Reznikov has not been explicitly accused of wrongdoing. Umerov—a Muslim of the Crimean Tatar ethnic group—served as chair of a committee monitoring international aid during the war, and his appointment must now be approved by Ukraine’s parliament. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s security service on Monday notified Igor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch, that he is being investigated for fraud and embezzlement.
  • Without providing many details, Zelensky said Thursday that the Ukrainian military had developed a weapon with a 400-mile range, capable of striking deep in Russian territory. The comment may have been a reference to a Ukrainian drone strike on an airport in Western Russia approximately 400 miles from Ukraine’s northern border, though the head of Ukrainian intelligence said that attack was conducted from Russian territory. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials claimed that a Russian drone crashed in Romania—a NATO member—amid an attack on Ukrainian port facilities near the border of the two countries, but Romanian defense officials rejected the Ukrainian account.
  • A record number of families reportedly crossed the southern border in August, with the U.S. Border Patrol arresting more than 91,000 individuals who crossed the border as part of a family unit during the month. The previous such record was set at approximately 84,500 in May 2019. All told, Border Patrol officials made more than 177,000 arrests in August, up from about 132,700 in July and 99,500 in June. Meanwhile, New Jersey’s Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said his state would not accept any of the migrants currently in New York City—despite once touting New Jersey as a “sanctuary state”—after the Biden administration floated the idea last week of relocating some migrants to New Jersey. 
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that U.S. employers added 187,000 jobs in August, slightly above economists’ expectations but in line with the Federal Reserve’s hope for a cooling labor market. The unemployment rate ticked up from 3.5 percent in July to 3.8 percent—the highest rate since February 2022—while the labor force participation rate rose to 62.8 percent after holding steady at 62.6 percent for months. Average hourly earnings—a figure watched closely by the Fed to help gauge inflation—rose 0.2 percent month-over-month in August, and 4.3 percent year-over-year.
  • The U.S. federal budget deficit is expected to double to $2 trillion this fiscal year, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. In addition to larger interest payments on debt already accrued, the government is also bringing in less revenue this fiscal year—which ends September 30—in part due to a slumping stock market that reduced revenue from capital gains taxes.
  • President Joe Biden requested $4 billion from Congress on Friday, seeking to secure additional disaster relief funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as several states—including Hawaii and Florida—recover from deadly natural disasters in August. The White House had already asked Congress for $12 billion in supplemental disaster relief money last month, and this latest move brings the total request to $16 billion.
  • Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema was sworn in on Monday as the interim president of Gabon after he led the effort to overthrow his recently re-elected cousin, President Ali Bongo Ondimba, last week. Nguema said a new government would be formed within a few days, and that the country would hold elections following an interim period of unspecified length.
  • At least 76 people died and dozens more were injured in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week when a derelict apartment building in the city’s central business district caught fire. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the remains of the fire’s victims—many of whom were homeless or foreign migrant workers—and called for an investigation into the housing conditions that precipitated the tragedy.
  • A federal judge struck down a Texas bill last week that would have required online porn websites to verify the age of the viewer and display health warnings before allowing access to the site. U.S. District Judge David Ezra held that the bill—which is similar to several others either in force or in various stages of litigation across the country, including in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah—unconstitutionally compels speech by requiring the websites to display the health warnings stating the detrimental effects of viewing pornography and restricts adults’ access to legal material “far beyond the interest of protecting minors.” The Texas attorney general’s office immediately appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
  • A Florida judge ruled over the weekend that congressional districts redrawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the state’s constitution, ordering the Florida legislature to come up with a new map. Last year, DeSantis vetoed new boundaries drawn up by the legislature, putting forward his own district map. “Plaintiffs have shown that the enacted plan results in the diminishment of black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution,” Judge J. Lee Marsh wrote in his decision.
  • Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson died over the weekend at 75. Richardson, a Democrat, also served as a congressman from New Mexico for more than a decade and as both the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the Secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration. During and after his political career, he became known as a tireless fighter for U.S. citizens held overseas, helping to negotiate the release of Americans held hostage and imprisoned across the globe—including, most recently, WNBA player Brittney Griner after her detention in Russia. 
  • Jimmy Buffett, the singer and Margaritaville mogul, died on Friday at the age of 76. Buffett—known for hits like “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “He Went to Paris,” and “Come Monday”—had been dealing with an aggressive form of skin cancer for several years. On Monday, Steve Harwell—co-founder of the rock band Smash Mouth—died at 56 from acute liver failure. Harwell’s vocals on hits like “All Star,” “Walkin’ On the Sun,” and a cover of “I’m a Believer” helped drive Smash Mouth to stardom in the late ‘90s.
  • First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 Monday, her spokesperson said. President Biden—who is scheduled to travel to India for the Group of 20 meeting on Thursday—tested negative for the virus Monday evening, according to the White House

Pick Your Poison

People watch the final U.S. presidential debate for the 2020 election. (Photo by Liu Guanguan/China News Service via Getty Images)
People watch the final U.S. presidential debate for the 2020 election. (Photo by Liu Guanguan/China News Service via Getty Images)

In January 2016, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham had harsh words for Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz when asked by a reporter which of the two frontrunners in the GOP presidential primary he preferred. “It’s like being shot or poisoned,” he said dryly. “What does it really matter?”

Graham is singing a markedly different tune these days, of course, but the sentiment he expressed—despondence with the choices produced by our political process—has only grown more widespread over the past eight years. We’d need two hands and a foot to count the number of times this year we’ve heard some variation of, “There are 330 million people in the country, and these people are the best we can do?”

Conversations with friends and family may not be the most scientific reporting method, but the anecdotal evidence is certainly backed up by polling data. In poll after poll, everyday Americans appear desperate to move on from the candidates with which hardcore partisans have saddled the country. In an NBC News survey earlier this year, for example, a whopping 70 percent of respondents believed Joe Biden should not run for reelection, and 60 percent said the same about Trump. In a Wall Street Journal poll released last week, 73 percent of respondents said Biden is “too old” to run for president, and just 31 percent described Trump as “likable”—about twice as many labeled the former president “corrupt.”

Naturally, the country is barreling toward a rematch between the two men, who will be 82 and 78, respectively, when the next president is sworn in on January 20, 2025. The Democratic Party has coalesced behind its standard-bearer—with several would-be challengers shelving their own ambitions until at least 2028—while the handful of Republican aspirants have only lost ground as their party’s leader faces indictments in four different jurisdictions. “Any time they file an indictment, we go way up in the polls,” Trump mused last month, not (entirely) incorrectly. “One more indictment, and this election is closed out. Nobody has even a chance.”

On the other side, by any traditional metric, Biden is one of the most vulnerable incumbent presidents in recent political history. His net approval rating has hovered between -10 and -20 percentage points since the beginning of 2022, and he’s about as popular 958 days into his term as Trump was four years earlier. Since the end of World War II, only Jimmy Carter had a significantly worse approval rating than Biden does at this point in his presidency.

The reasons for this dissatisfaction are manifold. In addition to legitimate concerns about Biden’s age and his capacity to do the job, a majority of Americans disapprove of his handling of both the economy overall and the inflation that spent two years eroding their purchasing power. The administration’s chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal diminished Biden’s competence in the eyes of many voters, as has his approach to the country’s increasingly porous southern border. Once summarily dismissed as “Russian disinformation,” Hunter Biden’s shady overseas business dealings—and his father’s indifference (best case) or approval (worst case) of those dealings—are going to be an issue on the campaign trail. Toss in the shrinking but still significant chance of a recession in the next 12 months, and it’s easy to envision a landslide Republican victory in November 2024.

Unless, of course, GOP primary voters decide to nominate the twice-impeached, four-times-indicted former president. Trump left office after attempting a coup in January 2021 with a net approval rating of -19.3 percentage points, but after rehabilitating his image for two-and-a-half years, he’s managed to improve that figure to … -17.1 percentage points. And whatever positive effect the indictments are having for Trump in the GOP primary, they are decidedly not helping him win back the suburbanites and moderate conservatives necessary to any winning coalition.

This is where we’d typically spend a few minutes assessing Trump’s first term in office and ticking through his 2024 policy agenda, but the past several months have made clear that policy is nothing more than an afterthought when it comes to Trump’s third White House run. “I am your warrior, I am your justice,” he said during a speech earlier this year that’s come to sum up the campaign. “And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” As we wrote last week, just a handful of people across the country interpreting such rhetoric literally could bring disastrous results. 

As of today the likeliest general election contest—a Biden-Trump rematch—would give the historically loathsome 2016 contest a run for its money. In the aforementioned Wall Street Journal survey released this weekend, Biden and Trump had the exact same net favorability rating: -19 percentage points. Even in normal times, elections rarely follow a straight path, and there will inevitably be plenty of developments over the next 14 months which we cannot foresee today. And these are far from normal times. We live in a moment of extraordinary political volatility—nearly every election over the past two decades has been a “change” election—and with such high levels of dissatisfaction about our politics in general and especially our emerging choices at the presidential level, we should, if you’ll excuse the cliche, expect the unexpected.  

Worth Your Time

  • The James Webb Space Telescope has captured some stunning images of the cosmos, and they’re starting to make scientists question foundational assumptions about the nature of the universe. “One of the Webb’s first major findings was exciting in an uncomfortable sense: It discovered the existence of fully formed galaxies far earlier than should have been possible according to the so-called standard model of cosmology,” Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser—an astrophysicist and theoretical physicist, respectively—write in the New York Times. “According to the standard model, which is the basis for essentially all research in the field, there is a fixed and precise sequence of events that followed the Big Bang: First, the force of gravity pulled together denser regions in the cooling cosmic gas, which grew to become stars and black holes; then, the force of gravity pulled together the stars into galaxies. The Webb data, though, revealed that some very large galaxies formed really fast, in too short a time, at least according to the standard model. This was no minor discrepancy. The finding is akin to parents and their children appearing in a story when the grandparents are still children themselves.” 
  • In an age when fewer and fewer people—and fewer men, in particular—report having close friendships, Lew, 76, and Bobby, 73, have defied the odds. “Lew Wilcox and Bobby Rohrbach Jr. met in the summer of 1962, riding their bikes together in a small southern Ohio town,” Clare Ansberry reports for the Wall Street Journal. “These days, every Saturday, one picks the other up and they go out for breakfast, run errands and talk about families, home repairs and how the world is changing. If one can’t remember a place or name, the other can fill in because they so often lived the same story. They didn’t outgrow the other or leave the other behind and still live within about 5 miles of their childhood homes. After high school, they planned to drive across the country and circled places on a map they wanted to visit. ‘He messed it up by getting married and I got drafted,’ says Bobby, who served in Germany during the Vietnam War, repairing radios. Lew, who had a medical deferment, recorded messages on a reel-to-reel tape recorder and mailed them overseas to Bobby. ‘I would just jabber, tell him what was going on at home and at work, with the family,’ says Lew. Bobby sent tapes back describing Oktoberfest. One thing they agreed never to discuss is religion. Lew, raised in an evangelical church, attends weekly services. Bobby, raised Mormon, hasn’t gone in about 30 years. ‘We had a good thing going. I didn’t want religion to get in the way,’ says Lew.”

Presented Without Comment

Wall Street Journal: China Creates Government Body to Support Private Sector

Also Presented Without Comment

Associated Press: Ecuador Says 57 Guards and Police Officers Are Released After Being Held Hostage in Several Prisons

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Bloomberg: [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz Rejects Calls for Revival of ‘Dead Horse’ Nuclear Power

Toeing the Company Line

  • The Dispatch’s new fact checker, Alex Demas, debunks Trump’s claim that his interview with Tucker Carlson was the most viewed video “in the history of the world.” 
  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew checked in on the Senate Republican response to Mitch McConnell’s latest health episode, Price previewed the coming fight over government funding, Nick applied (🔒) a wildlife analogy to a growing schism among American populists, Jonah examined various sacred cows, Chris assessed (🔒) what a post-McConnell GOP might look like, and Kevin argued (🔒) the GOP’s policy incoherence is a direct result of the party abandoning its values.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah ruminates on everything from China’s economic woes to McConnell’s health to civic ignorance in American life.
  • On the site over the weekend: Patrick Brown looked at the shortcomings of Netflix’s series on OxyContin while Michael McShane reviewed Cara Fitzpatrick’s new book, The Death of Public School
  • On the site today: Chris details the five “known unknowns” of the 2024 election and Jonathan Schanzer and Michael Rubin explain the need for more consensus building on foreign policy and national security strategy.

Let Us Know

Do you think a Trump-Biden general election contest is inevitable? If not, what would prevent it? What are some other potential unexpected disruptions we could see over the next 14 months?

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.