Welcome to Trail Mix, your 2024 election sanity guide. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, we take a look at a GOP about to handcuff itself to a nominee who could be a convicted felon well after the nomination is locked up. Plus, some exclusive news on Chris Christie’s next move.
'People need to wake up'
There’s a scenario many Republicans are dreading: that one day in March 2024, they’ll wake up to the news that Donald Trump has won enough delegates to secure the GOP presidential nomination.
Then, days, weeks, or months later, one jury—or several—will render a verdict that handcuffs the Republican Party to the first convicted criminal ever to run for president as a major party nominee.
Several Republican operatives and delegates who spoke to The Daily Beast relayed their increasing alarm that this nightmare will become a reality—potentially dooming the party’s hopes of defeating President Joe Biden next November.
”People need to wake up before we end up with [Trump] as our candidate,” a Republican National Committee member and longtime presidential campaign adviser told The Daily Beast, ”because we’ll end up with Biden as our president.”
“It’s horrible,” they continued. “Somehow he has us in this hole, and for no good reason, either.”
To win a third straight GOP nomination, Trump only needs 1,235 delegates to win outright.
From the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15 to Super Tuesday on Mar. 5—when 15 states will hold primaries—1,151 delegates will be up for grabs. For the remainder of March, more than 1,000 delegates will be in play across 10 state primary elections.
The majority of those states operate under a winner-take-all system—one actively pushed by Trump’s camp—meaning the first-place candidate gets all of the delegates and the runners-up get none.
The former president’s first trial, over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, doesn’t begin until March 4 in Washington, D.C., and will likely drag on for weeks. It could also bump into his criminal trial in Manhattan scheduled for later that month if it goes any longer than three weeks. And that second trial could run into his classified documents case slated for May in South Florida.
In mid-July, Republicans will meet for their convention in Milwaukee to formally name a nominee. Party insiders are already dreading the confab: another senior Republican and longtime delegate warned it could be “more dangerous” than any other convention since the Democratic convention of 1968, when anti-Vietnam War protests in Chicago turned into a week-long clash between young activists and police.
Some Republicans are concerned even perceived efforts to boot Trump from the 2024 ballot could invite violence from his supporters.
“It’s clearly gonna be more dangerous than the others, and I like Milwaukee, but it’s a more compact city, it’s not like being spread out in New York or some place,” the RNC member said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly as a bound delegate for their state.
The body of polling to date has shown Republican voters don’t care much about whether Trump gets convicted, according to longtime Florida pollster Brad Coker. But independents are another story.
Overall, Coker estimated some 10 to 15 percent of independent voters say they won’t vote for Trump if he gets convicted of a crime. While that might sound small, if the 2024 election is anything like 2020, battleground states could be decided by just a few thousand votes.
Because the race could wind up as “a jump ball among the independents,” said Coker, their views should represent the top concern for the Trump campaign when it comes to his legal woes.
“I think it would be decisive,” Coker said of the drop-off among independents if Trump gets convicted of a felony, “at least with the popular vote.”
Still, those close to the Trump campaign have yet to be convinced there are many minds to change when it comes to the former president’s legal travails, and the notion of running a campaign from the courthouse steps continues to seem like a smart strategy to them.
“If you’re someone who doesn’t want Trump on the ballot and wants Trump in jail, you’re not voting for him anyway,” a GOP strategist close to Trumpworld told The Daily Beast. “It’s all kinda baked in at this point. Joe Biden is gonna be a year older. That’s never great.”
One caveat, the Republican strategist and other ostensibly pro-Trump sources noted when dismissing the rest of the prosecutions against Trump, was the classified documents case in Florida.
The combination of a jury pool more favorable to Trump, along with fresh details of the former president’s handling of sensitive national security documents, could unleash a bigger wave of pressure on Republicans and conservative leaning independents to finally dump Trump. That trial, set for May, would run very close to the GOP convention in July.
“A conviction on the documents, I think, is much more serious than anything related to January 6th or what he did challenging the election,” Coker said, noting the alleged destruction of documents and video footage could send reverberations well beyond that 10 to 15 percent of independent voters if proven beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury.
“That’s a little more Watergate-y,” Coker said.
Christie's new home
Facing pressure to drop out of the GOP primary and clear a path for Nikki Haley to be the consensus Trump alternative, Chris Christie isn’t just declining to get out of the way: he’s literally moving to the state most critical to Haley’s hopes.
According to three sources close to the Christie campaign, the former New Jersey governor plans to temporarily relocate from his home state to New Hampshire from Christmas until the primary on Jan. 23. Whether it will be a rental or another arrangement at a supporter’s house remains to be decided, according to those familiar with the move.
By setting up shop in the state for the home stretch, Christie can also score some major points with the only remaining early state endorser who could matter: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.
“Christie and Sununu are very kumbaya together,” the source close to the Christie campaign added, noting a Sununu endorsement would also be a massive blow to Haley and DeSantis. While Haley has been in New Hampshire much more often than DeSantis, she will have to split her time for the remaining weeks, leaving the state open for Christie to flood the zone.
To have any chance at competing with Trump through Super Tuesday, Haley needs to win either Iowa or New Hampshire; to come close to Trump in the latter, she will need the bulk of Christie’s supporters to get behind her. If Christie holds onto the modest third-place level of support he currently enjoys, that alone could preclude Haley from emerging from the state with any momentum.
Notably, Christie has made hammering Haley’s record a major focus of the end stages of his campaign, even if he pointedly defended her integrity in the fourth primary debate on Wednesday.
The other good news for Christie is his 2016 presidential run, and the connections he forged crisscrossing the state then, should pay off when it comes to finding him some temporary digs.
“The governor knows a lot of people in real estate, and it could be a supporter’s place too, but I wouldn’t be able to share that if I did,” another source close to the Christie campaign said, requesting anonymity to discuss the plans in the works for Christie to camp out in New Hampshire along with his wife, Mary Pat. “I know my house isn’t big enough, so they can’t stay here.”
Driven by his burning need to stop Trump, Christie has staked entire his campaign on New Hampshire and refused to clear room in the field until voters have their say.
“I don’t think he needs to drop out,” the Christie supporter said, “at least before New Hampshire.”
Off The Beaten Path
Long-time listener, first-time caller. Shortly after Doug Burgum dropped out of the 2024 presidential race, a local talk radio station in his home state of North Dakota got a surprise caller to discuss the governor’s primary exit.
"We have a thing called a Cabinet,” Donald Trump said on the other end of the line, “and there are a lot of great positions in that Cabinet—bigger than anything you have in the private sector, in the true sense... I would, I’ve got a lot of respect for Doug. Always have had a lot of respect for Doug."
The conspicuous call-in from Trump is the latest indicator that Burgum could be in line for a Trump cabinet slot, first reported by The Daily Beast last week.
“The people that really gave Doug a fair shake were very respectable of what he had to say, and I’m one of ’em, I can tell you that,” Trump said. “Doug really did himself proud, in my opinion.”
When asked by WZFG AM 1100 host Steve Hallstrom whether Trump had anyone else on his mind aside from Burgum for a Cabinet post, the line went dead.
He’s got 99 counties, but... For Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign, moving to Iowa isn’t enough. The campaign shared with The Daily Beast his plans to hit all 99 counties in Iowa for a second time—a thumb in the nose of Ron DeSantis, who just recently finished that tour and whose campaign couldn’t promote it enough last week.
A Ramaswamy aide added the candidate is looking to hit as many college campuses as possible before students leave for the holiday break. Hitting all of Iowa’s counties worked for Iowa’s 2016 victor, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who completed the tour named after the 90-year-old Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) right at the wire. For all his legwork, Ramaswamy remains in the single digits in Iowa polling, currently sitting in fourth place.
Sheriff coming to town? Lightning-rod MAGA lawman David Clarke is inching closer to challenging Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) in battleground Wisconsin next year. This week, Clarke told conservative talk host John Fredericks that after the holidays “would be the right time to make that decision, to make an announcement.” Clarke has been teasing a Senate run for months, often lambasting Senate GOP leadership and the party establishment in stops at local party events. If he runs, it’d delight Democrats and likely cause heartburn for Republicans aiming to pick up a purple state seat.
All about the county line. Two notable New Jersey Democrats are squaring off to succeed indicted Sen. Bob Menendez, but the state’s entrenched political machine could hand the seat to the incumbent governor’s wife, Riley Rogerson reports.
With friends like these. New House Speaker Mike Johnson’s remarkably extreme roster of clients from his days as a lawyer for right-wing causes was revealed in a deep dive from Roger Sollenberger, Riley Rogerson, and Sam Brodey.
Thunderdome. Trump’s GOP rivals had their nastiest debate to date, with Christie serving “as something of a Greek chorus rendering judgment on the insane drama unfolding around him,” Sam Brodey wrote.
Dean scream. Dean Phillips can’t figure out what his primary challenge to Joe Biden is really about, Jake Lahut reports from New Hampshire.
A most virulent election year. From AI deepfakes to Trump campaigning from the courthouse steps, America’s newsrooms are about to find out whether they’re prepared for how uniquely intense the 2024 cycle will become, Benjamin Mullin of The New York Times reports.
Adults in the room. As part of The Atlantic’s series exploring “If Trump Wins,” McKay Coppins examines the shrinking and increasingly fringey pool of Republicans who would serve in a second Trump administration.