307 Days to Go: The Clock Is Running
JVL helps you navigate 2024 with a map and a stopwatch.
We’re 307 days from the showdown.
On one side we have a sitting president who has presided over a strong economy while remaining wholly committed to political norms and liberal democracy.
On the other side we have a twice-impeached former president who left office with the economy in crisis—but only after inciting an insurrection—and who now stands credibly accused of 91 felony charges. This former president has said that he wants to “terminate” parts of the Constitution that he finds inconvenient and that he wants to be “a dictator.” He calls his political opponents “vermin” and says that undefined groups are “poisoning the blood” of the country.
Presented with this choice, Americans are currently split down the middle because . . . reasons?
I don’t know. Maybe because Anthony Fauci once said, in the early moments of the pandemic, that masks were not helpful for the general public. Or because Alvin Bragg’s indictment isn’t a slam-dunk. Or because Joe Biden tried to deliver student loan forgiveness through a mechanism that was struck down by the courts. Or because the president of Harvard committed plagiarism. Or because some states aren’t allowing gas stoves in newly built housing units. Or because Disney made a black mermaid. Or because the Roald Dahl estate chose to publish revised editions of some of his books.
Like I said: Reasons.
If you want to explain someone’s decision to choose Trump over Biden by pointing to some unaffiliated culture-war grievance and saying that a vote for Trump is a protest against it, then you can do that.
But if you view the choice between Trump and Biden as an actual piece of governing, between real people, who will hold real power, and take real actions in the real world—then it gets pretty stark. A vote for Biden is a vote for normalcy, liberal democracy, and a strong economy.
A vote for Trump is a vote for a very different America: A vote for illiberal democracy; for reconsidering the Constitution; for retribution against the vermin. And again: This isn’t rhetoric. Those are Trump’s stated visions for his second term.
The darkest truth about 2024 is that roughly half the country will choose Trump, and while some of them may be doing so as a childish protest vote against assorted random bugaboos, some other portion will be voting for Trump precisely because they prefer his stated vision for America.
Eventually, we will have to figure out how to perpetuate our liberal society with this cohort.
But not yet. First, we have to navigate 2024. And to do that, I want to give you a map and a stopwatch.
This edition of The Triad is unlocked, please feel free to share it.
1. The Future Is Now
For starters: Don’t get caught thinking that Election Day is far away and that anything could happen.
It’s 307 days. That’s 44 weeks.
Think about the rhythm of events and news cycles. That’s not a lot of opportunities for the electoral dynamics to change. It’s not a lot of time for any changes that do occur to filter all the way through the electorate.
Within that allotment, there are some built-in moments that will arrive on a predetermined schedule. This schedule is our map.
January 15, 13 days to go: Iowa will caucus and Donald Trump will be the winner. He has been polling above 50 percent for the last two weeks and has never led by fewer than 20 points in the polling average.
All of the 2022 strategies for a Republican alternative to defeat Trump presupposed Ron DeSantis beating him in Iowa. This will not happen.
Not only will Trump win, he will win by double digits. Trump’s margin of victory will likely be the largest in the history of the Republican caucus.
Think about every Republican presidential nominee since 1976. Who do you think was the most dominant primary candidate? Reagan in 1980? George W. Bush in 2000?
Now understand that after Iowa, Trump will be an order of magnitude stronger than either of them were. His margin of victory in Iowa will functionally end the primary process and begin the consolidation phase.
January 23, 21 days to go: New Hampshire Republicans will vote and Trump will win this contest, too.
Trump has led every single New Hampshire poll this cycle. His lead has never been under double digits. His current margin is +21 over the second-place candidate; that position will improve following his victory in Iowa.
No candidate who has won both Iowa and New Hampshire has ever failed to be his party’s nominee.
In 22 days, there will be enormous pressure on any remaining Republican candidates to drop out and endorse Trump. The argument will be:
Trump has won both Iowa and New Hampshire handily. It is not possible for another candidate to overtake him. Even if we’d prefer someone else, it’s time to stop the campaign, conserve resources, and rally around our nominee.
It is difficult for me to believe that Nikki Haley will withstand this pressure for a full month in order to make it to South Carolina’s primary, which is not until February 24. Especially since she will be on track to lose her home state by a humiliating margin.
And double especially because she wants to be Trump’s running mate. Dropping out of the race is the only tribute she can offer him.
March 5, 62 days to go: With no remaining challengers, Trump sweeps the Super Tuesday states unopposed and becomes both the de facto and de jure Republican nominee.
There are no remaining fantasies for Republicans who do not want Trump. All speculation about the election pivots to Trump’s criminal trials and his VP choice.
From this moment on, the general election polling will enter a new phase as the reality of Trump’s nomination takes hold. If there is going to be a fundamental shift in voter attitudes once they grok that Trump is the actual alternative, then it should start to show up in polls.
If a marked shift does not manifest, then we’ll know that the 50-50 poll numbers we’ve seen so far are the genuine, baked-in attitudes of voters and that the election will be decided at the margins of four or five states.
July 18, 198 days to go: Trump will formally accept the Republican nomination. He will have announced his running mate a few days prior, ending four months of constant speculation.
Trump’s choice of running mate and the RNC’s platform will signal how explicitly Trump plans to run on strongman illiberalism.
If Trump picks a rank toady such as Kari Lake, and the RNC platform is a repeat of 2020—merely pledging fealty to Trump—then it means that he plans to make his campaign purely about retribution all the way to the finish line.
However, if Trump picks a “respectable” Republican, such as Nikki Haley or J.D. Vance or Katie Britt, then it will signal that he is trying to change his approach to the race in the final weeks.
And if the RNC puts together a traditional platform—with a policy structure of lower taxes, and supporting Israel, and building The Wall, and stopping “woke”—then it will suggest that the professionals have a firm hold over the campaign and are trying to obscure Trump and make the election a referendum on Biden.
My mission in this space—always—is to help you see around corners.
I told you that Joe Biden would be the nominee in 2020, when everyone wrote him off. I told you, from the very beginning, that COVID-19 was going to transform America. I told you—in October of 2020—that Trump would lose the election, insist that he’d been cheated, and then be the nominee in 2024.
We’re going to keep peeking around corners this year.
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And if you’re not a member yet, come and join us. Let’s get smarter, together.
2. Everything After
There are spots on our map that don’t have exact timelines attached to them.
We know that there will be developments in the criminal cases against Trump.
We know that there will be developments in the war in Ukraine.
We know that the Supreme Court will rule on at least two cases directly relating to Trump’s candidacy: His claim of total presidential immunity and his standing on the ballot vis-à-vis the Fourteenth Amendment.
We know that the quarterly reports on GDP will drop on April 27, July 27, and October 26. The data in these reports will have a strong influence over the macro environment for the election.
We know that the final two employment reports will be released on October 4 and November 1. If there is a surge in unemployment, it will be bad for Biden.
And some parts of the map are obscured.1
Maybe there will be a debate between Trump and Biden.
Maybe there will be a jury verdict in one of Trump’s trials.2
Maybe one of the geriatric candidates will have a health event.
Maybe a phalanx of Republicans who worked for Trump in his first administration will publicly oppose his candidacy and/or endorse Joe Biden.
There’s more, obviously—I can’t list every known-unknown.
The point is that what we have in front of us is not a blank piece of paper. The possibilities are not infinite. We actually have a fairly well-defined map and a reasonable sense of the clock.
307 days to go.
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3. Living with Water
This piece about my city’s new approach to managing climate change is extremely interesting:
On a recent morning in Asser Levy Playground, on Manhattan’s East Side, a group of retirees traded serves on a handball court adjacent to a recently completed 10-foot-high floodwall. Had a sudden storm caused the East River to start overtopping this barrier, a 79-foot-long floodgate would have begun gliding along a track, closing off the playground and keeping the handball players dry. In its small way, this 2.4-acre waterfront park is a major proof of concept for a city at the forefront of flood resilience planning — a city working toward living with, and not against, water.
The Asser Levy renovation, completed in 2022, is part of East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR), the largest urban resiliency project currently underway in the United States. Over the next three years, at a total cost of $1.8 billion, ESCR will reshape two-and-a-half miles of Lower Manhattan’s shoreline. But ESCR is just one link in a much larger, $2.7 billion initiative called the BIG U — a series of contiguous flood resilience projects that runs from Asser Levy, near 25th Street, around the southern tip of Manhattan, and up to Battery Park City, along the Hudson River. When finished, the BIG U will amount to 5.5 miles of new park space specifically designed to protect over 60,000 residents and billions of dollars in real estate against sea level rise and storm surges.
Read the whole thing. I understand that $2.7 billion dollars is a lot of money. But the recovery from Sandy cost NYC $19 billion.
Ounce of prevention, pound of cure, etc.
There are lots of unknown-unknowns, too. But we can take some of those off the list.
For instance: China is unlikely to invade Taiwan before the election because an operation that size probably takes a year to set up and we have no indications that they have begun.
Kim Wehle makes a compelling case that it’s just as likely that there’s no verdict before the election. All four cases could have their cans kicked down the road—and even if there is a verdict in one of the cases, it’s highly unlikely that sentencing and appeal would be completed before Election Day.