Mon. May 27th, 2024

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(PHONE RINGING)

amy

This is Amy.

astead herndon

Hi. Thank you so much for picking up and for, more importantly, sending in a question to us. Can you first just tell me the question that you sent in to the show?

amy

Yeah, so the thing I wanted to know, given the age of the presumed candidates, what does happen if one or both of these candidates dies before the election? I know that sounds harsh, but statistically speaking, it’s possible. And then what?

astead herndon

I guess, like, when did this question get on your radar? I know that’s a weird way to ask.

amy

Oh, that’s a good question. I think because probably, like a lot of other people, this sounds weird, but just looking for a way out of this. And obviously by no unnatural ending, I don’t want that to happen to anyone. But I just thought is there any circumstance where it’s just not Trump-Biden again? Just what is every possibility of what could happen to set this up any differently whatsoever?

astead herndon

Amy is not alone. For the past few months, we’ve been asking our listeners to send in questions. And as November gets closer, there’s an increasing sense of desperation reflected in these questions. You’re asking about third party candidates, health emergencies, criminal convictions, death, things that could alter the inevitable rematch.

It kind of feels like, as a country, we all fell asleep on the train, and now the conductor is announcing that you have to get off at the last stop, that you have no other choice but this one. And you have this moment of panic. You’re like, this is it? This is my only option?

So today, we take on your two biggest 2024 questions. What if something happens to Biden or Trump? And is anyone else coming? From “The New York Times,” I’m Astead Herndon. This is “The Run Up.”

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Yo, what’s up?

reid epstein

You’re wearing a tie?

astead herndon

Just for you.

reid epstein

Do I need to go change?

astead herndon

No, I did CNN this morning. To start, we turned to some highly qualified friends.

reid epstein

My name is Reed Epstein, and I cover Joe Biden’s re-election campaign and the broader Democratic universe for “The New York Times.”

astead herndon

In the time since Amy sent in her question, the age issue had only gotten more real. Scrutiny of President Biden’s age intensified after a recent special counsel report described him as quote, “An elderly man with a poor memory.” I wondered how, in your work reporting on the Biden campaign and the broader Democratic Party, how did that report land in Biden world, and what’s the campaign’s response been?

reid epstein

It landed like a ton of bricks. Think of like the old “Far Side” cartoons where an anvil would drop from a tree on somebody, and it was kind of like that.

astead herndon

I’m glad I got that. I was worried where that would go.

reid epstein

They were furious at the inclusion of the broadsides against the president’s memory, which they universally felt were out of bounds from his assignment to determine whether charges should be brought against the president on the documents retention issue. And they were also mad at the coverage of the special counsel’s report. We saw in the immediate aftermath, the campaign blasted reporters with the number of stories written about Biden’s age compared to stories about Donald Trump.

They were clearly taking this as a license to go to war, not just with the Attorney General’s office, which they did, but also the media for covering what the special counsel said.

astead herndon

As this kind of news cycle on age was developing, I totally see how the Biden campaign can make this argument. They made those arguments to us directly when we went to Wilmington, kind of saying that the concerns about Joe Biden’s age were overblown in a kind of insidery conversation I remember them framing it at the time, rather than the ways that people are actually going to experience the election. But like there are voters who are concerned, like the caller who sent in this question. What is the campaign doing about the legitimate voter issue regarding age looking ahead to the summer and the fall?

reid epstein

Well, I think you’re right. Do not have to ask voters about Joe Biden’s age. I ask a lot of open ended questions to people I talk to. And it usually starts with, what do you think of Joe Biden? And inevitably, as you have heard, too —

astead herndon

They say he’s old.

reid epstein

The answer is he’s so old I can’t believe he’s running again. I mean, I will tell you this. I was on vacation last year in Morocco, and we were in a car being led by a tour guide to the Sahara desert. And in that place, the guy asked — we were talking about — he was asking us what we do for a living.

And I told him I’m a reporter, and he said, “Of all the people in America, is there no one younger than 80 years old who can run for president?

astead herndon

Yeah.

reid epstein

And so this is truly a global concern that people have about him. And so I don’t believe that the media is overplaying the issue and concern that voters have with Joe Biden’s age. I do think that — and we do know that the campaign is trying to reframe the age question every day into a choice question between a return to Trump or Joe Biden and not a referendum on Joe Biden. In part, because we have seen in polling for years at this point, that a referendum on Joe Biden alone, the president would almost certainly lose.

And so part of that is them pushing stories about Trump being old, too. And when Trump said that Nikki Haley was in charge of security on January 6 when he met Nancy Pelosi, like they pushed that on their social media platforms. And they pushed that out to reporters, and they tried to make that into a news cycle about Trump’s forgetfulness and his predilection for getting things wrong while speaking to rallies.

And they’re right that he does do that, and he’s 77 years old. He’s gotten a lot of things wrong as well, but the fact of the matter is voters receive Trump and Biden differently when it comes to their age and their acuity. And while Trump is also slipping, quite publicly, that has not baked in for voters in the same way that it has been for Biden.

astead herndon

I mean, but that description of what you’re saying the campaign’s plan is, which is to reframe the age question into a choice question, it doesn’t actually go at the heart of what voters think about the president, right? Like is there any plans to put him out there more? Is there any plans to have him talk?

I was with someone yesterday who says that he should call his economic plan like grandpa economics and kind of embrace the older person kind of mantra. I guess I’m wondering, is there any plans to legitimately reframe him on his age rather than just say Donald Trump is also old?

reid epstein

I mean, they’ve gotten a lot of advice along the grandpa economics lines. I’ve talked with advisors to the campaign, donors to the campaign, other Democratic elected officials, and many of them have offered unsolicited advice, both directly to the campaign and through the press to the campaign, about how the president should lean into his age as a way to answer that question. They have not done that, in part because the president doesn’t want to.

Like he doesn’t want the age to be an issue. And so they haven’t done it aside from he will make jokes about when he was with the founding fathers. But they don’t engage in a serious way, the way that some of their allies would like them to. And that has led to the scenario that we’ve been talking about where voters are concerned about his age and acuity, and they don’t do a whole lot to answer those questions.

astead herndon

I want to really focus on the heart of the question Amy asked us, though. Does the Democratic Party have a plan if, for whatever reason, Biden became unable to run? Does a Plan B exist somewhere in some secret lock vault?

reid epstein

So there is no Plan B. It is — Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee unless one of two things happens. Either there is a major health calamity that he suffers between now and November, or Joe Biden himself decides that he’s not going to run. And for the first thing, we all hope that the president remains in good health. He appears to be in good health.

astead herndon

Yeah, there’s no wish — we’re not wishcasting.

reid epstein

There’s no reason to believe that his health is deteriorating. He seems to be — he rides his bike. He rides the Peloton. He is a very healthy 81-year-old man. There’s also no reason to believe that he’s going to wake up one day and decide this is not for him. Like, the man has wanted to be president of the United States for most of his adult life.

He first started seriously considering running for president in 1984. He ran for president three times. He has raised already more than $200 million in this campaign for re-election. There’s no reason to think that he is going to change his mind.

astead herndon

Let’s slow this down, though. The only two things that could derail what seems like the inevitable path of Joe Biden becoming the Democratic nominee would be a major health scare that would cause him to be unable to run.

reid epstein

Yeah, that’s right. This would be a really serious, calamitous health episode.

astead herndon

I mean, Bernie Sanders had a heart attack in the 2020 election and took a couple of weeks off the trail, if I remember correctly. Of course, there was the situation with Senator John Fetterman as he was running, but you’re saying it would have to be something that would completely shift his ability to go out on the campaign trail or do his duties as president.

reid epstein

It would have to be worse than those episodes, I would think.

astead herndon

The other option is for him to decide independently that he would not want to run anymore. Let’s say Joe Biden were to say, in two months, I want to step down. What would even be the process? Like what would even have to happen? Would it automatically go to the vice president? Like, I actually don’t know what would happen.

reid epstein

So I had to make some calls on this.

astead herndon

Nice, thank you for doing that.

reid epstein

When you all told me that I had to answer this question, I didn’t know, either. So there’s two different scenarios, and it depends on when either a decision would be made or an episode happened. If it was before the Democratic Convention in August, the delegates to the convention would choose both the president and the vice president if there was a vacancy. It would be a free-for-all at the convention. And based on what we know generally of the makeup of who those delegates typically are, it would be hard to imagine a scenario where it didn’t go to Kamala Harris just because —

astead herndon

Those are party people. Those are people who —

reid epstein

Party people, the biggest caucus is women. The second biggest caucus is African-Americans, and those are two groups that are generally pretty loyal to the vice president. And also like in a scenario where Biden is not the nominee anymore and there is chaos at the convention, you have to wonder like what Democrats are going to step up and challenge the vice president in that scenario.

astead herndon

Further adding to the chaos.

reid epstein

Further adding to the chaos. She could be in some of these scenarios. She could be the president at that point, and then you’d be challenging a sitting president and not the vice president. That’s a very steep political lift for anybody in that type of chaotic environment.

The second scenario is something happens with Biden after the convention. There’s no precedent for this. But the Democratic National Committee chair, who is Jaime Harrison, would confer with the Democratic leadership in Congress and the leadership of the Democratic Governors Association.

astead herndon

Wow.

reid epstein

And that group would then basically be authorized to fill vacancies on the national ticket with some conferring with the broader DNC membership, which is about 440-some people.

astead herndon

Wow.

reid epstein

And again, this is a scenario where it would be like virtually impossible for them to pick anybody but the vice president to fill that spot based on what we know of those groups.

astead herndon

One, I so appreciate you doing this kind of reporting because I have not thought about these scenarios. But there’s a couple things that jump out to me. In both of those situations, either before the convention or after, this becomes an elite process. The leadership of the Democratic Party, whether at the DNC or at the Congressional level or the gubernatorial level, would essentially get the power to choose who replaces Biden. Correct?

reid epstein

That’s right. That’s the way it would work.

astead herndon

And importantly, because of that, because of the who the people are who would then be making the selection and their investment in the top levels of the Democratic Party, it becomes very difficult to see this becoming a situation that would lead to someone outside of the vice president.

reid epstein

It just is a very difficult scenario to figure out how it would be anybody else, assuming that she wants it, which there’s no reason to believe that she wouldn’t want it. You talk to Democrats, and people say, what about Gretchen Whitmer or Gavin Newsom or any of the people who ran for president in 2020? And it’s just it’s hard to fathom a scenario where anybody in that crew of Democrats could muster the sort of organization and fundraising, essentially on a moment’s notice, to compete in a serious way with the vice president.

astead herndon

Right. I mean, it’s interesting because on one hand, this is really expected. That is the reason the job of vice president exists. But at the same time, it’s super interesting to me that because of the unprecedented nature of this scenario, and because it would only come up in a moment of chaos — like inherently, if Joe Biden is not going to be the person on the ballot in November, or if something were to come up that were to trigger some of these scenarios, it would inherently be a chaotic moment for the party.

That it does seem as if the only answer to what happens after that is more chaos. Like it doesn’t seem — like even if they were to hand it over to the vice president, I can’t imagine that being a thing that happens really swimmingly. To answer Amy’s question of is there something that very neatly takes Joe Biden off of the path of being the Democratic nominee? The answer to me, from what you’re telling me, seems to be no. The only reason that can happen is mess.

reid epstein

If — yeah, if, I mean, an alien abduction, anything that took Joe Biden off the stage would be immensely chaotic and — for the political system and the American government in general. And it’s, frankly, a situation that we’ve never seen before. You have to go back to 1968 when Lyndon Johnson decided after the New Hampshire primary to get out, but that was much earlier.

It was later in the calendar than we are now, but it was much earlier in the process of nominating a president than what — where the Democrats are at this point. And everybody remembers that 1968 ended with riots at the Democratic party convention —

astead herndon

Also in Chicago.

reid epstein

And also in Chicago.

astead herndon

Where we’ll be this year.

reid epstein

And a victory for Richard Nixon in part because of chaos that was — sort of engulfed the Democratic Party in that cycle.

astead herndon

Yeah.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Thank you, Reid, for your time.

reid epstein

Thanks, Astead.

astead herndon

Cut.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Are we still in here? Are we — when is Maggie (INAUDIBLE)?

Next up, someone to field our questions about Trump, who himself is 77 and is appearing to coast in the Republican primary after winning contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. He’s also favored in this weekend’s South Carolina Republican Primary, as he’s polling well ahead of Nikki Haley, the state’s former governor. Hey, Maggie. How are you?

maggie haberman

Hi, Astead.

astead herndon

Naturally, I called Maggie Haberman. How’s it going?

maggie haberman

This has been a crazy morning because of these hearings.

astead herndon

Yeah, I’m sure.

maggie haberman

Hang on, let me just — all right, we’re good.

astead herndon

We just talked to Reid Epstein, our colleague, about Biden’s age and if there was anything that could happen that can kind of change the course of his kind of path to the nomination in November. And he said there was two things. One is a big enough health event, and two would be something that would cause him to wake up one morning and decide that he doesn’t want to run anymore. But both are very unlikely scenarios.

Now, we know that Donald Trump is also of advanced age. I guess I wanted to pose the same question to you. Is there anything that comes up in the kind of Plan B category that could mean that Donald Trump wasn’t the Republican nominee or that the campaign wouldn’t kind of continue its inevitable march to the conventions in November?

maggie haberman

It’s a really good question. So, Astead, thinking about what Reid said about does Biden wake up one day and decide not to go forward? The chances of that happening for Donald Trump are close to zero, if not greater than zero, less — whatever negative integer you want to use. The campaign is so intertwined with his fight for staying out of jail, given that he has been indicted four times and is now facing a certain trial starting at the end of March in Manhattan.

So that comes off the table. In terms of whether there would be a health event, that’s not an impossible thought. He is somebody who, when he was president, we know from the White House doctors he had a form of heart disease. It’s unlikely that that has changed dramatically in a positive direction. We don’t know what his health is like now, but I do know that at the end of 2022, when they were looking ahead to a campaign that he was about to run, there was private discussion about not holding too many events in part because he’s old.

And they didn’t want to cause him damage by running him into the ground. And I do think that that’s part of why we have seen less of him. I think there’s other reasons, too, like it saves them money not putting on events and so forth. But his age is a factor. That having been said, it would have to be a catastrophic event to keep him from running. If it was something mild or something light, I think he would try to push forward, and I’m not sure we would even know it was happening.

astead herndon

Well, let’s try to separate these two things. The first thing you said is that because of the kind of legal questions swirling around him and the fact that his political campaign is, frankly, his response for those things, that that kind of decreases the likelihood that he would ever kind of voluntarily step out of the race. We’re talking to you on the day when those things are jumping off.

As you said, there was just a trial set for his criminal case in New York. I guess I wanted to just underscore that. Part of the reason you’re saying that there is — not — there is very little likelihood, next to zero, that Trump would voluntarily step out of the race, is because he needs the campaign as an answer to his legal troubles.

maggie haberman

Correct, and as an answer to his legal troubles both in terms of a shield during the cases. Remember, he has claimed presidential immunity, although that’s been struck down by an appeals court and is likely to go to the Supreme Court now In the January 6 federal trial. But in Manhattan where he’s facing trial at the end of March, and this is related to hush money payments to a porn star in 2016 and in Georgia where it’s related to his efforts to subvert the transfer of power that he’s been charged, he is claiming pieces related either to his duties in office.

In Georgia or in Manhattan, this is being done to distract from my successful Republican presidential primary campaign. And I shouldn’t have to face this trial because we’re in the middle of campaign season and so forth and so on. So the presidential campaign has become a set piece.

astead herndon

Got it. Yeah, and so that makes a lot of sense. The second part you’re talking about, regarding his age, I do think it’s a kind of underrated point, the point about heart disease that you made, we learned when he was in office. And that just as we had spent a lot of talk about Biden’s kind of visible decline, there has been more instances of Donald Trump. I think about him confusing Nikki Haley for Nancy Pelosi in reference to who was running January 6 security.

I mean, when you think about the question of Trump’s age, how do you think that is going to be a factor on the campaign’s mind heading into November? Reid used the term that the things that would trouble the Biden campaign is a health calamity. When you think about the Trump campaign, is it that similar standard when we think about what could cause them to kind of alter their direction?

maggie haberman

Yeah, it is. I mean, I think that what you’re talking about specifically — that Nikki Haley, Nancy Pelosi moment — that was really, really pronounced. And so pronounced that Trump felt the need to try to clear it up at a rally in South Carolina this week. When he’s trying to rewrite the history of it and insist he really did it on purpose — which he clearly did not if you watch the tape — then you can see that he knows this is a problem, and that this is sinking in.

But I do think it’s the same issue if — it would have to be something significant. And I would put it, actually, even in a separate category, which is a little different than Biden, because we don’t see an incumbent president or at least this incumbent president as often as you might see a challenger because challengers need to be out on the road more. Presidents are protected by the armor of the office —

astead herndon

Doing the job.

maggie haberman

And doing the job and don’t have to be seen as much and always seem to be busy, even if we don’t have visibility into that. In Trump’s case, I think it would have to be something that literally could not be hidden. It would have to be an extended hospital stay, or it would have to be something that happens on stage or in front of a crowd.

astead herndon

That’s interesting. I mean, you’re kind of pointing to if they could keep it away from the public, they would if something were to happen under that kind of public standard.

maggie haberman

Correct, and what I’m basing that on, Astead, is it’s not like we have no predicate for that with Trump. He was really, really sick with COVID, and they were, to put it mildly, less than candid about what was going on with his health. So I have no reason to believe it would be different this time.

astead herndon

Yeah, I guess I wanted to ask you also about some things that came up in our conversation with one of our listeners. Does the Republican Party have a Plan B if it were not to be Trump, or if something were to happen? We asked this question also of Reid and Democrats.

maggie haberman

It’s a good question, but I mean, I would — I don’t know what Reid’s answer was. But I would imagine it’s similar, which is there they. There is no party absent Trump. Trump is literally in the process of ousting his own hand-picked Republican Party chair to try to get another one who he thinks will focus more on his false claims of widespread election fraud.

So there is no they. The process works this way. If something happens ahead of the convention, there would have to be a change in the rules. And it would have to be that the delegates process changes because Trump is the person leading delegates right now. And Nikki Haley wouldn’t necessarily get those by default just because she’s the person still actively campaigning. I think you would see a lot of other candidates who have suspended their candidacies suddenly start campaigning again, and then it would get decided at the convention.

astead herndon

Just because Nikki Haley is currently the other candidate still actively running would not inherently mean that if something were to happen to Trump, Nikki Haley becomes the nominee.

maggie haberman

Correct. That is not how this works. If something were to happen after the convention, then the 168 members of the Republican National Committee would have to meet again and decide on what happens. And even then, Astead, it gets murky because depending on when something would happen, you could end up in a situation where it’s a write-in campaign in a lot of states because a lot of states will have printed their ballots already.

astead herndon

That would already say Donald Trump.

maggie haberman

Correct, and so it just gets — it gets hairy.

astead herndon

So if something were to happen before the convention, then the delegates who formally nominate the party’s nominee would have to — there would have to be some rule change that allows for them to back somebody else, but that doesn’t inherently mean Nikki Haley. It could mean other people try to woo them, including the people who have previously dropped out of the race.

If something were to happen after the convention, then the insiders of the Republican Party or the 168 members of the RNC would then have to select someone. But to your point, there’s not real clarity on any direction that would go. It sounds like either before convention or after, if something were to happen, it leads to enormous amounts of questions and somewhat inevitable chaos.

maggie haberman

It is definitely going to be chaos. What level of chaos, we don’t know, but yes, it would be chaos.

astead herndon

So to sum it up, in answer to our listener Amy’s question of if there’s anything that takes us off of this road of Biden-Trump — we asked kind of specifically in relation to age, health, and the legal concerns. We asked Reid on the Democratic side, and his answer was extremely unlikely that anything would take us off this road. I want to pose the same question to you. What is the likelihood that this ends in November with someone other than Donald Trump at this point?

maggie haberman

As a Republican?

astead herndon

Yes.

maggie haberman

Extremely unlikely, and can I add an asterisk to that?

astead herndon

Yep.

maggie haberman

It’s going to be a long asterisk. There is an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” where Larry David is at a table, and somebody spills on the table. And his mother-in-law sits still and doesn’t move and says somebody get a sponge. And Larry David says, why don’t you get a sponge?

And this sort of somebody get a sponge approach to Donald Trump, I mean, we hear this a lot about it won’t really be Donald Trump from including Republicans who don’t want to deal with him but also from Democrats who don’t want to deal with him anymore. And somebody get a sponge, somebody else take care of this has not been a solution. And so that extends to all manners of things that could happen to make him not the nominee.

It is extremely, extremely unlikely that he will not be the nominee. It’s not impossible. Anything can happen, as we’ve seen.

astead herndon

Yeah, no, I appreciate it I think about just talking to you and Reid back to back makes me think of just the interconnected nature of this like.

maggie haberman

Oh, yeah.

astead herndon

Like, I’m not sure if it wasn’t Donald Trump that we would have Joe Biden, and I’m not sure if it wasn’t Joe Biden that we would have Donald Trump on this side. But they both seem to at least politically need each other in this one.

maggie haberman

I completely agree with you. And I think we’ve talked about this, but this race is going to feel a lot less like 2020, at least as it’s shaping up, than 2016, when it was two nominees with — who had — neither of whom had been president with high negatives. Now it’s a former president and an incumbent president, both with high negatives in an era where every president has bad approval ratings at this point because that’s just how voters are toward elected officials.

astead herndon

Voters have not given anybody high marks, but they’re giving these two people, especially low marks.

maggie haberman

The national numbers are a unique situation. That is true.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

astead herndon

Thank you, Maggie. We really appreciate your time, as always.

maggie haberman

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

astead herndon

One more question after the break.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

anna foley

Hey, Astead.

astead herndon

Hey, Anna. What’s up?

anna foley

Nothing much, another beautiful day in the office.

astead herndon

Another beautiful day in the office.

anna foley

So I’ve been producing this episode, the question and answer, listeners reaching out, and I actually ended up talking to a listener who had a question, this guy named Elly. Hello?

elly

Hello.

anna foley

This is Anna from “The New York Times.”

elly

Hi, this is Elly.

anna foley

Hi, Elly. How are you doing?

elly

I’m doing well.

anna foley

And his question was kind of in line with the broad beam that we’ve been talking about. What could possibly happen that would rock us off the course that we’re barreling towards? So far we’ve talked about what’s happening within the parties, like what’s happening with these candidates — party infighting and bylaws and all that sort of thing. His question was more about outside forces that can make a difference in this race.

elly

I wrote a question asking, basically, how voters and different people in more critical positions are thinking about third party candidates. There’s — I mean, primarily around RFK. I’m a big supporter of RFK.

anna foley

Oh, you are.

elly

Yeah. I’m a big supporter of RFK, have been since beginning of this summer.

anna foley

Basically, Elly’s question was, what about all the people who aren’t Trump or Biden who are or might get in this race? Because he doesn’t see what he believes represented in either the Democratic or the Republican Party.

elly

I, in general, have a philosophy of positive politics and not negative politics. I try to resist the urge of doomsday politicking, like you have to vote for this person or the world’s going to end because that just incentivizes negative politics. And I want to try to find candidates who I actually support for what they’re saying, even if I don’t support everything they’re saying.

So like, yeah, if RFK wasn’t in the race, I probably would have been supportive of maybe Cornel West. Maybe I would have looked for someone in the Green Party or Libertarian Party.

anna foley

It’s very much a question in line with what we’ve been talking about this whole episode, right? People want to know is there anyone else coming? Could anybody spoil the match between Trump and Biden? Like how would all of that even play out?

And so when I was thinking about all of that, I realized that there’s actually quite a few candidates or people in this bucket of potential third party, potential independents, and it’s been a while since we’ve talked about them on the show. So what I was hoping to do to help this listener with his question is to do a lightning round update, basically where each of these candidates are and what challenges they face.

astead herndon

Yeah that sounds great. Am I the — I’m the lightning round answerer.

anna foley

Yeah, I didn’t mean for this to feel like a pop quiz, but now I’m realizing it kind of feels like a pop quiz.

astead herndon

It definitely feels like a pop quiz.

anna foley

I’m so sorry. Did you like pop quizzes? That’s a crazy question.

astead herndon

We both know I did not like pop quizzes. Now, you and me both know. I was a mid student. The representation Joe Biden gives is for the real C students of America, and so I didn’t like quizzes of any form, told before or pop.

anna foley

And I got a little crafty with all of the candidates. And so I made something.

astead herndon

Oh my. Oh, this is a wheel.

anna foley

Yeah.

astead herndon

A Wheel of Fortune wheel.

anna foley

Yes, with all of the people that I could come up with. And so I figured we could spin it, and you could give an update.

astead herndon

Got it.

This is so cute. I like this.

anna foley

OK, good.

(WHEEL SPINNING)

astead herndon

Oh, that’s — oh, God. I’m sorry. This is so funny. It has little like —

anna foley

Confetti.

astead herndon

Confetti. Cornel West.

anna foley

Yeah, what’s up with him?

astead herndon

Well, Cornel West is a pretty famous Black Studies professor who has taught at the Harvards and the Yales.

cornel west

We need you to be part and parcel of wrestling with this corporate duopoly, this two party system that impedes. It gets in the way of the unleashing of the kind of policies of abolishing poverty and homelessness, of dealing with working —

astead herndon

He announced a Green Party presidential run last year. But then after receiving some criticism, he got off of the Green Party ticket and is now trying to start his own party, which is called a Justice for All party. The problem is — and I think this is going to be an issue that comes up with several of these people — is when you’re not in one of the major parties, it’s a lot harder to get ballot access.

anna foley

When you say ballot access, are you talking — you’re talking general, right?

astead herndon

Yeah, I’m talking about in November will their name appear as an option for people to vote for? So obviously, that’s step number one to actually have a tangible impact on the race. So Cornel West is in the position where I’m pretty sure he’s only kind of at this point focused on Florida. I think there’s an intent to focus on North Carolina, but for the purposes of like will this be a person who affects the November race, I would say at this point, that’s looking unlikely because of the real ballot challenges.

But as always with third party candidates, they can push issues to the top. They can push sentiments to the forefront that go beyond their importance of actual votes. So I do think Cornel West is someone who could highlight

Biden’s potential struggles with Black voters. He’s someone who can highlight, particularly the war in Gaza and the progressive kind of leftist group who is really upset with Biden. And I think that is a candidacy that threatens to stoke some of those concerns, but its Cornel West going to be on the ballot in all 50 states? It’s not looking likely.

(WHEEL SPINNING)

anna foley

Jill Stein.

astead herndon

Jill Stein. Well, this is helpful because Jill Stein has taken the place that Cornel West left on the Green Party.

jill stein

Democrats have betrayed their promises for working people, youth, and the climate again and again while Republicans don’t even make such promises in the first place. And both parties are a danger to our democracy, expanding —

astead herndon

Unlike some of the other candidates we’re going to talk about, ballot access is not Stein’s biggest problem because she is the Green Party candidate. And so she has ballot access in several states because the party already has access. Jill Stein threatens to play the same role she played in 2016 when she was on the ballot at that time.

Now, remember, in that close election, there was a lot of talk about whether third party votes really pulled away from Hillary Clinton and helped spur the victory of Donald Trump. And while there’s some kind of evidence or data to that, I think that all of the one determining factors are overblown. It was a really close election in 2016. It was a really close election in 2020, and it threatens be a really close election in 2024.

So in that reality, all of these other impacts matter. And certainly the possibility that some people could follow a trend from 2016 and maybe back a Green Party candidate over one of the two nominees could be possible. And I think for Jill Stein specifically, there will be a fear that she will pull from Joe Biden. But I would say on the scale of potency relative to other candidates, I have not heard the Biden campaign or someone involved in Democratic politics be particularly concerned about Jill Stein this time around.

(WHEEL SPINNING)

Well, this one’s easy.

anna foley

Marianne Williamson.

astead herndon

Marianne Williamson has dropped out of the presidential race. I don’t know if that’s information that maybe has cut through, or if people even knew Marianne Williamson was running. But the candidate that went kind of viral in 2020 about being a kind of vibes-y chacras-y version of Democratic politics. She was running again last year as someone who was ostensibly trying to challenge Joe Biden in the Democratic nomination alongside Dean Phillips, the Congressman who’s also taken up that mantle.

But as we’ve reported, there is very little appetite in the Democratic party to have a competitive primary and specifically not so for the two candidates who are trying to mount that. And so Williamson formally dropped out a couple of weeks ago and suspended her campaign.

(WHEEL SPINNING)

anna foley

RFK, Jr.

astead herndon

Yeah, so this is a kind of tricky one. RFK, Jr is by far the most prominent non Trump-Biden candidate who has entered the 2024 race. Now, remember, originally RFK, Jr was running as a Democrat. So like Marianne Williamson, like Dean Phillips, he was in the Democratic primary and trying to run against Joe Biden.

Several months ago, towards the end of last year, he dropped out of the Democratic race and announced that he would run as an independent. And that creates some possibility and some challenges. On the possibility side, as I was saying, running in the Democratic primary has not proved really successful for folks because you have to run in this kind of process that Joe Biden functionally controls through the DNC. And there hasn’t been real motivation from base Democrats to replace Joe Biden even if they express some satisfaction.

What there has been is real kind of polling data that says that people want an option outside of Biden and Trump. And that is now where RFK, Jr is trying to position himself. As people remember, his Super PAC paid a lot of money to have a Super Bowl ad that was a carbon copy of an iconic Kennedy ad that JFK ran in the 60s and kind of updated it to say you should think about someone who was not a Democrat or Republican — (MUSIC PLAYING)

archived recording 1

(SINGING) A man who’s old enough to know —

archived recording 2

(SINGING) And young enough to do.

astead herndon

— who’s younger than these other candidates and is kind of pitching himself as the free thinking person’s candidate. If you look at polling, RFK is in a different category than the Williamsons or the Dean Phillips or the Jill Steins or Cornel Wests. Because of his name recognition, you can see sometimes 10 percent, 15 percent of voters, even upwards of that, say they will be interested in that candidacy.

But I would also say that RFK would not just represent a challenge for Joe Biden. Donald Trump is usually the person who that type of Libertarian or cranky or doesn’t fit in a conspiratorial voter flows to, and that might not be the case if RFK is also on the ballot. And so that has created a lot of fear from top levels of both Democrats and Republicans, who think it’s not clear exactly who he would play spoiler for. That’s the first thing.

Second thing is, like Cornel West, he also has ballot access problems. The benefit of running in a Democratic primary is, of course, if you were to beat Joe Biden and become the nominee, you’re on the ballot. Because he is now saying he’s running as an independent, he is currently engaged in a very expensive and difficult effort to get his name on the ballot and across the states. And that’s the real thorn in the candidacy side is the kind of logistical question of will they be able to get on the ballot?

But if he can overcome the ballot access problem and become a legitimate candidate in this race, this is the person that will keep (? DNR ?) up at night. Because if you can combine name, money, and message, that’s the ingredients of a Ross Perot or someone who can take a third-party candidacy and really go far.

anna foley

All right,

astead herndon

Last one. Do we still spin the wheel or no?

anna foley

I feel like for — to complete the wheel, we have to.

(WHEEL SPINNING)

astead herndon

All right

anna foley

No Labels.

astead herndon

Yeah, this is a literal follow up to the work we did last year, but No Labels is a non-partisan, independent political group in Washington, DC that has tried to brand itself as the organization that’s above partisanship and polarization, tries to encourage bipartisanship through lawmakers and both parties rejecting their extremes. In the last year, No Labels has made a very public effort to try to entice a candidate to run a third party campaign for president that they would support and help get on the ballot.

anna foley

They called it a unity ticket.

astead herndon

Exactly. They called it a unity ticket, and the premise was that they were going to have one party at the top, a different party as vice president, and that that’s what Americans needed was a kind of joint ideological ticket. Now, I think it’s important to point out the differences between that and the kind of RFK. That’s talking about independence in terms of picking and choosing different ideological buckets but isn’t saying I’m strict right or left.

What No Labels is talking about is having one Republican, one Democrat in a specific ticket that’s centered around unity. And so that was their premise. Now when we talked to No Labels, it was clear that they had not fully thought through how a unity ticket was the solution to polarization. And one of the things I really remember about that reporting is that it made clear that the kind of top-down, ideologically-driven premise that No Labels works in is not necessarily the language of people who hate both candidates.

So when you ask, why do you hate both candidates? They might just say because they’re old. They might just say because they don’t like the system itself. It’s not clear that the type of candidates No Labels was pitching as the solution — the Joe Manchins, the Mitt Romneys, the Larry Hogans — are even people that these folks know or would be people they come to. So that’s important to say.

Now, to update in the last year, No Labels has kind of had a tough go at it, partially because their entire strategy is premised on the idea of attracting a top tier candidate to join their ticket. Now, the person they have most tried to float is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is the more centrist Democrat who has already announced that he won’t be running for re-election in November. He just said last week that he would not run as a third party candidate and close the door on the prospect of working with No Labels.

Now, this was their top choice. This is someone who is doing a listening tour, talking about the need for bipartisanship, and is really the avatar for centrism in DC as a whole. But because of the low likelihood of success from a third party candidate and considering that Manchin is someone who does remain close to President Biden, it’s not particularly a surprise that he decided not to eventually join the No Labels ticket. But it does strike a big blow to the unity ticket that they wanted to project because their top candidate that they wanted to lead that has now bowed out.

The other candidates they’ve talked about have also made different decisions. So Larry Hogan, the former Republican governor of Maryland, who No Labels is trying to entice, he just announced that he was going to be running for Senate in Maryland. So that’s going to be a tough race, but more importantly, he’s not taking the presidential option. And the drop off between those type of candidates and who else they could get is so big that it’s really created a difficult position for No Labels to be in because if they don’t have a candidate to actualize a lot of that signing work, a lot of that ballot access work, it all kind of crumbles.

So if you’re recognizing a theme here, it’s that our system makes it very difficult for these third party options to succeed. If you want to be president, the hardest thing to do is to try to do that without the Democratic or Republican parties. This unique situation, because of the distastefulness of candidates, has created a different space so the RFKs, so the other parties can garner more interest. And the closeness of our elections mean that that interest might really matter.

But for the broader question, for the listener question of will these third party options mean that we don’t have Trump v Biden, I think that answer is clearly no. What they can do is complicate the calculus of how Trump versus Biden might play out or impact the type of issues they have to address. Or they could become a vessel for people to lodge their distaste.

It would not surprise me if we end this year with the highest number of third party votes we’ve had in a long time, and that will certainly matter. But it is overwhelmingly likely, because of the way that our political process works, that the next president is either the Democratic or Republican nominee.

anna foley

Thank you.

astead herndon

Thanks, Anna, appreciate it. (MUSIC PLAYING)

Thanks so much for the questions. We’ll keep answering them regularly on the show, so keep sending them in. And we’re game to tackle whatever you’re curious about from the top of the ticket on down, from the serious to the political trivia you’ve always wondered about. Here’s a couple of mine.

What’s with the donkeys and the elephants? Do celebrity endorsements actually matter? Email us at [email protected]. That’s [email protected]. And tell us what you think of the show, too. Have a great day.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

That’s the run up for Thursday, February 22, 2024. Now, the rundown.

speaker 3

Now, to the race for the White House. The South Carolina Republican primary is set for this upcoming Saturday.

astead herndon

Former President Donald Trump and former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley have been campaigning all over the state ahead of this weekend’s contest there. Trump goes in as the overwhelming favorite. In one recent poll, the former President leads Haley 63-35 among those very likely to vote in the primary.

In a Fox News town hall with Laura Ingraham in Greenville, South Carolina, on Tuesday night —

donald trump

She’s not working. She’s here. She’s down by 30, 35 points, and everybody knows her. You’re not supposed to lose your home state. Shouldn’t happen anyway, and she’s losing it bigly — big, I mean, really. I said bigly and bigly —

Losing it bigly, but —

astead herndon

— Trump took on Haley directly. Meanwhile, Haley continues on her bus tour throughout the state.

nikki haley

I refuse to quit. South Carolina will vote on Saturday, but on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere.

astead herndon

Instead, she plans to continue campaigning beyond South Carolina no matter the result. We’re three days away from the South Carolina Republican primary and 257 days away from the general election. See you next week.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

“The Run Up” is reported by me, Astead Herndon, and produced by Elisa Gutierrez, Caitlin O’Keefe, and Anna Foley. It’s edited by Rachel Dry, Lisa Tobin, and Frannie Carr Toth with original music by Dan Powell, Marion Lozano, Pat McCusker, Diane Wong, Sophia Lanman, and Elisheba Ittoop. It was mixed by Sophia Lanman and fact checked by Caitlin Love.

Special thanks to Paula Szuchman, Sam Dolnick, Larissa Anderson, David Halbfinger, Maddy Masiello, Mahima Chablani, Jeffrey Miranda, and Jennifer Poyant. And finally, if you like the show and want to get updates on latest episodes, follow our feed wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening, y’all.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

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