The 2024 Presidential Race Begins To Take Shape : The NPR Politics Podcast While voters and pundits alike wait to see which candidates will declare presidential runs, potential candidates on the Republican side are trying to distance themselves from former president Donald Trump. Many Democrats, meanwhile, remain skeptical of President Biden's chances in 2024 & wonder if he should not seek a second term.

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The 2024 Presidential Race Begins To Take Shape

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi. This is Boy Scout Troop 48 from Germantown, Tenn.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We just completed our Washington, D.C., summer adventure, where we toured the Washington Monument, Library of Congress and U.S. Capitol, where we met our representative.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: This podcast was recorded at...

MILES PARKS, HOST:

1:12 p.m. on Monday, August 1.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Things may have changed by the time you hear it, but we'll still be resting our feet from walking over 40 miles.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: OK, here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Whoa. I have a lot of questions.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Yeah.

KEITH: Were either of you Boy Scouts?

PARKS: I was not a Boy Scout. Domenico?

MONTANARO: I went to one Cub Scout meeting, and my dad and I walked out. So that's a long story.

KEITH: All right.

PARKS: We should let the Boy Scouts know there's a public transportation system in D.C., also. They don't need to walk 40 miles to get everywhere.

MONTANARO: It's good for your health.

PARKS: It is. It is.

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

PARKS: And despite the fact that the 2024 presidential election is more than 800 days away, we're going to talk about it today because it's on the minds of a lot of people and a lot of voters. The Democratic Party in the next couple of weeks is in the process of shifting its presidential primary schedule. And a lot of polling data has come out recently that suggests a number of Democrats want someone other than the current president at the top of the ticket. On the other side, the Republican Party is waiting to see whether or not former President Trump decides to run again. And there are a slew of candidates waiting in the wings for his announcement.

So, Tam, I want to start with the incumbent president, Biden, who you cover. It feels like he's been on the offensive recently. He recently spoke to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives last week, and he criticized Trump's actions on January 6.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The police were heroes that day. Donald Trump lacked the courage to act. The brave women and men in blue all across this nation should never forget that. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-cop. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-American.

PARKS: So strong words there from Biden. What's driving this?

KEITH: So this is not an isolated case of President Biden taking a dig at, going after, otherwise attacking Donald Trump by name or as his predecessor. And Biden's language has gotten sharper on these matters. It's not clear whether this is a trend or whether these are a series of, well, yeah, no, it made sense for him to do that in this particular moment. Like, this clip that we just heard was right after the primetime January 6 committee hearing, where they spent the entire time talking about the 187 minutes where Donald Trump did nothing. And so President Biden is speaking to a group of law enforcement. And so he goes after Trump there. But the line that stands out to me is him saying, police officers, keep this in mind - you know, like the idea that someday you'll be voting; you should remember this.

PARKS: And it feels like - it doesn't feel like a coincidence that this is happening at the same time that he's kind of name-dropping Trump a lot more this summer at the same time that we're getting all of this polling data that seems to indicate some Democrats may want somebody else at the top of the ticket. And it feels like potentially Biden is kind of saying, oh, no. Remember who I beat? Remember that other guy, and remember how scary that is? We saw a recent poll from The New York Times and Siena College a couple of weeks ago that had 64% of Democrats saying they'd prefer a different candidate. Has the White House responded specifically to that critique, that there are people in the Democratic Party who want someone else?

KEITH: Well, President Biden has responded specifically to that critique. He was at the congressional barbecue a few weeks ago, and someone shouted about that poll in particular. And he comes charging up to the camera, and he's clearly grumpy. And he says, no, you're reading that poll all wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: That poll showed that 92% of Democrats, if I ran, would vote for me.

KEITH: 92% said they would vote for me. And that's really what it is, is that Biden sees that, sure, in the abstract, Democratic voters would like some change. But if it is a race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, which Biden has said he wouldn't mind at all, then it's a choice. And that choice is good for Biden.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, our poll even showed that Biden is lacking in intensity with the Democratic base, which is a big deal. It's a problem for trying to get legislation through. It can be a problem for midterm elections and potentially for 2024 if he decides to run for reelection, which he's saying he will. At the same time, that same Siena poll, as Biden noted, had him beating Trump by a few points.

PARKS: Well, and how unique is this situation right now for Biden, Domenico, where you have - normally, even when a sitting president is unpopular, maybe broadly, especially we saw this with former President Trump, he remained really popular with the base, with Republican voters. But we're seeing that kind of slip among Democrats with Biden. Is this - are we in kind of uncharted territory there?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, normally, presidents are very popular within their party, even if they aren't popular with the rest of the country. I mean, just look at Trump. As you noted, 80 to 90% of Republicans routinely throughout his presidency said that they approved of the job that he was doing despite being highly, highly unpopular with independents and other Democrats. What Democrats continue to say about Biden is they just feel like he's too old. And that's been a sort of taboo thing to talk about. But they feel like he's not able to make the case that they want. Plus, progressives haven't always been in love with Joe Biden. That's no secret there. And so then no surprise that the main reason why a lot of progressives voted for Biden was to beat Trump, so no surprise Biden is starting to talk a lot more about that guy again.

PARKS: OK. So then what can Biden do looking ahead to the next few months ahead of midterms and then, you know, in the next two years - what can Biden do, Domenico, to kind of pull those approval ratings, specifically among Democrats, back up to where they are for - you know, normally for where they are for presidents of a sitting party?

MONTANARO: The problem is so many of these issues for Biden that he's facing are out of his control - inflation, high gas prices. Those are dominating people's concerns. You know, people are tired of the continuing threat posed by COVID. You know, his best bet, frankly, might be Trump. Nothing is likely more guaranteed to get Democrats back on board than the threat of Trump running again.

KEITH: I will also add that if President Biden is able to sign the Inflation Reduction Act that has a huge, huge element of addressing climate change - that is something he campaigned on - that can't hurt.

MONTANARO: Well, they've got to make that case. I don't think a lot of people are following legislation that closely. They have to turn that into a campaign message that gets those younger Democrats in particular who are concerned about climate change on board as far. As inflation goes, he's just got to hope it comes down and people stop feeling the pinch.

PARKS: Can I ask both of you guys, looking ahead at 2024, how possible is it that there is a real primary against Joe Biden if he decides he wants to run?

KEITH: Right now, Democrats are very solidly on message. Every prominent Democrat who goes on cable gets asked, will you support Joe Biden in 2024? And they all say something along the lines of right now, he says he's running, and I will support him. If for some reason his posture changes, there are a lot of people who have been working to raise their own profiles over the last four years and over the last two years and to this very day who will suddenly be available. I think it's too soon to tell, but it seems somewhat unlikely that it's going to be a Carter-like situation, where there is an Edward Kennedy running in a primary and it's a really drag-out, knockdown primary.

MONTANARO: You know, it's never good for a president to face this kind of resistance. And when we look at potentials, who could be the person up - and by the way, Democratic strategists all sort of point to the fact that they don't think any of these other potential candidates will run if Biden says he's going to run for reelection. But just looking at it, you know, the name that keeps coming up is Pete Buttigieg, because he's the current transportation secretary and he has a pretty high - higher favorability rating than others in the cabinet. But he has a huge hole. He hasn't shown the ability to win over voters of color. You have to do that to win a primary. And Democratic strategists keep coming back to Kamala Harris - Harris, Harris, Harris, they say, because it would be nearly impossible to take it away from her because it would tear the party apart, they say, because she's the first woman, first Black and first South Asian vice president. But there are going to be - continue to be rumblings about her viability and her electability because her favorability ratings right now, not very good at all - worse than Biden's, in fact.

PARKS: OK. Let's take a break. And when we're back, we're going to talk about the Republican side of the coin.

And we're back. And the anticipation looking ahead at 2024 for Republicans is centered largely around the former president, former President Donald Trump, and whether he decides to run again. Domenico, what do we know about Republican voters and, to be honest, whether they want that?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, there are some signs that things are starting to change. Now, Trump is undoubtedly, you know, the dominant force in Republican politics. We shouldn't overstate how much his grip might be loosening. You know, he's still far and away the frontrunner for the 2024 nomination. He's the most popular person in the party. Scores of candidates are seeking his endorsement in Republican primaries. All that said, because of the January 6 committee hearings, there are some signs that rank-and-file voters are beginning to see him as a liability. Polls, for example, are showing an increase among Republicans blaming Trump for January 6. Fewer Republicans are saying the 2020 election was stolen, and there's been an increase in Republicans saying they want someone other than Trump. So when we look at why that might be, you know, it's because a lot of Republicans feel like Trump is too focused on the past. And we've started to hear from focus groups, for example, that they think he might have an electability problem. Maybe the best indicator, though, is what potential presidential hopefuls are doing, and that really tells the story.

KEITH: Yeah. And voters often like the bright, shiny thing. I mean, this goes back to the conversation we were just having about Democrats on the Democratic side. And this is very much true on the Republican side, too, that they see a Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, getting a lot of attention. He has incredible name ID for a governor - South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem also getting her name out there, a lot of name ID. And people are like, well, hey, they look fun and exciting and new, and they're getting a lot of attention, and they're riling up liberals, just like Trump used to do - sort of Trump without the baggage.

PARKS: And it should be noted that these hopefuls are not exactly being coy. You know, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Kristi Noem have all been out in the last couple of months speaking to Republican voters and taking on the former president in ways we haven't seen before.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

MIKE PENCE: Now, some people may choose to focus on the past. But elections are about the future. And I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America.

NIKKI HALEY: And if this president signs any sort of deal, I'll make you a promise. The next president will shred it on her first day in office.

(APPLAUSE)

HALEY: Just saying, sometimes it takes a woman.

RON DESANTIS: So the question is about gas prices and inflation. You know what I could do? If you could give me a time machine to go back to January 20, 2021, we would just do the opposite of what Biden has done, and we'd be in a better spot.

KRISTI NOEM: I held the reins and refused to let fear steal our freedom. Here, freedom runs free. So saddle up. We're just getting started.

PARKS: Domenico, I almost want you to just kind of, like, power rank these people for me. Like, who - in your eyes, looking ahead, like, who has the strongest case here?

MONTANARO: Well, hands down, it's Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor. I mean, he's the name that keeps coming up on the tips of Republican strategists' tongues all the time and starting to become voters, in fact, starting to talk about him. And we saw him in New Hampshire, for example - you know, real eye-opening poll this past week that showed him beating Trump one on one in a primary competition, which is a huge switch from just October, when Trump had a huge lead among Republican voters in New Hampshire. And that's got to be sending, you know, Mar-A-Lago just, you know, up the wall. You know, Trump has been sending out statements, straw polls showing him beating DeSantis, him even trying to play nice and say that he's going to vote for DeSantis, but he would make him his vice president. And when I say vote for him, he would vote for him to be governor again. He's up for reelection. He's the real big name.

But Trump is sort of, you know, obviously the big fish here. And the reason we continue to hear Trump and we've seen some reporting that he might make a decision on whether he's going to run before the midterms this year - and the reason for that is if these January 6 committee hearings are, you know, sort of tarnishing his image and the further away you get from power, the more difficult it is to maintain that power, and people start to think that they might have a chance here, that if he announces a little earlier, that he could stop that conversation and a lot of the attention would be focused back on him.

PARKS: All right. Well, we will leave it there. This is obviously going to be a story we are monitoring for the next few years of our lives. So we will be back in your feeds tomorrow with more. I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

PARKS: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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