Musings: Launch Sequence

by | Apr 24, 2023 | 2024 Elections, Musings

After months of nervous hemming and hawing from Democratic operatives and activists alike, President Joe Biden is expected to do the damn thing this week and officially launch his 2024 re-election effort, potentially setting up a rematch with Donald Trump, the opponent he vanquished in 2020. 

While there has been a lot of consternation about a potential Biden 2024 campaign from nervous Democratic types for a number of reasons, including his soft approval ratings and an unusually high number of Democrats indicating they would like a different candidate in public polling, his proper entrance into the race comes as good news, and gives the incumbent president an opportunity to kickstart his fundraising as Trump is mired in a number of legal questions.

Even as Biden prepares to hit launch on what will be his fourth campaign for the presidency, a number of awkward questions need to be resolved. Some reports suggest that Biden is targeting a Tuesday launch for his re-elect, complete with a campaign video and timed to the four-year anniversary of the launch of his ultimately successful 2020 campaign. 

Biden wears his Irish on his sleeve in a lot of ways, and has always been prone to sentimentality and drawn to symbolism. But a Tuesday launch would brush up against another remarkable event in American history: the first day of jury selection in the trial of Donald J. Trump.

Allow us to clarify: while Trump turned his recent indictment for a hush-money payoff to filmmaker and adult film actress Stormy Daniels into fundraising fodder for his nascent re-election campaign, that trial is still a ways off.

And Trump also won’t be facing the music in the New York Attorney General’s investigation into massive business fraud allegedly committed over a number of decades by the Trump Organization. While Trump gave a sworn deposition in that case last week, it, too, is just getting started.

No, on Tuesday Trump and his legal team will face an entirely different test. Trump is staring down the barrel of a civil lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll, an accomplished journalist and famed advice columnist who in 2019 accused Trump of raping her in an upscale Manhattan department store changing room in the 1990’s.

Biden dropping his launch ad the literal morning that Trump’s defamation trial over his denials of a rape accusation begins would be…a choice. The two would likely be tied together in most press stories, muddling Biden’s message and injecting Trump into his news cycle.

While questions around the timing of Biden’s launch will be resolved in the days ahead, now that the 2024 presidential election is underway, we’ve got five big questions about the 2024 presidential election that we’ll be watching closely.

What About Texas?

As of right now, Texas may not be very high on the list of battleground states that Biden and his team are circling for 2024, and that might be a mistake.

There are no two ways about it: the 2022 midterm elections in Texas were a disappointment. After coming close to knocking off Ted Cruz and keeping almost every statewide race close in 2018, Democrats fell far short of those high watermarks during a difficult 2022 election cycle.

Despite that momentary setback, we can’t overlook some incontrovertible facts about the Lone Star State in recent American political history. The first is that, on paper, Texas is most certainly a presidential battleground, especially with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

It would be hard to find a more hated politician on the American right than Hillary Clinton, who managed to overcome three decades of personal and professional attacks to win the popular vote in 2016. While Trump managed to win the electoral college to seal his trip to the Oval Office, his performance in some traditionally Republican strongholds raised alarm flags for Republican operatives and signaled opportunity for Democrats.

One of those strongholds was Texas, where Mitt Romney trounced President Barack Obama by 16 points in 2012. As much as Trump loves to insult the Utah Senator, he couldn’t quite fill his shoes as the Republican nominee, delivering a margin roughly half that size against Clinton in 2016.

While some operatives assume that was as bad as it could get for Trump in Texas, they were wrong. In 2020, Joe Biden cut that margin down to 5.5%, with Trump securing a paltry 52% of the vote in the Lone Star State, making Texas as competitive or more competitive than traditional battleground states like Ohio and Florida.

Should Biden invest in Texas? I am a permanent yes. Making early investments in organizing and communication in Black and Brown communities across Texas, especially Rio Grande Valley and South Texas could yield tangible results in November 2024.

But campaigning in Texas is as hard as it is expensive. The state is massive and diverse, and leading a statewide campaign in Texas is closer to running a national campaign than a statewide campaign in most places that aren’t Texas. 

With Georgia and Arizona central to Biden’s victory in 2020 and demanding serious resources to keep in the blue column, it seems unlikely that Texas will get the investment that it deserves, in a story as old as time. But with an incredibly difficult U.S. Senate map this cycle, investing in Texas could help topple Ted Cruz and win other key down-ballot races.

What About Trump?

There is no guarantee that the former president and current Republican frontrunner actually makes it to the first nominating contest in 2024. While Trump has a dogmatically loyal grassroots base that filled his campaign coffers with donations after his recent indictment, the embattled and disgraced former president is facing a gauntlet of legal challenges that would make most Americans panic and most trial lawyers salivate. 

There’s the recent indictment from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, an ongoing probe by the New York Attorney General’s office into a decades-long pattern of fraud at the Trump Organization, the catch-all family company that Trump has run for decades, and an ongoing grand jury investigation into his efforts to defraud voters and overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia, to name just a few in addition to the defamation trial we’ve already discussed.

That’s…a lot. It’s hard to think of an American politician who has faced more accusations and challenges legally, all at once, as Donald Trump. While he has publicly said that he would never drop out of the presidential race, if any or all of these legal woes go the wrong way for Trump, it could spell disaster for his campaign. 

If Not Trump, Who Among You?

The not-Trump lane in the 2024 Republican Primary isn’t crowded quite yet, and that could be a key ingredient to keeping Trump away from the Republican nomination. In 2016, a deep field of experienced candidates fractured the anti-Trump vote so thoroughly they all canceled each other out, something Republican operatives and activists looking for a new candidate and direction are worried could happen again in 2024.

So far, the only candidates officially in the race against Trump are former South Carolina Governor and Trump’s own U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. Rising star and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott recently announced the formation of an exploratory committee, and Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence is also waiting in the wings. 

Vivek Ramaswarmy, an anti-woke activist and wealthy businessman, is also in the race, as are failed Michigan gubernatorial candidate Perry Johnson and Larry Elder, a conservative radio personality who ran in the failed effort to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom in 2021.

All of those candidates risk being dwarfed by Trump, who essentially has a lock on 30% of the Republican primary electorate at least. Only one major candidate is attempting to run as the not-Trump Trump, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis building a roster of operatives and fundraisers as he prepares to launch a bid as the MAGA alternative to Trump. 

Old Map or New Math?

For more than a decade Democrats across the country, and especially in Texas, have spoken openly about the emerging majority of younger and more diverse Americans, and how waking that “sleeping giant” is the key to activating a new generation of political change, particularly in the deep south and southwest.

And we have to admit, the math adds up. If Democrats successfully mobilized communities of color across the major metropolitan areas in Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, our statewide elections would be more competitive, and that new electorate could deliver decisive results for Texas Democrats.

That phenomenon isn’t unique to Texas. Take Mississippi, as deep south as a state can get. Here’s a fun fact: if we put in the work to make sure every eligible Black voter in Mississippi was registered and turned out in the next election, it would very likely become a Democratic state.

In turn, national Democrats never invest in programs to achieve those goals. The closest that they came was during the historic 2020 election cycle in Georgia, which delivered its electoral votes to Biden while electing two Democrats to the United States Senate. In Georgia that year, progressive groups made unprecedented investments in reaching voters of color and younger voters, and the work paid off. 

Every presidential cycle, we find ourselves having the same debate. Should we invest in states like Texas and Mississippi, states that desperately need the political engagement and investment to improve the lives of their residents, or do we invest in the same battleground map from four years ago?

Cynical political operatives would have you believe that the choice is between winning (old map) and losing (new math), but they couldn’t be more wrong. While flipping southern states is as difficult as it is unlikely in the short term, the south is where the biggest fights are happening in the starkest terms. 

The erosion of abortion access, the dismantling of public education, book bans, and the war against LGBTQ Americans are on full display in legislatures across the south, which are going so far as to expel democratically elected members for voicing their dissent and celebrating the passage of dangerous and draconian laws that will force poor children into a life of underpaid labor.

I get it. We need to win now, and to win now we need to hold on to the Rust Belt states that Biden won back in 2020 while latching on to states like Arizona and Georgia that Democrats were able to flip that cycle. But therein lies the rub: for Biden’s team, there are few opportunities to expand the map readily available. If things take a turn for the worse in Georgia or Arizona, which states can Biden win to cancel out those losses? How can his team invest in those emerging states to keep their options open next November? 

America, or Trump?

How foolish we were, to think the 2020 election would be the end of the Trump Experiment. Donald Trump has been the Republican nominee for President twice, and he lost the national popular vote by wide margins in both of those elections, something he has repeatedly tried to deny by making unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. 

As we barrel through 2023, will Trump supporters finally throw up their hands and say “enough?” It remains to be seen, but the theme of the 2024 Republican presidential primary is quickly coalescing around a singular question: will you choose America, or will you choose Donald Trump? 

There is little evidence to suggest that the last three years has made Trump more appealing to any of the Republicans or conservative-minded independents that abandoned him in 2016 and in even greater numbers in 2020. 

The insurrection, the grand juries, the indictments, the trials. Will it all be too much for Republican voters to stand, or will it be the latest example of Donald Trump turning a pile of controversial manure into mountains of campaign cash and earned media? 

Either way, the Trump era of American politics has been especially exhausting. Can we count on Republican primary voters to exorcize those demons, or are we on a long race to the bottom with Trump once again?

Senior Advisor | + posts

Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.

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