The week that will determine the 2024 election

Former President Donald Trump will face off against Joe Biden in a debate this week ( (Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images))
Former President Donald Trump will face off against Joe Biden in a debate this week ( (Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images))

Here we go. This week, Joe Biden and Donald Trump will travel down to Georgia for the first presidential debate. Everything else has up until this point been child’s play.

Trump is already suggesting that the 81-year-old Biden, whom he dubs, “Sleepy Joe”, will be “jacked up” after being “shot in the a**.” And Trump’s spokeswoman — and failed congressional candidate — Karoline Leavitt engaged in an aggressive interview with Kasie Hunt of CNN, the network that will host the debate, during which she claimed that her boss is “knowingly going into a hostile environment on this very network — on CNN — with debate moderators who have made their opinions about him very well-known over the past eight years in their biased coverage of him.” Republicans are also warning Trump not to fall into “traps” lest he attack Biden as aggressively as he did in 2020.

Anyone who has followed politics long enough knows that this is classic setting of expectations. Trump saying that Biden will be hopped on on stimulants or that CNN will be unnecessarily antagonistic toward him is a way to lower the bar, should he underperform. Trump elected not to participate in any of the Republican primary debates, despite still winning the Republican primary. That says a lot.

Similarly, Biden did not engage in any debates — essentially putting the two men on the same playing field.

Historically, incumbent presidents flop in their first debate. This goes back to Ronald Reagan stumbling over his words in 1984 — a moment that has led some to wonder if he already began to suffer the effects of the Alzheimer’s that would ultimately take his life — and includes George W Bush’s poor performance against John Kerry in 2004, as well as Barack Obama’s weak and anodyne performance against Mitt Romney. All three men bounced back in the second debate, however, and ultimately won re-election.

Ever since he announced his intention to seek re-election last year, Biden has consistently trailed Trump. Indeed, Biden’s campaign made the decision to move up the debates, which typically happen in the fall, to before the conventions in an apparent effort to give him a boost. Voters have consistently viewed Biden as too old to do the job and this is a chance to challenge that assumption.

All of this will set the tone during the next few weeks leading up to the Republican and Democratic conventions. If Trump comes off too aggressively, or Biden gets the better of him, it will give Biden a sign of life. But if Trump outperforms expectations, it will cement Biden’s decline.

But the presidential election won’t be the only benchmark of Trump or Biden’s power this week. On Tuesday, New York and Colorado will hold their primaries. In New York, all eyes will be on the 16th district, where Representative Jamaal Bowman, a member of the Squad, faces off against Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

Bowman, who supports a ceasefire in Gaza, faces an onslaught of outside money, particularly from the pro-Israel group AIPAC. Latimer has also sought to paint Bowman as insufficiently supportive of Biden, pointing to his vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill in 2021. The primary has gotten pretty nasty, with accusations of racism and antisemitism made from both sides.

The race is the most expensive primary contest in US history. Its conclusion will show how much power progressives really have in the Democratic Party these days.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, controversial Representative Lauren Boebert is facing an even tougher primary. After she nearly lost her first re-election campaign in 2022, she jumped districts to the more conservative 4th district. Boebert faces a split field, which might be enough to keep her alive, along with an endorsement from Trump, which came this weekend.

Trump’s endorsement of a primary challenge against Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good in Virginia’s 5th district led to a contest that remains too close to call at the moment — an embarrassment for Trump, even if his chosen candidate does squeak out on top. A win by Boebert might show that the strength of his endorsement can beat any baggage a candidate has. But a failure to decisively oust Good has also shown that Trump’s influence has its limits.