Our Best Stuff on Ukraine, the War in Gaza, and 2024

Nikki Haley poses for photos after the Republican presidential debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on November 8, 2023. (Photo by Jonathan Newton/Washington Post/Getty Images)

Hello and happy Sunday. It’s been a pretty quiet weekend in the Ohio bureau. My Buckeyes had an easy game against the Minnesota Gophers, I got a head start on Christmas decorating, and we’re looking forward to our oldest being home from college for Thanksgiving. Having no obligations lets the mind wander a bit, so bear with me. 

As we head into the 2024 presidential election—the Iowa caucuses are January 15, just on the other side of the holiday season we’re gearing up for—the overwhelming likelihood is that the race will come down to a rematch of the 2020 election between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Biden is the incumbent after all, and Trump has maintained an astronomical lead over the Republican field. 

One crazy thing about all of this, of course, is that, as Bloomberg put it recently, “Biden-Trump 2 Is the Election No One Wants.” I don’t think I need to spend too much time explaining that to readers of this newsletter. But even crazier is that, according to a new New York Times poll,  Trump is leading Biden in five key battleground states. Biden is old—and even Democrats have questioned his fitness for office—but Trump is providing young historians with guaranteed full employment for their careers and has constitutional lawyers scratching their heads by running while facing four separate criminal indictments. 

It’s bound to be an ugly election. The rift in the Democratic Party between progressives and moderates has been exacerbated by the war between Israel and Hamas, with many in the left wing of the party upset by Biden’s support for Israel. Trump is running an explicit revenge campaign, and has vowed to conduct mass deportations, implement a Muslim ban, and fire thousands of federal employees if he’s elected.

It all makes one wonder: Do we really need this sequel? If we somehow don’t end up getting that 2020 rematch, a couple stories we published  this week could help explain why. First up, Andrew reported this week from New Hampshire, where Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips is focusing his primary challenge against Biden. Phillips doesn’t have many ideological differences with Biden, but he worries that the president cannot win again. “This is not a campaign of destruction against the president,” he told students at Dartmouth College.* “To the contrary, it is a campaign to prevent the destruction of democracy.”

On the Republican side, the quest to keep Trump from securing the nomination has seemed pretty much futile since he announced his campaign almost exactly a year ago. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis enjoyed his highest marks in the RealClearPolitics polling average in January 2023—four months before he actually announced he was running. But former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has been surging this fall thanks to strong performances in the GOP primary debates. That has attracted interest from mega donors, and in Dispatch Politics on Wednesday, Andrew and David Drucker reported that the super PAC backing Haley is planning for major ad buys in the key early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. 

The idea that we could end up with a Phillips-Haley race is beyond far-fetched. Phillips is now being tracked in the national RCP polling average at 5 percent, trailing even spiritual adviser and failed 2020 candidate Marianne Williamson. Haley’s surge has her all the way up to 10.7 percent nationally, compared with Trump’s 58.9 percent. But Phillips—who describes himself as progressive but pragmatic—represents a purple district in Minnesota. Haley has executive experience from her time as governor and significant foreign-policy chops from her stint as U.N. ambassador. She’s made serious policy proposals on the debate stage. It’s easy to see how a presidential campaign between the two of them would be, dare I say, normal. We’d not be subject to news stories highlighting every “senior moment” by either candidate (both of whom are in their 50s), and the cable networks could keep fewer legal commentators on retainer to discuss whether a convicted felon would preside from prison or the Oval Office. 

The circumstances that brought us to this point are complex and will keep sociologists just as busy as historians for the foreseeable future. Our journey out of this morass will take time, almost definitely too much time to get us a normal election next year.  But a girl can dream. Now, excuse me. I’m going to go help the kids write some early letters to Santa Claus. 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your weekend.

Inside Ukraine’s Revolutionary Warfare

Bennett Murray reports from the trenches of Bakhmut, Ukraine—literally. He embedded with the 28th Mechanized Brigade and writes about spending time with Ukrainian soldiers in an abandoned Russian trench while shells whizzed overhead and exploded behind him. One soldier passed the time playing games on his phone. Why the lack of urgency? One of the soldiers was in possession of a Sugarcube, a “3D-printed device that retails for $35 detects ominous radio signals associated with the enemy’s technology.” Murray’s fascinating report focuses on the cheap do-it-yourself technology that has changed the battlefield, but it’s not all good news for the beleaguered Ukrainians. The Russians have taken advantage, too.

What, Exactly, Should Israel Do?

The headline of Wednesday’s G-File (🔒) is Jonah’s question to those calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. After all, a ceasefire had been in place on October 6. If you think Israel should not respond to the horrific massacre of its people, “you’re in effect saying, ‘Shut up Jews. You deserve it.’” And so he asks, just what should Israel do? “If you have some military insight, some greater grasp of tactics than the IDF or the Pentagon, I am honestly interested in what this better way is,” he writes. “But none of these people offer any such solutions to the very real problem of Hamas using Palestinian babies to protect their murderers and rapists. They’d prefer to reward Hamas’ policy of using civilians to protect their terrorists and condemn Israel’s policy of using soldiers to protect civilians. They’d rather pretend that blame for these tragic casualties is Israel’s alone.”

Pondering the Prosecution of a President 

Donald Trump’s various criminal trials, combined with the possibility he could be elected president before they are concluded, present more than one nightmare scenario. Based on legal guidance dating back decades, any federal proceedings against Trump would come to a halt if he were the president. But that guidance doesn’t apply to states, and Georgia is prosecuting him for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. In The Collision, Sarah and Mike look at the various hypotheticals and how they might play out. But in her analysis at the end of the newsletter, Sarah writes, “What we are testing now is too bizarre to even make it into a law school hypothetical. The true constitutional answer to all of these hypotheticals is that we were never meant to need an answer to them. No constitution for self-government can save a people from voluntarily ending their own reign. ‘A republic, if you can keep it’ wasn’t just a foreboding turn of phrase—it was a statement of historical literacy.”

Jacobins, Y’all

For Wanderland (🔒), Kevin reported on the first conference of the Texas Nationalist Movement, “a group that is institutionally committed to seeking the independence of Texas as a sovereign republic apart from the United States—Texit, as they call it.” He doesn’t find many legitimate arguments for the cause—or many genuine Texans—but he does encounter a not insignificant amount of antisemitism, conspiracy theorizing, and general kookery. He writes: “It’s mostly just MAGA in Western wear from Cavender’s and Boot Barn, the detritus of various suburban Tea Party groups and Trumpist organizations and QAnon cultists that have moved on to the next obsession.” 

And here’s the best of the rest:

  • Maria Powelll writes about a 1,600-year-old Orthodox church in Gaza that is providing shelter to 500 Christians. She notes that Christians in the region have faced hostility from the outset—though in those days it was a pagan majority—and discusses how they have persevered over time.
  • Did Kevin McCarthy elbow a fellow Republican congressman? If so, what the heck is going on with the former speaker? Nick has some theories in Boiling Frogs (🔒).
  • Campuses across America have been home to demonstrations that are nominally pro-Palestinian but are rife with antisemtism and outright support for Hamas. Frederick Hess and Mathew Levey argue that a lot of the blame lies with a K-12 education system that has long failed to teach history.
  • Charlotte reported on the March for Israel that took place at the National Mall this week. She talked to Jewish attendees who are scared and worried, and non-Jewish attendees who wanted to show solidarity. “We are peaceful people,” one rallygoer told her. “We just want to be safe in our homes, out of our homes, in colleges.”
  • On the pods: On The Dispatch Podcast, Declan interviews Jon Karl about his new book about Donald Trump (which Declan helped him with), Tired of Winning. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss the latest from the Supreme Court, including its new ethics code. And on The Remnant, Jonah welcomes Alexandra Hudson to explore whether we can regain our sense of civility. Fortunately, she’s just written a book on the topic.

*Correction, November 19, 2023: In a reference to Andrew’s reporting from New Hampshire, this newsletter mistakenly referred to Dartmouth University. It’s Dartmouth College.

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