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Biden Pivots, but Maybe Too Late
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Biden Pivots, but Maybe Too Late

Can he still win over moderates with tariffs and a tougher border policy?

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House on May 31, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House on May 31, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

First it was new tariffs on Chinese imports. Now it’s new restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Joe Biden’s general election pivot, at last, seems to be fully underway—and only a year and a half too late. 

To understand how late Biden is to the game, let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine that Republicans had not blown their chance for a big midterm win in 2022, and that the president and his party had received the kind of second-year shellacking that almost all of his predecessors suffered. 

First, we have to consider the possibility that a big GOP wave might have increased the chances that Biden would have opted against seeking a second term. Pressure in the party to step aside would have been much louder if Biden had overseen the loss of both houses of Congress and a bloodbath on the state level. 

Assuming, though, that Biden would have been willing and able to press on, the next logical step would have been to move to the middle and take action on the issues that are eroding his party’s brand, particularly illegal immigration and crime. The midterm losses would have agitated moderates in swing districts who would have applied pressure on Biden to act and created a willingness on the left to accept the moves as necessary.

Instead, Republicans nominated a raft of weird candidates in 2022 and Democrats—fueled by the ongoing backlash to the fall of Roe v. Wade—were spared the worst of the midterm curse. But in so doing, denied Biden and party leaders the best argument for outreach to the middle. 

And when Hamas staged its attack on Israel nearly a year later, and Israel responded with massive force, Biden ended up with anger on the left anyway. Biden paid the price for a pivot, but he didn’t get the upside with the squishy suburbanites he needs.

So only now, less than three weeks away from the first presidential debate and with the conclusion of what seems likely to be the only criminal trial former President Donald Trump will face before the election, Biden is making his move to appeal to the moderate voters who backed him in 2020 but are leery about returning.

Certainly, the president can count on Trump doing a lot of the work of both persuasion and motivation for him. Trump’s post-trial media tour with friendly outlets shows him as wild and off-message as Democrats could have hoped. There is plenty of time for Trump to render himself unacceptable to Biden-weary centrists and to convince progressives to hold their noses and vote for him one more time.

But Biden’s recent moves represent an admission that the incumbent needs to change the direction of the race even more than Trump’s predictable failings can reliably provide. The clock is running …

Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 39.6%
Average disapproval: 56.2%
Net score: -16.6 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.8 points

Change from one month ago: ↑ 1.4 points

[Average includes: TIPP: 36% approve-52% disapprove; NewsNation: 42% approve-58% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 41% approve-55% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 39% approve-56% disapprove; Marquette Law: 40% approve-60% disapprove]

General Election

Donald Trump: 42.0% (↑ 1.4% from two weeks ago)
Joe Biden: 40.0%  (no change)
Robert F. Kennedy Jr: 10.4% (↓ 1.2%)

[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: Trump 44% – Biden 40% – Kennedy 8%; Emerson: Trump 44% – Biden 38% – Kennedy 6%; Marquette Law: Trump 44% – Biden 41% – Kennedy 11%; Quinnipiac: Trump 38% – Biden 41% – Kennedy 14%; Reuters/Ipsos: Trump 40% – Biden 40% – Kennedy 13%]


New York Times: “In the summer of 2022, two boys hiking with their father and a 7-year-old cousin in the North Dakota badlands came across some large bones poking out of a rock. They had no idea what to make of them. … Later, the relatives learned they’d made a staggering discovery: They’d stumbled upon a rare juvenile skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex. … Part of the fossil, which measures about 32 inches, is believed to be the tibia, or shin bone, of a 10-foot-tall, 3,500-pound dinosaur that scientists are calling Teen Rex. Only a few such fossils have been discovered worldwide. … The specimen is also the most complete T. rex the museum has ever collected, it said. … After identifying the fossil … Dr. Tyler Lyson led an 11-day excavation that involved removing the overlying rock with a 70-pound jackhammer, picks and shovels. … In a news conference on Monday, the three boys agreed that the T. rex was their favorite species of dinosaur.”


New York Times: “It’s one of the biggest questions in the wake of Donald J. Trump’s conviction: Did the verdict change anyone’s mind? Early on, the answer appears to be an equivocal ‘yes.’ … In interviews with nearly 2,000 voters who previously took New York Times/Siena College surveys, President Biden appeared to gain slightly. … The group favored Mr. Trump by three points when originally interviewed in April and May, but this week they backed him by only one point. … The findings offer unusually clear evidence that the verdict has led some voters to reconsider their support for Mr. Trump. … A potentially crucial sliver of Mr. Trump’s former supporters — 3 percent — now told us they’ll back Mr. Biden, while another 4 percent say they’re now undecided. … The shift was especially pronounced among the young, nonwhite and disengaged Democratic-leaning voters who have propelled Mr. Trump to a lead in the early polls.”

Team Biden tries to dull the shine of Trump nostalgia: Wall Street Journal: “President Biden’s re-election strategy rests in large part on reminding voters about the darkest days of Donald Trump’s presidency. … It might not work. Biden’s campaign has struggled to change the minds of the undecided voters he needs most, many of whom are disengaged from politics, worried foremost about prices and hold an increasingly rosy view of Trump’s presidency. … Biden’s allies have a different theory of the case. They believe they can, in fact, reframe Trump as a risky and even dangerous choice by presenting voters with information that they have forgotten or never knew about him. … They have incessantly reminded voters that Trump-appointed justices helped overturn Roe v. Wade. … They have revived a comment from eight years ago, which Trump later retracted, in which he suggested women should face punishment for having abortions. [But] Trump is universally known, and many voters believe there is nothing new to learn about him.” 

Trump PAC preps $100 million buy after record haul: Reuters: “A major spending group backing Republican Donald Trump brought in nearly $70 million in donations last month and plans to spend $100 million in advertising over the summer. … The June 4 memo, written by MAGA Inc. CEO Taylor Budowich, detailed the super PAC’s plans in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona. … Budowich highlighted the swing state of Georgia in particular as the ‘best gateway’ for Trump to win the U.S. electoral college. … Major Republican donors have also rallied behind Trump following his conviction last week in a New York hush money case, pledging millions of dollars to support the first convicted felon to run for U.S. president. Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee said on Monday they had raised $141 million in May.”

Veepstakes hones in on trio of senators, governor: NBC News: “Donald Trump’s search for a running mate is intensifying. … Vice presidential contenders recently received vetting materials. … Trump’s search, according to one source, is heavily concentrated on four top prospects: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina and JD Vance of Ohio. … Sources plugged into conversations about the search cautioned that Trump is working from a fluid shortlist that at times includes more than a half-dozen names. Additions, subtractions and the emergence of dark-horse candidates remain possible. … Trump has said in interviews that a decision on his running mate is not likely until closer to the convention, which opens July 15 in Milwaukee.”


Axios: “Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia officially left the Democratic Party on Friday and registered as an independent. Manchin, who flirted with an independent presidential bid earlier this year, has said he’s not running for Senate re-election. But leaving the party could give him the flexibility to change tack and run for Senate or West Virginia governor as an independent. … June 1 is West Virginia’s deadline for changing party affiliation in time to run for office this fall. The deadline to file for governor or Senate is Aug. 1. … In a statement revealing his decision, Manchin accused both the Democratic and Republican parties of prioritizing ‘partisan extremism’ and ‘jeopardizing our democracy.’ … Manchin will continue caucusing with Senate Democrats, joining fellow independent Sens. Krysten Sinema, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Angus King (I-Maine.)” 

Menendez will run as independent as Kim captures Dem nod: AP: “U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who is on trial on federal bribery charges in New York, has filed to run as an independent candidate for reelection. … The political stakes are high, given the Democrats’ narrow control in the Senate, where New Jersey is normally safely in Democratic hands. It’s unclear how much support Menendez could siphon from U.S. Rep. Andy Kim. … The GOP hasn’t won a U.S. Senate election in the state since 1972. Kim, a three-term congressman from the 3rd District, said Menendez was running for himself, not the public. … In court, prosecutors have argued that Menendez sought to sell his office to enrich himself.”

McCormick PAC targets Casey in new ad blitz: New York Times: “The main super PAC supporting David McCormick is reserving $30 million worth of television ads in the state, a major escalation in the campaign to unseat Senator Bob Casey. … The new reservation from the super PAC, known as Keystone Renewal, comes on top of the $82 million that both sides have already spent on, or reserved in, campaign ads in the state. … So far, the group has spent about $3.6 million on mostly positive ads about Mr. McCormick. But the super PAC plans to pivot to more negative spots aimed at Mr. Casey once the new ad buy begins. … Last month, Mr. Casey proposed a series of three debates to be held in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. ‘Glad to hear it,’ Mr. McCormick responded in a social media post. ‘See you there.’”


Rep. Rob Menendez Jr., son of indicted senator, escapes primary challenge—New York Times

‘Squad’ member Rep. Jamaal Bowman neck-and-neck with moderate challenger—NBC News

Former Trump aides charged in Wisconsin fake elector plot—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


“It’s as bad as it was in Alabama in 1950 if a person happened to be black in order to get justice.”—North Carolina GOP Rep. Dan Bishop compares Donald Trump’s trial to that of a black person in the pre-civil rights era Deep South during a radio interview Tuesday. 


“This may not be worth consideration at all, but is there any likelihood that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could not just act as a spoiler, but throw the election into the House? I still think that there could be an October surprise where Biden or Trump for that matter show that they are just not up to being president and RFK suddenly gets a more substantial number of voters. I have followed politics since I was a kid (helped my dad nail JFK posters to telephone poles) and I do not think there has ever been a time, until now, when a third-party candidate had a prayer. And nobody seems to be able to take advantage of it.”—Paul Gross, Murray, Kentucky

Mr. Gross,

That all depends on whether he could win a state, or any electoral votes in Nebraska and Maine (i.e. the two states that follow the Madisonian plan for the Electoral College and award electors by House district).

The rules for a presidential election without a candidate who wins an outright majority (270 of 538 electoral votes since the Electoral College reached its current size in 1964) stipulate that the House can pick from among the top three candidates who have won electoral votes.* So, for Kennedy to win in the House, he’d have to win at least one state or district. But your question is really about whether he could create the deadlock in the first place. And for that, he would also need to win outright somewhere.

The Kennedy campaign is suing Nevada’s secretary of state over access to the ballot there, and for good reason. Nevada is a) libertarian-ish and b) very narrowly divided between Republicans and Democrats. If Kennedy is looking for a place to notch a win, he wouldn’t be thinking about where his share of support would be the highest, but the places where he is popular and the race between the major parties will be the closest. Kennedy could win 33.4 percent of the vote in Rhode Island or Oklahoma and still win no electors amid a partisan blowout, but in Nevada, the barest plurality could be enough.

So let’s say Kennedy won Nevada. Unlikely, yes, but what if? Let’s also assume that the Republicans take back the two southern-tier states they lost in 2020, Georgia and Arizona, but Democrats hold the line in the North. That still would get the Democrats to 270. So, Kennedy would need to do it in another state, maybe New Hampshire, another close but Democratic-leaning state. And then, and only then, would Kennedy throw the race to the House, where it seems likely that Donald Trump would ultimately be named the winner.

I didn’t choose those two states by accident. They were among the states where the most consequential third-party candidate in recent memory, Ross Perot, did the best in 1992. But unlike Kennedy, Perot was actually leading his major-party rivals by the summer of that year. Perot ended up finishing second in only one state, Maine, and far behind the winner, Bill Clinton. Which is to say, the odds for Kennedy to win any state at this point seem very long.

That may change. But for now, it seems Kennedy is far more likely to be a place for protest voters to lodge their dissatisfaction than a contender for the presidency.

All best,

You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes, and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let us know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the out-of-doors Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


(Photo illustration from Getty Images.)
(Photo illustration from Getty Images.)

A tough pull for contestants to start our June Cutline Contest. A photo illustration with no people would test even the most agile minds. Luckily we have exactly that, starting with our winner:

“In a Dispatch exclusive, Steven Spielberg announces his theme for the Democratic Convention, a remake of the 1953 classic ‘The ‘White’ House of Wax in 3-D.’”—Dan Burch, Turlock, California

Winner, Almost Lifelike Division:

“These new 3-D glasses are awesome!”—Jack Funke, Poplar Bluff, Missouri

Winner, Outside the Lines Division:

“A page from the new book Coloring for Hyperpartisans.”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

Winner, Stealers Wheel Division:

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, what’s a White House to do?”—Donnie Bishop, New Castle, Virginia

May Winner

Because of our hiatus last week, we are a little behind in sharing the winner of our May contest, and it is, no surprise, a stalwart. For this photo of a Trump campaign staffer setting up a rostrum emblazoned with the slogan for challenging President Joe Biden to debate, “Anytime. Anywhere. Anyplace,” our 2023 ham champion, Bob Goldman, of Gilroy, California got his ticket to this year’s finals with the following:

“Hampered by ‘outrageous, illegal’ judge’s gag order, Former President Trump must use cunning to communicate with Stormy Daniels”

Send us your current preferred mailing address, Mr. Goldman, so we can send along your far less appetizing prize for this monthly win: A collection of campaign buttons for the potential 2020 presidential campaign of Daniels’ former attorney, Michael Avenatti.


KCAL: “Police in Los Angeles seized more than 2,800 boxes of stolen LEGO sets from a 71-year-old man’s home Wednesday, authorities said. Officers arrested 71-year-old Richard Siegel and his alleged accomplice, 39-year-old Blanca Gudino, after raiding the elderly man’s Long Beach home, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The individual boxes have a retail value ranging from $20 to well over $1,000, police said. Detectives started investigating the case after a retailer in San Pedro identified Gudino as the suspect who had allegedly robbed them several times last December. Several months later, on June 4, officers witnessed Gudino stealing items from retailers in Torrance and Lakewood before dropping them off at Siegel’s home. Detectives believe Siegel would sell the stolen goods online since several potential buyers showed up at his home while officers raided it. Investigators booked Siegel for organized retail theft, while Gudino was booked with grand theft.”

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Correction, June 10, 2024: This piece initially misstated what happens if a presidential election ends with no candidate earning 270 electoral votes.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.