The 16 People Who Will Pick the Next President
Influence has its privileges....
To retain me as your personal guide through the upcoming presidential election and the next administration, sign up now for the Wide World of News Concierge Coverage.
It is the only way to keep receiving this newsletter after next week — and the best way to know what is going on every day of the week.
You can read more about how WWoN Concierge Coverage works and how to sign up here.
What to do with a morning newsletter on a typically slow Monday news day, where Nikki Haley’s Sunday night televised town hall made no more of an indelible footprint than a sparrow softly landing on a frozen lake?
Clearly, create from whole cloth and a standing start the kind of list that lights up social media and is good fodder for debate and spirited conversation from the White House Mess to the CAA conference rooms to the Mar-a-Lago patio.
So here are the Top 16 people who will have the biggest impact on the 2024 presidential campaign – not including the candidates.
(Yes, I wrote the whole thing from scratch this morning…so excuse the typos!)
16. Whoever is in charge of message discipline for Robert Kennedy
When he is good, the Biden rival sounds like a cross (in a good, politically potent way) between Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Isaac Newton, John McCain, and his dad. That has the potential to let him build a coalition in New Hampshire and around the nation that could lead to more momentum-building stuff like Jack Dorsey’s endorsement. When he gets in the weeds, he comes across as a more meandering and less focused combination of Jim Traficant, Gene Sperling, and Carl Sagan. The difference between the two versions of RFK is the difference between his leaving a scratch on President Biden that a dab of Neosporin handles or dismembering the incumbent’s arm in a wood chipper.
15. Kim Reynolds
The Iowa governor says she has no plans to endorse in the presidential race, but it isn’t hard to see a scenario where her last-minute backing of a surging, say, Ron DeSantis or Tim Scott leads to a caucus-changing outcome that dethrones Trump and leads to a whole new ballgame. If she makes the move with a blend of perfect timing, boffo wordsmithing and setting, and a leveraging of her Hawkeye State popularity, she could become the biggest GOP kingmaker since John Sununu in 1988.
14. Jerome Powell
In the end, nothing will matter to the Democrats’ chances than whether or not there is a Goldilocks economy for them to run on – and no one will play a bigger role in trying for a landing as soft as a roll of Charmin Ultra than the Fed chair. To cut or not to cut? Both the fickle markets and the worried consumers will be watching closely to see by the spring of 2024 if we are in Recession Land, Inflation Hell, or somewhere in between.
12/13. Merrick Garland and Lisa Monaco
The AG and his savvy deputy have to make charging decisions on both presidential candidates as well as the son of one of them, all with impossible damned-no-matter-what scrutiny. Monaco has demonstrated more understanding and mastery than her boss of the politics and press dimensions that will have to be part of any well made and well executed decisions.
10/11. Jim Clyburn and Al Sharpton
It is inevitable and the nature of the beast: Joe Biden is going to hit some rough spots in 2024 that will require significant wagon circling by the cavalry. And no two horsemen better deal with Democratic political apocalypses than the pair of pols who bailed the Delawarean out at critical moments in the last campaign than Clyburn (who did it very publicly) and Sharpton (who was integral behind the scenes). And if Biden decides to exit the field for any reason (or is forced to), these two will be the most powerful power brokers in the party.
8/9. Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita
The co-managers of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign need to keep him on message, leverage their organizational edges, avoid an Iowa upset, dominate the debate about debates, raise enough cash to keep the boss happy, orchestrate the greatest legal defense in American political history, and simultaneously build majority strategies for both Republican delegates and Electoral College votes. Also, they need to get along and harness the unique talents of a candidate who is 1 for 2 (and/but claims to think he is 2 for 2).
The one, the only, the legend, the person whose inclusion on this list requires zero explanation.
6. Ron Klain
Those “memos” are Joe Biden’s North Star to guide him to another term. Plus: debate prep, fundraising, coordination between the White House and the campaign, organizing and rousing surrogates, and the most influential Twitter account this side of Rihanna.
5. Kamala Harris
As long as there is a Biden-Harris reelect effort, there is going to be extreme madness, extreme pressure, and extreme speculation about how she might hurt the Democrats’ chances of holding the White House and about replacing her on the ticket, including everything from the intriguing to the insane (Barack Obama for veep!). Every day in every way, the Californian is going to have to prove to more of the American people that she is ready to step into the job and perform it brilliantly from Day One. The importance of her mission is made no less vital (and no less difficult) by the fact that some of the greatest skeptics she has work within 200 feet of her in the West Wing.
3/4. Jack Smith and Fani Willis
With their probes headed towards potential Trump indictments, both prosecutors are under pressure to succeed where Alvin Bragg failed: Handing up and putting out cases that are detailed (but not TOO detailed…) and clear in their handling of both the law and the facts, cases that are as airtight as a vacuum-packed jar of pickles – and with a PR strategy that is at once sophisticated and on the right side of the line of what prosecutors are supposed to do. And they need to hit the sweet spot in timing to get the cases moved along to the right places in the legal process well before the Iowa caucuses. To succeed, they don’t need legal convictions before January, 2024 – they just need major triumphs in the court of public opinion.
2. Casey DeSantis
The former TV host and golf reporter has never been involved in anything close to this level of spotlight, complexity, or tension. And yet her involvement in the campaign makes Hillary Clinton ’92 look like Judith Steinberg ’04. Her public facing role will continue to get mountains of scrutiny, but the details of how she executes on the throwaway line of “her husband’s most important adviser behind the scenes” will tell the tale.
1. Jill Biden
The First Lady in every way, the Philly girl will be called on repeatedly to make decisions about scheduling, personnel, messaging, and how to get her spouse the rest he needs along the way. No matter how many positive news stories Team Biden generates, he will always be one verbal or physical slip up from handing the White House back to Donald Trump, something “Jilly” feels in her bones. She knows where the bodies are buried, the weak links are, and how to tame the mysterious rhythms of a national campaign (of which she has been through more than pretty much anyone in American history). Also: She is key if Hunter faces legal peril.
Honorable and dishonorable mentions: Putin, Xi, Zelensky, Kim Jong Un.
Note the two events on the president’s week ahead schedule I’ve highlighted:
Cue the “Who” jokes at Café Milano.
Speaking of which…..
Can you spot the elements in these two sentences from separate Sunday White House pool reports that will set aflutter and aflame Red America?
1. From the White House: The president is golfing at Joint Base Andrews with his brother: James “Jimmy” Biden
The President is having dinner at Cafe Milano with his granddaughter Naomi and her husband Peter Neal.