In this edition: The anti-Biden boom economy, a made-for-TV 2024 feud and a whole lot of machinations over new congressional districts.

Stop saying “millennials” when you mean “young people who live in Brooklyn.” This is The Trailer.

KEY WEST, Fla. — The tip of America’s southernmost city stayed blue in 2020, with President Biden running well ahead of former president Donald Trump among people who lived in Key West. The tourist shops along Duval Street were not for them.

On one display, the presidencies of Trump, Barack Obama and Biden were summed up in two words each: “More Jobs,” “No Jobs” and “Nut Job.” In another, a shirt with Trump’s face and the words “Miss Me Yet?” hung next to an image of confused-looking Biden and the words “Not My President.” The “Let’s Go Brandon” meme, a G-rated version of a vulgar four-syllable anti-Biden chant, was available in multiple formats — next to Biden wearing a clown nose, stamped on an American flag, plunked next to a cartoon palm tree.

Anti-Biden slogans and merchandise, which had few buyers just a few months ago, have become wildly popular on the right. After struggling to define Biden in 2020, and finding that he didn’t anger the party’s base like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama had, conservatives are selling Biden-mocking T-shirts, flags that curse his name and stickers to slap on gas pumps — a happy Biden saying “I did that!” as he points to the price for a gallon.

If it sounds inevitable, neither Democrats nor Republicans thought so. In the 2020 exit poll, 52 percent of voters viewed Biden favorably; just 43 percent of voters had viewed Hillary Clinton that way in 2016. Nine months ago, when Republicans met in Orlando for the Conservative Political Action Conference, pro-Trump merchandise sold and anti-Biden swag sat on the shelf.

“Trump and the conservative propaganda apparatus have struggled to make the old race-and-gender-baiting rhetoric stick to Biden,” Adam Serwer wrote in the Atlantic in June 2020, summing up a view that the election would eventually validate. Even street hawkers who’d sold crude “Hillary Sucks” shirts in 2016 found that an elderly, White, male candidate was harder to make fun of; to continue making coarse sex rants, their new designs featured Vice President Harris.

The mood changed in August, when the military withdrawal from Afghanistan turned deadly, and most voters blamed Biden. The president has not recovered to pre-Afghanistan support levels in any poll, and the damage to his image has hurt Democrats down the ballot. At a post-election briefing this week hosted by the Virginia Public Access Project, strategists for defeated gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe said that their single-digit lead vanished after Afghanistan and never recovered.

“The ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ stuff has become an anthem because it encapsulates a feeling of: ‘This is your fault, Joe Biden,’” said Hogan Gidley, a former Trump spokesman who remembers struggling to get negative Biden stories to stick last year. “That’s what the polls now show. It’s like watching your team and yelling at the player who’s blowing it. Gas prices are up? ‘Let’s Go Brandon.’”

Democrats haven't treated Biden as a liability, yet. Despite polling that showed him becoming unpopular in Virginia, he headed into the state to rally with McAuliffe just days before the election; exit polls found his approval rating at 46 percent in a state he'd won easily. Biden's trips outside of Washington, to sell his agenda, are always hounded by protests. But so were his fairly rare 2020 campaign events, before an election that he won.

Sellers of anti-Biden merchandise say that they couldn't move products when he was running for president, and have trouble keeping it in stock now. The operator of KickAce, one of several Etsy stores selling Biden-mocking hats and stickers, said in an interview that sales picked up after the Afghanistan withdrawal, and that the most popular products — “I Did That” stickers and anything “Let's Go Brandon” — only went on sale recently

Independent sellers and Trump's own Save America PAC sell similar merchandise, but the former are more experimental. The Utah-based Crusader Outlet, which sold relatively few Biden items in 2020, now offers a closet full of them. An image of a bloody handprint on Biden's name is meant to evoke the Americans killed during the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The font used for Biden's 2020 campaign logo is repurposed to spell the word “Dementia.” Biden gaffes real and imagined appear on T-shirts; one, framed as if Biden actually said it, is a gibberish reworking of one of Jesus's proverbs.

The bubbled nature of politics in 2021 has made plenty of this famous to Republicans, while it's remained obscure or confusing to many Democrats. The White House's initial response when asked about “Let's Go Brandon” was that it didn't know what it meant. That only helped to spread the slogan, which originated when a TV reporter suggested that the crowd behind her, cursing Biden by name, was chanting something else. The conspiratorial idea that Biden-bashing is forbidden, and censored, makes it far more attractive to the people buying the T-shirts — though there's no shortage of places to get them.

All of this is happening as Republicans fight among themselves over the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which showed that anti-Biden sentiment wasn't necessarily enough to stop his agenda. The most popular anti-Biden merchandise has less to do with what the president is pushing through Congress than whether the right combination of words will make liberals furious. On Florida’s Panhandle, far from Key West, a homeowner named Martin Peavy had feuded for months with the county government over an enormous banner reading “Trump Won,” hanging from his property in violation of scenic ordinances. Over Halloween weekend, confident that he was going to win his free speech battle, Peavy draped another banner: “Let’s Go Brandon.” 

Reading list

Requiem for a strategy that (usually) worked.

A scam PAC pioneer goes to court.

Democratic remorse about a collapsed nonpartisan commission.

What is Jaime Harrison in charge of?

Republicans fret about a Trump-endorsed candidate's background.

The defeat of Question 2.

2024

Last weekend, addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition's meeting in Las Vegas, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie spent just a few minutes criticizing Trump's obsession with the 2020 election. It was enough to set off the umpteenth, mutually beneficial fight between the ex-president and a Republican critic — right as a CNN special about Christie was about to hit.

Let's get caught up.

Nov. 6. Christie appears at the conference, urging Republicans to move on from 2020. “We can no longer talk about the past and the past elections,” he says. “No matter where you stand on that issue, no matter where you stand, it is over.” He gives interviews to CNN and AP reporters in attendance, emphasizing that he's talking about Trump, who he says should “begin talking about the future and tell the truth about the election and move on.”

Nov. 8. While the RJC event had been bursting with praise for Trump, with speaker after speaker praising him for his pro-Israel policies and the Abraham Accords between Israel and four majority-Muslim countries, Christie's comments have dominated media coverage of the weekend. Trump responds with a statement from his Save America PAC, insisting that Christie “was just absolutely massacred by his statements that Republicans have to move on from the past.”

Nov. 9. Christie sits down with Mike Allen of Axios, saying of his back-and-forth with Trump that he was “not going to get into a back-and-forth with Donald Trump.” Trump had mocked Christie for leaving office with low poll numbers; Christie says that he won a landslide reelection, while when Trump “ran for reelection, he lost to Joe Biden.”

Nov. 11. Early in the morning, Axios releases excepts from that interview, with Allen calling it the “first hand-to-hand combat” of the 2024 campaign. With Trump's help, Christie has now gotten three news cycles out of a few remarks five days earlier. In the Bulwark, former Jeb Bush strategist Tim Miller remembers how Christie helped Trump win the 2016 GOP nomination (humiliating Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), endorsing Trump when other Republicans remained in the race) and says “the ratings-starved suckers at CNN” have fallen for his “gambit.”

Nov. 15. “Being Chris Christie,” the second part in CNN's “Being …” series of profile specials, will air on the channel and its streaming partners. A promotion for the episode promises that Christie “opens up about trying to use his signature blunt talk to rid the GOP of the conspiracy theories that Trump perpetuates.”

Nov. 16. Christie's second book, “Republican Rescue,” will go on sale, with publisher Simon & Schuster saying that it “reveals exactly how absurd grievances and self-inflicted wounds sabotaged Donald Trump’s many successes and allowed Democrats to capture the White House, the House, and Senate.”

Poll watch

“Do you support or oppose a plan to” (Monmouth, 811 adults)

Spend on roads, bridges and trains, Internet access, power grid improvements, and clean energy
Support: 65% (-5 since July)
Oppose: 31% (+2)

Expand access to healthcare and childcare, and provide paid leave and college tuition
Support: 62% (-1 since July)
Oppose: 35% (-)

We saw it earlier in the week, with new CNN and Suffolk polls, and we're seeing it again here. The White House's legislative agenda remains popular and hasn't been pulled down by the president's lower approval ratings. Monmouth last asked about the infrastructure and Build Back Better bills in early summer, before the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the single event that drove down Biden's numbers the fastest. The effect on opinion of Biden priorities (described fairly positively in the poll questions) was minimal.

In the states

Arkansas. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge abandoned her 2022 campaign for governor late Tuesday night, giving former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders a clear path to the Republican nomination.

“Now is a time for Christian conservative leaders to unite and fight together against those who wish to destroy the America we know and love,” Rutledge said in a statement, announcing that she'd run for lieutenant governor instead.

Since launching her campaign in January, Sanders has boxed out two Republicans who'd eyed the governor's office for years; Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin closed his own campaign in February. Immediately endorsed by Trump, Sanders quickly raised millions of dollars, holding two fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago — each with the ex-president as a special guest. In the third fundraising quarter, Rutledge raised a bit less than $300,000, and Sanders raised nearly nine times as much.

Like Griffin, Rutledge had built a campaign around her experience as a conservative who'd exercised real power, joining lawsuits against the Obama administration and, eventually, the Biden administration; as governor, she wanted to eliminate the state income tax altogether. Rutledge was the first Republican ever elected attorney general in Arkansas, but Sanders, who'd known Rutledge when she was a lawyer for her father, former governor Mike Huckabee, was the most popular Republican in the state.

California. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin will face a recall election on June 7, 2022, the same day as the state's regularly scheduled midterm primaries. Recall petitioners submitted more than 83,000 signatures to force the election, their second attempt at doing so; Boudin narrowly won his office in a ranked-choice election in 2019, when 193,196 votes were cast, and when prominent Democrats like then-Sen. Kamala D. Harris were supporting one of his rivals.

Much of the Democratic Party's establishment opposed Boudin in 2019, and it didn't rally to him this week. Mayor London Breed refused to “take a position on that race” when asked by a Fox affiliate. Roughly two out of five attorneys who were working at the DA's office have quit since Boudin took over.

“Chesa has a radical approach that involves not charging crime in the first place and simply releasing individuals with no rehabilitation and putting them in positions where they are simply more likely to reoffend,” former prosecutor Brooke Jenkins told NBC after her resignation. Boudin has responded to the challenge like Gov. Gavin Newsom did to his own recall election, calling it illegitimate.

“Apparently here in San Francisco, the 85 percent of us that rejected the recall against the governor, didn’t send a loud and clear message,” Boudin said at a rally last month, kicking off his campaign.  

Illinois. A few more Democrats launched campaigns for new districts drawn by their allies in Springfield. Alderman Gilbert Villegas announced for the new 3rd Congressional District, which was shaped to elect a second Latino Democrat in Chicago. Former TV meteorologist Eric Sorensen and former state representative Litesa Wallace entered the March primary for the new 17th Congressional District, a version of the western Illinois district where Rep. Cheri Bustos is retiring.

New Jersey. State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) conceded defeat a week after his surprise loss to Republican candidate Edward Durr. “What the voters said in this election is New Jersey is a state filled with hard-working people who want to provide for their families,” Sweeney said at a Wednesday news conference. “As leaders we need to speak directly to the concerns of all voters.”

Sweeney's concession left Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli as the most prominent New Jersey candidate who has yet to admit defeat. On Monday, Ciattarelli's campaign held a briefing with its legal counsel, who explained that the candidate would wait to see if the final batches of votes — last-minute mail ballots, provisional ballots and military ballots — shrunk the margin between him and Gov. Phil Murphy below 1 percentage point.

That hasn't been happening. On Monday, Murphy led Ciattarelli by around 65,500 votes, slightly fewer than the amount of outstanding ballots. By Thursday morning, more than 30,000 more ballots had been counted. Murphy's lead had grown to nearly 74,000 votes. There are too few ballots left to erase it, or to get the margin to the level where Republicans might pay for a recount. 

North Carolina. A new congressional map drawn by the state's GOP majority is scrambling some legislators' plans, and could create a race between the speaker of the state House and one of Congress's best-known conservatives.

On Wednesday night, Republican activist Dallas Woodhouse reported that freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn may run for reelection in the new, deep red 13th Congressional District, abandoning the new 14th Congressional District that includes his home. Both districts backed Trump in 2020, but the new lines for the 14th included more Democratic votes than Cawthorn's current seat. Cawthorn asked local Republicans to set up a call Wednesday night, where he suggested he might make the switch, and said it would be good for “conservatism” if he represented a safe seat.

House Speaker Tim Moore, one of the driving forces behind the new maps, was also considering a bid for the new 13th. Former congressman Mark Walker, who abandoned his safe seat last year after a court drew a more competitive one, has not ruled out abandoning his Senate race to return to Congress — the new map restores a safe, Trump-won seat around his home.

Washington. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) appointed state Sen. Steve Hobbs to replace outgoing Secretary of State Kim Wyman, putting Democrats in control of an office they have not held since Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House.

The departure of Wyman, who's taking an election management role in the Biden administration, means that no Republicans hold statewide offices in any west coast state — California, Oregon or Washington. State Senate vacancies in Washington are filled by the party of the departing senator, and Democrats will replace Hobbs after coming up with a list of potential candidates.

Redistricting

California. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission released its first set of congressional maps, which preserved the lopsided Democratic lean of the current map while making some seats more competitive. While commission members expect to alter the map before it's final, the current version contains 46 districts carried by Biden last year, and just six carried by Trump, whose two presidential bids saw the GOP win its lowest share of the presidential vote since the 1930s.

That's not how Republicans see the map. The National Republican Congressional Committee's list of 2022 targets, updated after the GOP wins in Virginia, includes seven current Democratic seats in California, all of which backed Biden — some by double digits. Most of them include parts of the state's Central Valley, where Trump did relatively poorly but Republicans ran ahead of him in 2020, and where support for this year's gubernatorial recall election was high. Three of their targets are in parts of Southern California — Orange County, San Diego and the Coachella Valley — that shifted left in the Trump years.

Yesterday's map would shift two of those seats toward Republicans. The 45th Congressional District, won in 2018 and 2020 by rising Democratic star Rep. Katie Porter, would shift from a seat that backed Biden by 11 points to one that backed him by 4. The current 49th Congressional District, which Rep. Darrell Issa (R) abandoned in 2018 after, correctly, seeing it become unwinnable for the GOP, went for Biden by 12 points; the new one went for Biden by 9.

The draft map would simultaneously shift a few seats that Democrats lost in 2020 further to the left, putting two 2020 Republican winners in Southern California, Rep. Mike Garcia (R) and Rep. Michelle Steel (R) in seats that went more strongly for Biden. Both Republicans ran ahead of Trump to carry seats he lost, respectively, by 10 points and 2 points. If these lines held, they would be heading to potential rematches against Democrats they narrowly defeated, in districts that voted for Biden by 13 points and 9 points. 

Nevada. Before heading into a special session to draw new district lines, Democratic legislators released potential maps that could protect all three members of the House delegation.

Under the current lines, populous Clark County is split between the heavily Democratic 1st Congressional District in Las Vegas, the competitive 3rd Congressional District in Henderson, and the competitive 4th Congressional District that begins in North Las Vegas and stretches halfway up the state. In 2020, Biden carried those districts by 25 points, a fraction of a point, and 4 points respectively.

The Democrats' proposal would divide Clark County more evenly: All three of seats would have gone for Biden last year by significant margins — by 7 points in the 3rd district and by 10 points in the second. The 2nd Congressional District, which contains Democratic Reno and mostly-Republican rural Nevada, would remain safe for Republicans, while the Vegas-based 1st would have gone for Biden by just 8 points.

Rep. Dina Titus, the Democrat who has held the 1st District seat since 2013, hasn't confronted serious Republican competition, but she faces a left-wing primary challenge next year from Amy Vilela, a veteran of Sen. Bernie Sanders's presidential campaigns who was featured in the 2020 documentary “Knock Down the House.” Vilela didn't respond to a question about whether the new map would affect her plans; she entered the race this summer.

Meet a PAC

Name: Our First Principles Fund

What it's doing: It spent nearly $63,000 on direct-mail advertising for Princess Blanding, who ran for governor of Virginia this year as the candidate of her own, new, Liberation Party. Before that, a group called the First Principles Fund ran ads against some of Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin's Republican primary rivals; despite the one-word difference in the name, both listed the same website on their filings.

Who's behind it: As first reported by Ben Paviour of Virginia Public Media, Republican strategist Thomas Datwyler, who's listed as the fund's treasurer, is the only person publicly linked to it. He has not commented on the fund, and anyone calling its listed Northern Virginia number gets sent automatically to voice mail. 

Why it matters: First Principles Fund was one of several nonprofits and PACs spending against Republicans in the primary, and Our First Principles Fund was one of several targeting one major party's candidate's base and urging it not to support him. Pro-Democratic groups targeted likely Republican voters with ads reminding them that the NRA did not endorse Youngkin, and targeted moderates with reminders of Youngkin's Trump endorsement.

But OFPF was the only group promoting Blanding's campaign for governor, and would spend significantly more than the candidate herself. Blanding reported raising less than $35,000, and spent a fraction — around $2,000 — on advertising. (The campaign could not afford the voter data file, used by major parties to find their likeliest supporters.) The OFPF campaign promoted Blanding, who supported an end to qualified immunity and a ban on police unions, as the only police reform candidate in the race. Its mail portrayed a black man being shoved to the pavement, warning that “Terry McAuliffe believes police brutality should go unpunished.”

What's next: The fund didn't disclose its supporters or strategy before the election, and isn't starting now. While she got media attention after interrupting a gubernatorial debate she was left out of, Blanding never became a factor in the race, ending up with 23,118 votes out of nearly 3.3 million cast according to unofficial, pre-canvassing totals; the gap between Youngkin and McAuliffe was nearly three times larger.

Countdown

… one day until the final ballots are counted in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 20th Congressional District 
… 61 days until the election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District 
… 110 days until the first 2022 primaries