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The New York Times, I'm Michael Labarro. This is The Daily.




2024 begins, we examine the campaign strategies of the two leading candidates for President, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, to understand what they'll look like over the next year. Today, my colleague Maggie Haberman, on how Trump is trying to wrap up the Republican nomination before any court case can stop him. It's Tuesday, January second, 2024.




Michael. Happy New Year to you. Happy New Year to you.


This is our first episode of 2024.


I am honored to be here with you for your first episode of 2024.


We decided to give our listeners a set of handrails to understand what is likely to be the biggest story of the year, which is the presidential race, the 2024 campaign. We turn to you, Maggie, to better understand the candidacy of Donald Trump. You have chronicled Trump now for ever?


And a day. It's been a long time.


Trump, who, of course, leads his Republican rivals by what feels like historic margins. And what we really want you to do is give us a blueprint for what his candidacy is going to look like, what it's going to feel like, and have you help us understand its overarching strategy and its message. I think we have to start with the reality that this campaign is really defined by how much Trump has become a defendant, not in just one court, but in many courts, in the many cases where he's been indicted or sued. Just, I guess, start there.


Sure. I often say that this is not a campaign. It's a series of court dates wrapped around some debates, and that's really been true. These court cases are the centerpiece of Donald Trump's life right now. Because of that, they have been integrated into his campaign, messaging, fundraising, and with him as the likely Republican nominee, the entire election. If you think about it, going back to March, he has been indicted four times. He's been indicted over hush money payments made to an adult film star in the 2016 campaign. That's the Manhattan district attorney's case. He's been indicted by the federal government over his handling of classified documents. He's been indicted by the special counsel over his efforts to overturn the election results. He's been indicted by the Fulton County district attorney in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the election results in that state. He faces 91 counts in those cases, and those are criminal charges.


Right. That's a lot of counts. That's a lot of cases.


A lot of found accounts. Beyond that, there are two civil cases. There's the E. Jean. Carroll defamation case. Remember, she is a woman who said that Trump sexually assaulted her decades ago and that he defamed her. There is a civil case brought by the New York attorney general that accuses him of financial fraud. Just logistically, all of these cases take up a lot of his time. They will ultimately make campaigning somewhat tricky to schedule. For the criminal cases, he must be in court.


Right. It's hard to schedule a rally, a fundraiser, a meet and greet weeks or months out when you've got this many court cases that may require you to be in court. That's just going to be a reality for him. It's unlike any reality I think any leading candidate for President has ever faced.


Yes. As a result, his campaign for months has been coming up with a strategy that could ensure that he is still a political candidate no matter what happens in those court cases.


And what is that strategy?


It was an elaborate backroom campaign using his influence over the Republican Party to try to make sure that he has wrapped up the nomination, the number of delegates that he needs to become the nominee as fast as he can to make sure that if he is convicted in one of these cases, it can't be taken away from him when it comes time for the party's convention in July.


Okay, so what does this backroom campaign actually look like on the ground?


It's essentially a lot of schmoozing and glad handing and traditional politics, all of which are working toward the ultimate goal of having the system work better for.


Donald Trump. The system, of course, being the nomination of a Republican candidate for President.


Correct. Which itself involves a lot of series of state Republican party rules that get changed in the fall, the year before the general election. Some of this was pretty traditional looking. Trump has made a bunch of phone calls to officials in various states. One was Hawaii, where the state party chairman was elected in May and soon after got a voicemail from Trump. It's a very classic Trump message. It's your all time favorite President I just called to congratulate you.


Seemingly small, but probably quite meaningful.


For him. Correct. This is the thing that is pretty cost free for Trump that he doles out pretty easily. Then there's the Mar-a-Lago aspect of it where Trump has people down to his club and courts them. There was a dinner with state Republican officials, including the head of the Nevada GOP, who's a Trump ally. Months after this dinner at Mar-Lago, the Nevada GOP significantly changed their rules around their nominating contest that put Ron DeSantis at a huge disadvantage. How so? They basically blocked the super pack that DeSantis has been relying on for months from taking part in the state caucuses. This new rule basically bars SuperPACs from sending in speakers or literature even, just pamphlets to caucus sites, or even getting data from the state party, meaning data they can use to approach voters. That really, really harmed DeSantis. It was a laser aimed at him.


I just want to be clear. This is an important chronology. The head of the Nevada Republican Party goes to a dinner at Mar-a-Lago and obviously spends some real time with Trump and gets some affection and some exposure. Not long after, Nevada changes how campaigns can be run in the state in a way that empowers Trump and kneecaps his biggest rival, Juan de Santis.


The Nevada GOP did. It was building toward state election rules that ultimately favored Trump, according to people close to Trump and people on campaigns aligned with his rivals. The impact of it has been pretty dramatic, which is that no serious candidate is really campaigning in Nevada. Superpacks have not been airing ads on behalf of their candidates. Basically, everybody has foregone the state.


Basically, this rule change has resulted in everybody ceding Nevada to Donald Trump.


Even if they're not actually doing it, that's the effect.


Where else has Trump's backroom campaign been effective?


California, they made the biggest changes of any state to primary rules to favor Trump this cycle. Republicans there changed the formula for how delegates are allocated. In the past, there's 52 congressional districts in the state, and candidates could go to each one. And if you won the district, you would pick up delegates. But the Trump campaign pushed for changes to those rules this year for a winner take all system. Now the GOP in California is going to give all 169 of its delegates to a candidate who meets the winner take all threshold of over 50 % statewide.


I mean, that's a very high threshold. A candidate getting 50%. In fact, that seems pretty much tailor-made for Donald Trump.


It certainly does if you're looking at all of the polling right now.


In California, the Trump campaign changes the rules, it feels like, so that he and only he can pretty much win every single delegate. And 169 delegates is a fair amount of delegates. He's taking a state off the map for his rivals.


Correct. And he is doing it in a state, California, which votes on Super Tuesday, and that is the first week of March. It is part of a bigger plan to have the nomination wrapped up by the end of March in terms of how many delegates he has. March is significant for another reason. It's currently when the trial in Washington, D. C. On charges of illegally subverting the election in 2020, is scheduled to begin. Now, it's not likely to begin then. It will be a little delayed, but that's the track it's on. And if that trial doesn't start in March, Alvin Bragg- The DA of New York. -may start the Hush Money case, which is also expected in March. So March is a key month for him.


Right. And according to the rule changes you have just described, Trump's going to be a lot closer, combined with his poll numbers, to becoming the nominee before or just as those trials are starting. Therefore, he will become the nominee, we suspect, before there's a verdict in any of those cases.


That is correct.


Megha, has anyone observed that what the Trump campaign is up to here looks and sounds a lot like maybe rigging, a word that Trump uses a lot, sometimes falsely, but a lot?


Yes. People are very upset about this, Michael. Among them is Ken Cucinelli, who was a Trump administration official and Trump was President, who now supports Ron DeSantis. He used that exact word to Shane Goldknocker and Jonathan Swan and me. He said, They've rigged it anywhere they thought they could pull it off.


We should, of course, point out that everything Trump is doing within the Republican Party rule changes, and please, correct me if I'm wrong, is perfectly legal. It's just that it's very aggressive and it clearly exploits his unusual level of power over party leadership. Now, so far what you're describing is local state level. Does this backroom campaign extend to the national Republican apparatus, to the Republican national.


Committee itself? Yes, Michael, it does. Remember that Trump, assuming he wins all these primaries, will not officially be nominated as the GOP nominee for President until the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee in July. You can see a world where he's convicted of a crime and some faction of the party that does not want a nominee who's been convicted of a crime, tries to embark on a last minute effort to get somebody else nominated. What Trump's team is trying to do is make sure that the rules committee does not have the ability to make a bunch of changes that would favor another candidate and not Trump. An example might be a rule that would say you can't be the nominee if you're convicted of a crime. Or even that you can't be the nominee if you're indicted. Fascinating. Trump has a lot of allies on the Rules Committee, and they are expected to be watching this process very, very carefully.


We should understand that in the same way that Trump has essentially huge influence, maybe even veto power over state rules.


He has that same power over national Republican rules.


Correct. I expect that his campaign is going to try to exert more and more influence over the national party in the coming months.


In a real sense, the Trump campaign has thought of everything. It's thought of how to ensure that no one can really challenge him. He's taking states off the map, and he's making sure that if a court case goes against him, the party really can't do all that much.




It. That's right. The way to think about this is that the Trump team this time, which is staffed with much more seasoned people than his 2016 campaign, they're trying to eliminate unpredictability at a moment when the court cases create so much unpredictability.


The way to think about Trump's 2024 strategy, especially within the context of ensuring he wins the Republican primary, is that his team is basically building a court-proof strategy for what we expect to be a very courtroom-bound candidate who could be found guilty of some very serious crimes.


Yes. Of course, he is still campaigning, and he's not required to be in court right now. He's acting like he's running a typical campaign. He's doing rallies. That's where you see the other blueprint for this candidacy, the public message. That's just as revealing as the backroom campaign we've been talking about.


We'll be right back.


Maggie, let's now talk about this, as you said, second blueprint for Trump's candidacy, the message he's delivering at his rallies. You have been watching and, I assume, attending these rallies.


I'm mostly watching, recently attending, yes.


Ladies and.




Please welcome.




Next President of.


The United States.


President Donald J.




Okay, so let's start with how Trump addresses the legal questions that we have just been talking about. What exactly is the message he's delivering about all these?


So in fact, I was at a rally that he did at the end of December in New Hampshire.


Every time the radical left Democrats, Marxists, Communists, and fascists indict me, I considered a great badge of honor because I am being indicted for you.


Thank you very much. He has a bunch of familiar tactics that he uses. He tells his supporters that really these prosecutors are after them.


They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you. In the end, they're not after me, they're after you. I just happen to be standing in the way, and I will always be standing- Because.


He's standing up for them, and he's just in the way. But he's started wrapping that in new language.


It's no wonder Biden and the far-left lunatics are desperate to stop us by any means necessary. They're willing to violate the US Constitution.


Which is saying that actually it's President Biden who is puppeteering all of this.


Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. He's a threat.


And that Democrats are the real threat to this country.


We talk about democracy, but the whole world is watching the persecution of a political opponent that's kicking his ass. It's an amazing thing.


I want to zero in on something you just said, which is that Trump is now claiming Democrats are a threat to democracy. That, of course, is complicated, perhaps to many years ironic, because Democrats and not just Democrats view Trump and what he did around the 2020 election, the very reason he's in so much legal trouble, as a direct threat to democracy. I mean, he tried to overturn a Democratic election. He didn't like the results of. He's trying, and this seems quite strained, to flip that around and say, No, the real threat to democracy is President Biden because his Justice Department has brought some of these cases.


Correct. In Trump's telling, Trump has done nothing wrong, of course, and it's that President Biden has weaponized the federal justice system to go after arrival and is even controlling these state-based cases in Georgia and New York. For which there is no evidence. For which there is no evidence in any of it that President Biden is directing this. But it's a sign that Trump and his team know that what Democrats are saying about Trump as a threat to democracy is having some effect in terms of the public.


Just explain that.


The attacks on Trump and the description of Trump as a threat to democracy, his behavior ahead of January 6, 2021, the things he said about Vice President Mike Pence, these are not pluses with independent voters and some Republicans. Trump's team is aware of that. They are concerned about the general election and what those attacks could look like. Trump is doing what Trump does best, which is try to muddy the waters and say, Actually, it's the other guy doing this thing I'm accused of doing, so that voters can't really tell the difference anymore.


Got it. For the most part, he's not really engaging with the cases brought against him. Like you said, he's using them as an opportunity to simply go after Biden.




Well, talk about the ways that Trump is going after Biden beyond a reverse projection of his legal problems.


He wraps all of his discussions related to the court cases around an attack on Biden where Biden is weakest, which is on the economy.


The next economic boom will begin the instant the world knows that Crookie Joe Biden is gone and Donald J. Trump has won four more years as President of the United States.


Despite a lot of economic indicators looking good, we know that many people don't feel good about the economy. Things cost more. It's difficult to afford a home. When I was at a rally that he did in New Hampshire at the end of December, there was a screen over Trump's head where he showed the mortgage rate.


The average monthly mortgage payment has gone from $1,746 under my administration to $3,322 today. But you can't get the money, so it doesn't matter.


The point there is, things were better when I was President. Put me back in office, you'll have more money in your wallet.


As long as Joe Biden is in the White House, the American dream is dead. But all of that will change the minute the poll slows on election night 2024.


It's a pitch to a lot of voters. The economy is a pretty basic fact in most presidential elections, but it could particularly appeal to independents or suburbanites who turned away from him.


Right, so this is the part of the rally where he's not just thinking about becoming the nominee, which, as we talked about through his strategy, he feels assured of. He's now pitching himself to the full American electorate.


That's right. Beyond the economy, he spends a lot of time railing against the state of the country, particularly so when he's talking about immigration and crime.


When they let, I think the real numbers, 15, 16 million people into our country when they do that. We got a lot of work to do.


He made a pretty shocking statement at the New Hampshire Rally.


They're poisoning the blood of our country. That's what they've done. They poison mental institutions and prisons all over.


The world. He described undocumented immigrants as poisoning the blood of America.


I just want to talk to you about that language. What do you think he was doing? Why was he doing it? How should we think about it?


Well, it's language that echoes language used by Adolf Hitler. It is language that echoes fascists across history. It's pretty shocking to hear a front runner for one of the two major parties in this country describing undocumented immigrants this way. It invokes a blood purity that is the language used by white supremacists. It was not the first time Trump said it, but it was Trump doubling down on it.


In a sense, it's in keeping with how Trump has at times campaign and talked. You were at the beginning of Trump's campaign in 2016 when he talked about immigrants from Mexico. It's very jarring to hear him do it eight years later.


There is always an argument about whether Trump is actually intensifying his language or escalating his language, and he just objectively is.


I will direct a completely overhaul DOJ to investigate every radical, out-of-control, fake, crooked prosecutor in America for their illegal, racist, and reverse enforcement of the law.


The language where he describes black prosecutors who are investigating him as reverse racists is pretty shocking.


What he's really saying is they hate white people?




For which there's no evidence.


He's not being investigated because he's white, but it does play into his crowd. I think as he has gotten angrier and as he has become more embattled, he has become more emboldened in what he is saying.


Right. More willing to take greater risks in the extremeness of what he's willing to say.


And ignore people who tell him that this could be very damaging to him down the road politically and inciting to people who listen to it.


When you think about everything we're talking about here, there's a Dejavous all over again, quality. This is Trump's playbook, and it didn't work for him four years ago. He lost.




How should we think about why it might be more effective in 2024 than it was in 2020?


I think the right way to think about the current campaign is that it's more like 2016 than 2020.


More like the first campaign, which he won, then the second, then he didn't.


Correct. In 2020, enough of a percentage of Americans were really tired of Trump. They were tired of the drama. They were tired of the chaos. He had been President for four years. People wanted a change, and Trump lost. 2016 was the campaign where Trump ran as an outsider against someone who was basically running as an incumbent, Hillary Clinton, who was basically running as a continuation of President Obama, and Trump obviously beat her. This campaign so far feels more like 2016, and Trump is better running as an insurgent than an incumbent. And and you're seeing that again.


Right. And in a sense, he can run as an insurgent even though he had been President because he hasn't been President the past four years.


Correct. And because of that, his playbook might be more effective than it was in 2020.


Let me just synthesize everything you have, I think, explained. At the end of the day, this is a campaign about victimhood. Does that feel right? I mean, Trump's victimhood, in his telling and America's victimhood. Trump's telling voters that he's a victim of these court cases, and he's telling voters, he's telling America that they are victims of Biden's policies. That's what 2024 is going to sound like in the hands of Donald Trump. I guess the question, based on your reporting and your analysis, your understanding of this race is, is that potentially a winning message?


That is exactly what the landscape is for 2024. The reason it could be a winning message, and again, who knows, is President Biden's numbers remain quite poor. If they get better, it might not be a winning message. If the economy gets better in ways that voters feel good about, it might not. But that's basically the message Trump feels he has, and he's going to push it endlessly.


Let me ask you this. If Trump is convicted of something between now and the general election next November, does this framework therefore get reinforced and deepened and stronger? Or does it ultimately all actually collapse? Because a conviction is a conviction, and Americans can't wrap their heads around a convicted person being their president.


We are seeing data in our own polling, the papers polling, that suggested that more Republicans, more Trump voters don't think that he should be the nominee if he is convicted. It suggests to me that people had not really been tuning into what was happening with Trump legally. They will be in 2024 and things may end up looking different.


In other words, these court cases, and this is where we started, they really do matter.


They really do matter.


Well, Maggie.


Thank you very much. Michael, thank you.


Over the past few days, Trump's legal problems have only mounted. The Secretary of state in Maine sought to remove Trump from the state's Republican primary ballot, citing his efforts to overturn the results of the last election. Maine joins Colorado, whose Supreme Court ruled a week earlier that Trump could be removed from the Republican ballot in that state for the same reason. For now, Trump remains on the ballot in both states as the cases make their way through the appeals process, and many predict all the way up to the US Supreme Court in the coming weeks. Tomorrow on The Daily, we turn to the campaign strategy of President Biden. We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know today. On Monday, Israel said that it would begin withdrawing several thousand troops from Gaza, at least temporarily, in what would be the most significant publicly announced pullback since the war began. Israel has been under growing pressure to de-escalate its presence in Gaza. But in describing the pullback, it said the decision was primarily driven by the need to restore normalcy to the Israeli economy, which has been hurt by the massive mobilization of reserves.


Meanwhile, in a momentous ruling, Israel's Supreme Court has struck down a law passed last year by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that was designed to reduce the court's own power. The law, which made it harder for the courts to overrule decisions made by government ministers, touched off mass protests across Israel and raised questions about the health of the country's democracy. In response to Monday's decision, Netanyahu's party rebuked the Supreme Court for issuing what it said was a divisive ruling during a time of war. Today's episode was produced by Summer Tomod, Luke Vanderplut, Rochelle Bonja, Ricky Nevetsky, and Olivia Nat. It was edited by Rachel Quester, Brendan Klinkenberg, and Lexie Diel. It was fact-checked by Susan Lee, contains original music by Pat McCusker, Dan Powell, and Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Runberg and Ben Landford of Wonderly. That's it for The Daily. I'm Michael Bonmoreau. See you tomorrow.