A week of chaos: Biden’s new challenger and Trump’s gag order

President Joe Biden speaks during an event on the economy in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Monday, Oct. 23, 2023.
President Joe Biden speaks during an event on the economy in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. | Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press
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This article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here.

Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.

Eight GOP presidential candidates converge on Las Vegas this weekend for the Republican Jewish Coalition summit. Conversations, as expected, will center on Israel and antisemitism. But another Nevada-centric narrative is important: why are candidates ignoring the West? Read more of my coverage here.

Here’s the latest from the Deseret News’ 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

Biden’s challenger, Trump’s chagrin

What a week in news. The war in the Middle East continues to escalate. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives finally chose a speaker. Auto unions reached a tentative agreement with Ford after weeks of strikes.

While this presidential election cycle has been the least competitive and lowest-energy in some time, the past week was hectic — at least for the two front-runners. President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is looking increasingly like a wartime president abroad, while warding off a potential Democratic challenger at home. And former President Donald Trump — who continues to boast a massive lead over his Republican opponents — has now violated his court-issued gag order twice, amid a growing acceptance among Republicans that the nomination is his to lose.

What you need to know about this chaotic week:

Biden, just two years removed from his withdrawal from Afghanistan and declaring an end to U.S. involvement in “forever wars,” is now being labeled a wartime president. His visit to Tel Aviv last week positioned Biden as “the key leader” in this war for an Israeli people deeply distrustful of its own government, The Hill wrote.

In the process, Biden is walking a tightrope. He’s repeatedly declared support for Israel, while saying Israel should not make the same retaliatory “mistakes” the U.S. made after 9/11. He’s called for a path toward peace and encouraged “alternatives” to a ground operation into Gaza, though he claims he didn’t demand Israel delay such an attack. He’s denounced both antisemitism and Islamophobia and encouraged humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians.

While Americans at large are split over how Biden has handled the war so far, his overall support among Democrats is slipping. Many of his big-money Arab-American boosters feel betrayed by his Israel support and have publicly jumped ship. One State Department employee resigned last week because of it.

Now, a new opponent is expected to announce his candidacy Friday morning, challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination. Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips will be launching his campaign in New Hampshire Friday, claiming it’s time for Biden — “a wonderful and remarkable man” — to “pass the torch.”

That Phillips is starting in New Hampshire — where Biden will not be on the primary ballot, as part of the DNC’s efforts to make South Carolina the first state to vote — is noteworthy. Also notable is that Phillips is a Jewish man who supports a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

Trump, meanwhile, had a week consumed with his legal problems. He appeared in a New York City courtroom Wednesday, where he was fined $10,000 for violating a gag order (the second such fine in less than a week). Trump stormed out of the courtroom, surprising “even his own lawyers and his Secret Service agents, who went scurrying after him,” NBC News reports.

A separate gag order in one of Trump’s criminal trials in Washington, D.C., was lifted last week after the Trump team appealed, though the special counsel in that case is now urging the judge to reinstate it — after Trump used the moratorium to attack witnesses, including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

The entire saga has seemed to make enemies of friends and friends of enemies. Many of Trump’s former allies — like Meadows and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen — are now testifying against him. In a separate case in Georgia, four of Trump’s co-conspirators to overturn the 2020 election have now pleaded guilty.

But the ACLU — which repeatedly called for Trump’s impeachment — says the gag order in the Washington case infringes on Trump’s First Amendment rights. And in an apparent act of either desperation or surrender, many of Trump’s former donors who were looking for other GOP candidates to support are now reverting to Trump. “Why?” said one former Trump donor, who considered DeSantis and Scott. “It is easy: I want to win.”

Weekend reads

Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign is on ice, poll after poll shows. But it took another hit this week, when one of his major Florida backers switched his support to Trump. Rep. Randy Fine, who chaired DeSantis’ Jewish outreach initiatives for his gubernatorial campaigns, blasted the Florida governor for doing too little to fight antisemitism. “I love his words. His actions have broken my heart,” Fine — the lone Jew in the Florida legislature — wrote. Top Ally Bashes DeSantis’s Antisemitism Response and Switches Endorsement to Trump (Marc Caputo, The Messenger)

A trio of Republican candidates want to cancel student visas for any college students who protest against Israel. There are free-speech concerns here — and this article lays them out well. Trump, DeSantis, and Scott Want To Kick Out Foreign Students Who Protest Israel (Fiona Harrigan, Reason)

McKay Coppins’ new biography of Mitt Romney is out this week. (I wrote about it in my Tuesday newsletter.) This article in Politico is as good a behind-the-scenes peek into the making of that book as you’ll find anywhere. The book is called “Romney: A Reckoning,” because a major theme is Romney’s own introspection about the path his party — and country — took in recent years. But that reckoning wasn’t always easy, and Coppins deserves credit for pushing Romney to think hard. ‘I Mean, Is This My Party?’ (Michael Kruse, Politico Magazine)

Have a question for next week’s mailbag? Drop me a line at onthetrail@deseretnews.com, or reply to this email.

See you on the trail.

Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.