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This year is set to be a consequential one in U.S. politics

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

There is no doubt 2024 will be a consequential year in politics. There's going to be a presidential election with starkly different visions for the country on how to handle everything from the economy to immigration and abortion rights. And criminal trials are looming for one of those potential candidates. Here to walk us through the biggest political questions of 2024 is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Rob.

SCHMITZ: So let's start with the Republican primary. What will you be looking for as the nominating contests start?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, the big question for me in this primary is whether Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis can actually give former President Trump a real run for this nomination. I mean, to this point, Trump has led by huge margins in the polls, and so much of what we've been talking about in this race is really the race for second place. Voting is...

SCHMITZ: Right.

MONTANARO: ...Just weeks away here, with Iowa kicking off January 15. Let's see what voters think. You know, I'm always excited when we can transition away from talking about the polls to talking about actual results.

SCHMITZ: So we are in this weird situation where the front-runner for the Republican Party's nomination is facing dozens of criminal charges. The charges have not hurt Trump with Republicans. Do you expect anything to change in a general election if he gets there?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, so far those trials have only helped Trump with Republican base voters. He's been able to say he's been persecuted, and his base certainly believes that, but that's not likely going to be the case with persuadable general election voters who have pretty negative views of Trump.

We could have a situation where Trump is on trial during a general election. Georgia, for example, has proposed a start date of August 5 with cameras in the courtroom, you know? And I don't see how an O.J.-style trial helps Trump in a general election, but this is someone who has always believed it's better to be in the spotlight than not to be.

SCHMITZ: That's right. You know, even with the questions about Trump's legal challenges, there certainly is not an easy path for President Biden here, is there? I mean, what's he contending with?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, you have the wars in Ukraine and Israel, the latter of which has really led to a fracturing of the Democratic base. There are major immigration pressures and, of course, negative perceptions of the economy. Despite some strong signs in the economy, people continue to be pretty pessimistic about it. You know, a major question for me is whether those perceptions improve. Does the Federal Reserve loosen its belt some and lower interest rates? Does inflation continue to ease? Those are going to really be key.

SCHMITZ: So are these things - like, you know, the economy and, you know, the wars - are they going to be what determines this election?

MONTANARO: Well, they're going to be big factors, obviously. But maybe the biggest question, for me, that will determine the presidential election is which matters more? - frustrations with how Biden is doing his job and with his age or the negative views of Trump. Most voters say Biden is too old to be president, and they give him low approval ratings. But in many surveys, they like Trump even less, you know? And I'd expect Democrats to spend millions of dollars reminding voters what it is they don't like about Trump and expect them to use abortion rights, again, as a motivator to get voters to the polls.

SCHMITZ: So we've also seen several third-party candidates jump into this race. How do you think they'll affect this?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I think they're going to be a huge wild card - I mean, something that keeps Democratic strategists who I talk to up at night. You know, you have people like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jill Stein, Cornel West. No one is quite sure how any of them will factor in. But Trump has a pretty firm base of supporters. So if you start there, Democrats worry that disaffected voters who would have chosen Biden over Trump would vote, potentially, for one of those others and open up a path for Trump back to the White House. Those candidates and whether they gain real support could be something key to watch here.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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