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Welcome to Trail Mix, your 2024 election sanity guide. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at jake.lahut@thedailybeast.com. To get Trail Mix in your inbox, subscribe here for free.

This week, we look ahead to the brutal stretch facing the Trump campaign. Plus, how the new Florida abortion rights referendum could shake up one of the state’s most competitive House races, and a look under the hood of the much hyped trucker convoys that never come through for Trump.

Republicans Grapple With Trump’s Structural Disadvantage

Donald Trump is about to confront some of the toughest months of his campaign to date, staring down a huge money gap and a calendar full of four days per week in court—and GOP operatives have no real plan to address the situation.

They don’t think they need one.

In conversations with current and former Trump operatives about a number of the structural disadvantages Trump is facing in the early stages of the general election campaign, most said these problems just won’t matter.

Simply put, Trumpworld looks at the polls in swing states—as well as polling that shows concerns about the economy and immigration as chief issues in the 2024 campaign—and operatives believe the former president is in a resiliently good place, no matter his legal or financial woes.

Of course, these Republicans did acknowledge some warning signs—at least privately.

The legal problems on their own might be manageable if Trump were competing on the fundraising front, one Trump-aligned GOP strategist said, “but the fact that Trump is in dire need of money is a massive, massive disadvantage.”

The scope of Trump’s money problem is its own challenge. If Trump were behind just a few million dollars, after having to spend in the GOP primary, that would be one thing. But this strategist continued that getting outraised by “orders of magnitude,” after a relatively quiet primary, is a real concern.

President Joe Biden entered March with $71 million in cash on hand, twice as much as Trump’s campaign. But the advantage is even bigger when accounting for the party coffers and joint fundraising committees, with March’s numbers yet to become public.

Then there’s the lingering concern that, without a steady dose of rallies, Trump might act out more than usual in his limited availability on the campaign trail. The crowded court schedule and tight budget have drastically constricted the number of MAGA rallies already this cycle. Trump will only have Wednesdays and weekends for counterprogramming to his court news once the Manhattan trial starts on April 15, and the Trump campaign appears reluctant to hold many rallies—both out of concern that Trump might say the wrong thing and because, as the same strategist said, the rallies are “extremely expensive to put on.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Forum River Center in Rome, Georgia.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Forum River Center in Rome, Georgia.

Alyssa Pointer/Reuters

“They’re not gonna have enough money to do as many as he wants or at the scale he wants,” the Republican said. “It’s gonna be a massive problem.”

But again, Trumpworld isn’t taking any of these problems seriously—not when the former president’s polling remains so strong.

“Until we get to the point where we start telling you these polls are all wrong,” another Trump ally said, “that’s when you start worrying.”

Even as Trumpworld projects confidence in the candidate’s ability to campaign from the courthouse steps, other Republicans see the next couple months as a perilous window for a campaign holding a lead in what will inevitably be a tight race. Others in the party are quietly beginning to worry that the party is in denial over just how hamstrung Trump is going to be until there’s a verdict, especially on the fundraising front.

“This is gonna come to a head,” the Trump-aligned strategist told The Daily Beast, “because we all know Trump loves these massive rallies and, frankly, they cheer him up.”

Meanwhile, as Trump’s team insists everything is going great, the Biden campaign appears eager to take advantage of a distracted Trump and continue building advantages on the financial front and out in the field.

“Wherever Trump is, he is always offering the American people the same extreme MAGA vision: a national abortion ban, Social Security and Medicare cuts, and violent rhetoric self-centered retribution,” Biden campaign spokesperson James Singer told The Daily Beast in an email. “The Biden campaign will continue to focus on talking to voters, building out our campaign operation, and winning in November.”

Josh Schwerin, a Democratic strategist, added that the next few months will show “Donald Trump is at his worst, and Joe Biden is delivering for the American people.”

“This is the period where voters are starting to tune into the race and look at the choice in the race,” Schwerin said. “And what they’re gonna see is Joe Biden traveling around the country delivering for the American people, talking about polices and talking about accomplishments.

“Conversely,” Schwerin continued, “Donald Trump is going to be bouncing between courtrooms and billionaire fundraisers because he needs to pay for his court bills.”

And yet, Republicans once again suggested the bluster from Democrats belies the fundamental measure of the race.

Matthew Bartlett, a former Trump appointee who served as director of public affairs for the State Department, isn’t exactly in Trump’s corner this campaign. But he contended that even if there are concerns about the next few months, those jitters are tempered by both the early polling and how well known both candidates are to the American public “going back decades.”

“It’s highly problematic and deeply concerning,” Bartlett said of the structural disadvantages facing Trump. “But if you take a step back, again, Trump is up in every single swing state. So it’s just like, from their point of view, what’s the problem? What’s not going well?”

The main source of optimism in Trumpworld, aside from their generally dismissive view about Biden’s strengths as a candidate, is that persistent voter concerns about inflation and immigration will be enough to at the very least help Trump maintain his lead—even if the economy is humming on almost all metrics under Biden and Trump tanked the bipartisan immigration bill the president supported.

“Every other few days a new poll comes out—whether it’s national or battleground—and they ask voters what are your top concerns, and it’s either the economy or immigration,” the Trump operative said, pointing to a Tuesday Wall Street Journal poll showing Trump beating Biden in six of the seven major battleground states.

When asked about Biden’s advantage in fundraising, organizing, and a more open campaign schedule in the coming months, the Trump operative questioned whether any of those “fundamentals” would ultimately make a difference.

Biden’s approval rating remaining at 40 percent and majorities of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track “are pretty big fundamentals,” they said. “Every poll is basically the same: the economy sucks, and we trust Trump on the economy.”

The WSJ poll found swing-state voters were more likely to be focused on the economy than the national sample. While Biden led Trump on how each candidate handles the issue of abortion, he trailed on all the other subject areas voters were asked about: immigration and border security (52-32); mental health and physical fitness to be president (48-28); and especially the economy, trailing Trump at 54 percent to 34 percent.

Despite all the positive signs for Trump on polling, there are some canaries when it comes to his actual performance at the polls. In Wisconsin this week, Trump failed to receive 80 percent of the vote with zombie Nikki Haley voters persisting in a number of counties.

The county GOP chair in one of those counties, Winnebago County, said he’s not at all concerned about Trump losing ground while stuck in court.

“This is all bullshit,” Ed Hudak told The Daily Beast, dismissing both Trump’s legal problems and the beltway definition of “the fundamentals.”

“It’s more of things that are going on that are ridiculous,” Hudak said before declining to take any further questions. “It’s just people trying to manipulate the situation.”

SUNSHINE STATE OF PLAY

Democrats and pro-abortion rights advocates were dealt devastating news on Monday when a Florida court upheld the state’s new six-week ban on abortion.

Simultaneously, though, the state court gave Florida voters the chance to overturn its ruling in November through a ballot initiative enshrining abortion protections—a move that could end up boosting pro-abortion rights candidates statewide.

For Whitney Fox, the ballot referendum’s impact on voter turnout could make the difference between winning and losing as she seeks to defeat Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL).

“We know that abortion rights on the ballot will drive voter turnout and energize everyday people to vote,” Fox told The Daily Beast. “It’s a key battleground, and we can feel the energy and excitement on the ground talking to voters at local events and community gatherings.”

Although Luna is a strident MAGA loyalist, Biden carried her St. Petersburg-area district by 4 points in 2020—the same year Luna lost her first bid for Congress against former Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL).

If Floridians have the opportunity to codify abortion rights, Fox predicted “a wave” of turnout from voters who otherwise haven’t been engaged so far.

Similar ballot initiatives have not only driven significant numbers of people to the polls but have attracted bipartisan support. Last year in Ohio, an increasingly conservative state, 57 percent of voters supported Issue One, which amended the state constitution to protect abortion rights.

Democrats are even confident that this dynamic could help make their challenge to Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) more competitive. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), the leading Democratic candidate, pointed to the referendum as another opportunity for Democrats to make up for lost ground with Spanish-speaking voters in the state.

“We have become ground zero on the most fundamental attacks on a woman,” Mucarsel-Powell told The Daily Beast. “As a Latin-American immigrant who came here when I was young at 14, I can tell you I understand… what it is like to live under a government that is trying to control every part of your life.”

Both candidates said the referendum further reinforces a powerful message to run on, in addition to helping them make the argument to voters that they have a direct stake in the election.

For Luna, a candidate who has been uncharacteristically mum following the decision—even as she calls herself a “pro-life extremist”—the referendum has put her campaign at increased risk, even if the party remains favored statewide.

“This is not a federal issue, and all Pinellas voters know that,” a Luna spokesperson told The Daily Beast in an email. “Anyone ‘running’ against Rep. Luna saying otherwise is not smart.”

Fox said she will keep hammering the issue in her campaign against Luna.

“We plan to make sure from the very beginning that voters know that Anna Paulina Luna wants to take away their freedoms,” Fox said. “They see the attack on IVF and the ability to start a family, and these are voters that maybe hadn’t thought about politics much before, and now it’s hitting very close to home for them.”

NOT IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL

Although some have participated in attention-grabbing MAGA protests and convoys, America’s truckers are largely untapped horsepower for Trump.

By most demographics, truckers should be solidly pro-Trump—and for the most part, they are. But that’s expected. Some 90 percent of the country’s 3.5 million truckers are male, and 93 percent don’t have a college degree—two traits that are incredibly dominant in the Trump coalition.

There’s been little polling on U.S. truckers and their political views, but a survey from the trade publication Overdrive back in 2020 found 75 percent of their readers supported Trump compared to 18 percent for Biden.

Trump has fashioned himself as a champion of truckers and has courted their mass support before, but he and his team have never made outreach to them a focal point.

According to experts who closely track the trucking industry, the idea that this seemingly ironclad Trump constituency will mobilize en masse for him with organized shows of force in 2024 is far-fetched at best.

The biggest reason is most truckers quite literally can’t afford to protest or spend much time on political organizing, said Craig Fuller, editor in chief of the trucking industry publication Freightwaves.

“If those wheels aren’t rolling,” Fuller said, “they’re not making money.”

Aside from a lack of time off and working long hours, there’s also the psychological profile of the average trucker to consider.

“It’s a solitary lifestyle,” Fuller said. “They’re not the type of people who group up to protest.”

Some have, of course. During the COVID pandemic, truckers grabbed headlines for their convoy protests of public health regulations, which doubled as expressions of MAGA affinity. Most recently, there was the “Take Our Border Back” trucker convoy in early February with a heavy dose of Trump fandom, but the sporadic and modest attendance didn’t come anywhere close to the initial tally of over 700,000 reported by multiple news outlets.

Notably, unlike workforces that typically throw around political weight, truckers are not unionized and tend to have “a lot of infighting between the groups,” Fuller said, so the chance that they could have much of an organized impact beyond random demonstrations is very low.

Whether the truckers show more initiative in turning out to vote remains to be seen. With nearly 90,000 in Pennsylvania and at least 50,000 each in Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgia, the drivers of America’s big rigs could help steer the outcome in some key battlegrounds.

POLLING STATION

There’s two popular components of Biden’s agenda that could pay dividends in November if he leans into them, according to new polling first appearing in Trail Mix.

The Biden administration’s stance in favor of banning TikTok if it remains under Chinese ownership, along with the president signing the bipartisan END FENTANYL ACT, both enjoy broad public support, according to polling shared with The Daily Beast from Data For Progress, a left-leaning polling and messaging shop.

The poll, conducted by Blueprint, found 56 percent of Americans support banning or restricting the wildly popular social video-sharing app unless Bytedance, its Chinese-owned parent company, sells it to a U.S. entity. Biden has expressed support for legislation that would do just that, though it is stalled in the Senate after being approved in the House.

President Joe Biden hosts a reception celebrating Greek Independence Day at the White House

President Joe Biden hosts a reception celebrating Greek Independence Day at the White House.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The same survey found an even bigger majority in favor of federal action on fentanyl addiction, with 74 percent supporting a bipartisan bill to address overdoses—though the bill Biden signed was not explicitly mentioned in the survey.

“Blueprint continues to find that there are plenty of policy arrows in President Biden’s quiver that are splashy, popular, and timely,” Blueprint pollster Evan Roth Smith told The Daily Beast. “Policy one-offs on TikTok and fentanyl are popular across the board, cutting through the partisan and education polarization that afflicts so much of American politics today.”

Banning TikTok was most popular among respondents who identified as conservative, not having a college degree, and supporters of Trump. Voters under 45 years old had the strongest opposition to a ban, with 38 percent against it.

“These are the kinds of straightforward wins that Biden can rely on to demonstrate steady, sensible leadership to voters that delivers outcomes they want, and draw contrast with Trump who makes a lot of noise on these issues but has little success to show on them from his time in office,” Roth Smith said.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

The Yassification of a Dem primary in Pittsburgh

Pennsylvania’s 12th District became a hotbed of outside spending in the closing weeks of the 2022 midterms, and thanks to the state’s biggest billionaire donor, it’s about to get even more supercharged with cash.

Jeffrey Yass, a Never Trump Republican mega donor who has nonetheless come to the former president’s aid, is throwing around a fair amount of dough in the Democratic primary of a deep blue district around Pittsburgh.

Yass has donated $586,000 to the innocuously named Moderate PAC so far this cycle. The PAC ran an ad this week in favor of Bhavani Patel, the primary challenger to Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA), a member of “The Squad.”

“We need a representative that will work with President Biden,” the narrator says in the ad, “and that’s Bhavani Patel.” Patel’s campaign did not return a request for comment on Yass’ support.

For Lee, the donations have not gone unnoticed.

“Super PACs bankrolled by Republican billionaires—let alone Trump’s latest cabinet pick—have no place in our Democratic primaries or our democracy,” Lee told The Daily Beast in a statement, alluding to Yass as a potential pick for Secretary of the Treasury.

“I am never going to stop defending our abortion rights, protecting our public schools, or demanding billionaires pay their fair share,” Lee continued, “so I welcome being an enemy to an extremist like Jeffrey Yass.”

Yass, a staunch pro-Israel advocate, is poised to be a key figure not just in the presidential race, but in the broader effort to oust members of “The Squad” in favor of more pro-Israeli candidates.

CAMPAIGN LIT

Return to sender. Republicans are talking a big game about promoting mail-in voting for 2024—but they’re mostly talking around Trump, who continues to undermine faith in the process, Sam Brodey and Reese Gorman report.

Cover your Yass. Could the former Never Trump billionaire Jeff Yass bail out Trump’s campaign? Roger Sollenberger and Mini Racker investigate.

Battleground Maryland. Democrats are attempting to brand anti-Trump former Gov. Larry Hogan as a MAGA acolyte to keep their Maryland Senate seat safe, reports Riley Rogerson.

A Whole LaLota Bad Blood. George Santos speaks to William Bredderman about why his “revenge run” against Rep. Nick LaLota (R-NY) on Long Island became so personal.

Impeccable timing. Jose Pagliery explains how a potential Trump conviction in the Stormy Daniels case could fall right before the GOP convention in July.

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