Clip: What to expect with a likely Biden-Trump rematch in 2024

Mar. 08, 2024 AT 8:41 p.m. EST

The last time two U.S. presidents ran against each other was in the 1950s. With another faceoff between Joe Biden and Donald Trump all but certain in the 2024 presidential election, the panel discusses the matchup in depth.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, presumptive Republican nominee, going up against Joe Biden, the obvious Democratic nominee.

This is unusual on any number of grounds. One reason it's unusual is because we haven't had two presidents run against each other since 1892. That was when Grover Cleveland unseated Benjamin Harrison, who had defeated him four years earlier.

Benjamin Harrison, by the way, Indiana --

Asma Khalid: From my great home state.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Yes, the great home state of Asma Khalid. We'll spend five or six minutes talking about the legacy of Benjamin Harrison on another show. But that's one of the many aspects, the length of this campaign.

But I wanted you to focus on one very important question, which is how did Republicans come around to accepting Donald Trump as their candidate again? But before you answer, just let's listen to Mitch McConnell from 2021 and then from this week.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY): There's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it.

In February of 2021, shortly after the attack on the Capitol, that I would support President Trump if he were the nominee of our party, and he obviously is going to be the nominee of our party.

Jeffrey Goldberg: So, take us through this. It seems improbable if you were around on January 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 2021 that we're here, but the Republicans have fully accepted this as a nomination.

Asma Khalid: Yes, that's true. I think there's a few reasons. One is, I would argue, that they see there is an inevitability, and the Republican base of the party is with Donald Trump. I mean, we're observing just this weekend is the RNC meeting in Houston, and in which Trump's handpicked people are not going to be leading the party. This is very much Donald Trump's party, and I don't think they have a choice.

I think more interesting than even someone like Mitch McConnell is you're seeing someone like the governor of New Hampshire, Sununu has come out, right, to be supportive now of Donald Trump.

We were having an interesting debate in the newsroom the other day about whether or not you were going to see the folks who supported Nikki Haley come around to Donald Trump sooner or whether you'd have the folks who were uncommitted on Joe Biden come around sooner. And I fell into the camp that I think Biden's going to have a tougher problem with his base.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Well, that's interesting. Go ahead.

Eugene Daniels: I mean, I think, largely, it's also about power, right? If you know Mitch McConnell and been covering Mitch McConnell, Mitch McConnell cares about really one thing. That's that Senate, right? He cares about that majority.

And so in his mind, getting behind Donald Trump is the fastest way to have a Senate majority, even though he's not going to be in charge of that Senate majority, to have that for Republicans going into the next Congress.

Now, we'll also say there was a fear among Republicans of this base, right? It was inevitable because they also chose to, right? We all remember when Kevin McCarthy went up to Mar-a-Lago after January 6th, kiss the ring, had that very awkward picture that they ended up taking and putting out. That was it.

When I saw that, and I think a lot of reporters and folks watching saw that and said, oh, this is it, Trump is back. Republicans are going to fall back in line. Because once the leaders of the party started doing it, the folks folks within the party were like, well, I guess that's what we're going with because, you know, leaders are supposed to lead and not follow.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Right. So, Carlos, I want to talk a little bit about your methods. I mean, this book, which is a fascinating book, your specialty is deep reading of Washington documents, Washington biographies, autobiographies, all manner of Washington non-fiction, and that's what this book is.

In your most recent column, you read for your readers 887 pages of a report called Mandate for Leadership. It's a conservative blueprint for 2025. Now that we're heading into the general election, it's a great time to ask you, and thank you for reading it, so we don't have to read 887 pages of I assume very dry prose --

Carlos Lozada: But very revealing prose.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Very revealing. What did it reveal?

Carlos Lozada: Yes. So, this is -- I should emphasize, it's not officially a Trump campaign document. It's not been endorsed by the Trump campaign. However, among its dozens of contributors, it has many, many former Trump administration officials and Trump has mentioned about 300 times in this book compared to once for Nikki Haley, for instance. So, you can see the affinity there.

The purpose of this is to be ready to govern on day one. It's an implicit admission that they really weren't ready to govern on day one the last time around. There's a lot in it. It breaks down the federal executive branch, like agency by agency, office by office. But I think there's three kind of main themes. One is flood the zone with political appointees, right? Like people who will be loyal to the president, loyal to the agenda of the new administration, and both kind of oversee and push out the career civil servants.

Second, to politicize the Justice Department, right? The one thing you see -- and I'm not like reading tea leaves here, it's very overt in the book. They emphasize how, for instance, the White House Counsel's Office and the DOJ have to work as a team. That's a quote. How the FBI director should be as aligned with the president's agenda as any other agency head, those kinds of things. Also, they just say that, look, remember, the DOJ is under the control and direction of the president, and therefore even litigation decisions have to be consistent with the president's agenda.

But the main message of this book is that for all the rhetoric about the need to dismantle the administrative stage, you know, downsize the government, that's not really what you see here. They pay lip service to it, but they want to enlist it. They want to harness it. They want to take it out for a spin, see how fast it will go, you know? And that, I think, is frankly, you know, why they have such detail in this document, not because it's going to tear it all down. They want to redirect it.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Right. Asma, Eugene, do you think that Republicans on the Hill are aligned with this project in the way that obviously Trump loyalists are aligned?

Eugene Daniels: I mean, I think it depends on what chamber you're talking about first in the House, probably. So, there's probably many more people in the House, Republican conference, who are in line with this document.

I think senators tend not to be as much, right? These are people who, one, they don't have to run every two years. They get six years, so they're a little bit more common -- tend to be a little bit more moderate. There are some outliers, Hawley, Ted Cruz, those kinds of folks, Rand Paul.

But I think the thing that we saw during this primary, what we saw during the Trump years, is that Republicans will largely get in line. And so if Trump is to become president again, and they are to use this 300-page document -- or this 800-something page document, excuse me, and use that as what they're going to do, I think, largely, they will just kind of get in line with those kinds of things.

There will be some folks who will talk out loud and be angry about it, but people like Mitt Romney are leaving the Senate. And so there's going to be a lot more space for people who are much more politicized.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Right. Let me ask you, too, in the last minute that we have left, it's a very basic question. But are you surprised we are where we are?

Carlos Lozada: I think that you can be shocked without being surprised, and I think that's where I fall. Every day, what you see feels shocking, but when you watch the whole trajectory of American politics from 2015 onward, it almost seems inevitable.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Asma, last word to you.

Asma Khalid: Yes, I think that's a beautiful way of putting it. I don't think that it's particularly surprising. I mean, look at Donald Trump, and I said this when I covered the 2016 campaign, that he tapped into a pre-existing condition in American society. I think he was very effective at doing so, but I don't think what he did was create anything new. He certainly capitalized on it.

Jeffrey Goldberg: But without Donald Trump, do you think we'd be where we are today with a plan on the part of the party, the Republican Party, to dismantle and remake a new --

Asma Khalid: I don't think we'd be there without Donald Trump. I mean, he certainly tapped into this sentiment that was brewing, but then he capitalized on it.

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