This is Common Sense, a recurring dialogue between two veteran Daily Pennsylvanian columnists, Vinay and Lexi.
Vinay Khosla: Lexi, the beginning of April was like a fever dream: Trump in court, pleading the Fifth? Pinch me. He really got VIP treatment during his arraignment in New York, though; no handcuffs, no mugshot. If I were him, I might almost forget about all 34 charges against me! Well, I guess not… but now we have to wait until December for a final verdict.
Lexi Boccuzzi: Knowing Trump, he probably would have loved the publicity stunt of it all if they had taken his mugshot! There would have been a fresh fake tan, and a newly quaffed combover! In all seriousness though, this is going to have fascinating political implications. After all, 93% of Republicans believe that the indictment was politically motivated; there is no better way to inflame the MAGA base than to provide Trump with ammunition for a deep-state conspiracy. If I were a Democrat, martyrdom would be my ideal tactic to get him right to the top of the ticket, since he is perceived to be the easiest to beat.
Vinay: Yeah, I mean Democratic strategists have to be ecstatic that he’s 30 points ahead of DeSantis in the polls even after being indicted (and, legally speaking, he is still allowed to run even if ultimately convicted). If Trump’s the Republican candidate, it seems like a much easier win for Dems. The operative word being seems; after all, right now, the most likely Democratic nominee is Joe Biden.
Lexi: Joe Biden is certainly not the politician he once was, with his gaffes being even more regular occurrences, and the mere fact of his age putting him at an enormous disadvantage — at the time of the 2024 election, he’ll be almost 82 and by the end of his second term a whopping 86. That said, after the midterms’ success, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) will be hard-pressed to find the political capital to usurp him if he wants the candidacy.
Vinay: Of course, the key phrase here is “if he wants the candidacy.” Biden’s been unusually coy about his plans for 2024 for a sitting president and I really can’t say one way or the other whether we should read anything into that. I think his age is a huge issue for me as a Democrat, especially since it seems to be hindering his ability to represent himself and the party.
Lexi: I will be the first to say that the octogenarians have to go — 35 members of the Senate are 70 or over — but that’s a conversation for another day. Biden’s problem is also that he lacks the charisma, debate skills, and coherent policy platforms that many other Republican candidates besides Trump have in spades.
Vinay: Not only does Biden fall short in all of those areas, but he also has to own up to a whole boatload of policy failures that have quickly piled up during his administration. First and foremost, inflation. But really that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Afghanistan, Iran, the Willow Project, and continued supply chain woes may come back to bite him. I mean, he’s done a spectacular job of pissing off everybody, from conservatives to progressives and everyone in between. Likely candidates such as Ron DeSantis or Amy Klobuchar don't have a disappointing presidential track record or national profile to contend with, which is a big handicap Biden will have to shoulder throughout a possible campaign.
Lexi: That may be true of Amy Klobuchar, Ms. Moderate from Minnesota, but whether you like it or not, I think it’s indisputable that DeSantis is building his national profile. He is playing to his base on key Republican social issues like education, but staying above the fray when it comes to all of Trump’s disparaging comments. Whoever came up with the “freedom blueprint” book tour, which has allowed DeSantis to meet and spread his message to hundreds of county GOPs across the country, is a political genius. That said, the recent expansion of the “Parents Rights in Education” law to all grades K-12 will surely isolate potential general election voters.
Vinay: Definitely true, Lexi. DeSantis is the modern progenitor of education as a salient, partisan national policy issue. We’ve seen how he’s used education policy to combat “wokeism” in Florida — I think all he’s done is make curriculum less rigorous and more white-washed but I digress — and how that mantle has been taken up across the country like in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial race. I think a DeSantis Republican ticket would radically shift what’s being discussed in the 2024 debates.
Lexi: I have some more nuanced thoughts on that subject matter, but I’ll reserve those comments for another conversation, Vinay. Safe to say you’re not his target audience.
Vinay: Fair enough. He has certainly carved out a niche for himself during his time as governor.
Lexi: Though I do think this could be the year of young, good-looking governors if they are given the chance to step up to the plate. DeSantis’ less-freedom-loving foil, Gavin Newsom, certainly could be a contender.
Vinay: Obviously the recall vote wasn’t a great look for Newsom but all press is good press, right? He kept his job and now he has the national visibility he was lacking before. That being said, as the recall suggests, many of his policies at home have not played well inside or outside of California.
Lexi: His extremely harsh COVID-19 lockdowns and California’s rampant crime and homelessness problem I doubt will play well in middle America. Female governors might have the potential to shake up the field on the right though. Nikki Haley, who has already announced, and Kristi Noem, the current governor of South Dakota, could make interesting additions to any ticket, having straddled the pro- and anti-Trump lines well. Haley is also bringing identity politics to conservatism, seemingly unsuccessfully. While the Republican Party may be ready for a female or minority candidate, they won’t look kindly upon one that makes it their entire brand.
Vinay: Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Noem defend South Dakota’s trigger ban on abortion even after a 10-year-old rape victim came forward with her story? I don’t think that reads well for any voter, and it’s controversial stances like that which will make some governors untenable candidates nationally. As you’ve said, Haley has yet to find her message, rendering her uber-early announcement fairly useless. With a pretty pitiful lot to choose from, I’m not sure if I can see anyone outshining DeSantis or Trump on the right. Although, the same could be said for the left if either Biden or Harris runs.
Lexi: Noem was also annihilated on Tucker Carlson for vetoing a bill that would prohibit trans-women from competing in girls' sports, but your point is taken. Ah… the Kamala Harris dilemma. I believe she may be one of the most unliked politicians of our time; I have yet to meet someone who likes her. Democrats are signing away their entire ticket if she’s at the top.
Vinay: Well I won’t break your Harris-hating streak; personally, not a fan. I’m sure this has been somewhat intentional on the part of the administration — especially after she told Guatemalan immigrants “do not come” — to keep her in the background. I think that hiddenness alone has destroyed any chance she has of being a real contender. That being said, she could always do what Biden did and ride the coattails of the administration. Although, again, I’m not sure there’s much to work with there anyways.
Lexi: I think it’s her laugh… it haunts my nightmares, Vinay! Not that Vivek Ramaswamy has a real shot, but simply because I think the changing demographics of our candidates are fascinating. Thoughts on the Ivy-League educated asset manager turned conservative political activist?
Vinay: He’s there to ride the business-to-politics wave, just like J.D. Vance in 2022 — except this is a presidential race. Electable? No. Next!
Lexi: Having seen Ramaswamy speak, he reminds me of a grown-up version of some of my favorite Wharton friends. Okay then, back to VPs, Pence.
Vinay: Pence is, frankly, a very traditional conservative with pretty predictable, tempered views on issues. I think in another lifetime he might have had a shot at the Oval Office, but putting him in a primary with Trump is like a death sentence — there is certainly no love lost between those two and Trump messages better than him. He also tried to straddle both sides on and after January 6th which hasn’t served him very well.
Lexi: I think Pence is almost too principled for the executive branch – he is not lacking in charisma, values, or policy stances, but he doesn’t have the populist persona necessary to beat Trump. However, there will be nothing quite like the now infamous fly hanging out on his perfect hairline during the 2020 Vice Presidential debates; a real-life Veep moment (they happen quite often on the Hill, I can now attest).
Vinay: I agree and you bring up a great point: persona is so important in politics, especially in the post-Trump (are we there yet?) era. Certainly, Trump and DeSantis have a presence on stage, but other Republicans and most Democrats don’t quite have that it-factor. Maybe Marianne Williamson with her rants about mysticism; she has too much personality honestly. But possibles like Klobuchar or Buttigieg? Yawn. In terms of personality, a Klobuchar-Trump debate would be laughable.
Lexi: I saw Williamson speak at Penn months ago and she certainly isn’t lacking in creative takes! I am looking forward to another exciting campaign season. I just hope younger, fresher faces will have a platform. We’ve seen the Biden-Trump face-off once and I’m hoping I don’t have to witness it again.
Vinay: Lexi, I can’t end this conversation without my obligatory yearning that Bernie was just 20 years younger. Talk about the right candidate, wrong time, at least in my opinion.
Lexi: Good to know you haven’t lost your Bernie bro roots. I think he should just start a podcast where he provides socialist color commentary on the debates this year instead of running. At least one of my favorite senators, Tim Scott, has announced his presidential exploratory committee, although I doubt this is his time either.
Vinay: I would be Bernie’s number one fan, but I’ll settle for his new committee chairmanship in the meantime. As to Scott, not enough name recognition — enough said. But to echo your sentiments, I just hope the dearth of viable Democratic candidates doesn’t mean we end up with another Biden-Harris ticket. I would also like to see some outsiders in the mix if the DNC can handle it (which is highly doubtful).
Lexi: Well, you know we can all count on America’s perpetual deep-state outsider Chris Christie of New Jersey to make a run… last I heard (literally at an event in Connecticut), he was still complaining about Trump giving him COVID. But maybe that can be a platform in Joe Biden’s America?
VINAY KHOSLA is a College sophomore studying history and political science from Baltimore, Md. His email is email@example.com.
LEXI BOCCUZZI is a College junior studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Stamford, Ct. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.