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The Dartmouth
May 28, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Neal Katyal ’91 and Jake Tapper ’91 discuss 2024 presidential election

Katyal and Tapper’s conversation was presented as The Rockefeller Center’s Stephen R. Volk ’57 lecture.


On Feb. 29, The Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Dartmouth Minority Pre-Law Association co-hosted a conversation with CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper ’91 and former U.S. Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal ’91 entitled “An Election on Trial” to discuss the 2024 presidential election and former President Donald Trump’s legal challenges.

According to public programming officer Dvora Greenberg Koelling, approximately 275 people attended the event in person in Collis Common Ground, and another 1,000 people watched the livestream. The conversation was moderated by Anna Mahoney, executive director of The Rockefeller Center, and Herschel Nachlis, associate director of The Rockefeller Center and a research assistant government professor.

Nachlis first asked Katyal to outline the key outstanding legal issues Trump faces.

“Given that it’s Donald Trump, if I talk about the outstanding legal issues, all of us will be here all night,” Katyal joked.

Katyal stated that Trump’s legal challenges could be divided into “buckets” of cases. He first mentioned Trump’s personal legal challenges, which include two cases at the federal level and two at the state level in Georgia and New York, respectively. The case in New York, slated for March 25, will mark the first criminal trial of a former president. 

Cases against Trump compose the second bucket, challenging whether Trump is allowed to run for office. According to Katyal, these cases hinge on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which precludes insurrectionists or those who have supported insurrection from running for public office. 

Several states have attempted to remove Trump from the presidential ballot. On March 4, the Supreme Court ruled that “states may not bar former President Donald J. Trump from running for another term,” based on the argument that “individual states may not bar candidates for the presidency under a constitutional provision,” according to the New York Times.

Tapper commented on the ongoing investigation led by Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

“I think that if there is a conviction in one of the Jack Smith cases, assuming that there is a verdict in one of the Jack Smith cases before November, that could potentially cause a depression in turnout among Donald Trump’s base,” Tapper said. “Not a huge one, but all you need is one at the margins in three, four states.”

Katyal described the third bucket as legal “challenges to the election system,” which include gerrymandering. Katyal stated that he was involved in litigation that challenged redistricting by the Alabama state legislature.

The fourth bucket represents legal challenges to the legitimacy of the election, an issue that Katyal said is likely to arise after the election in November. The final bucket relates to legal issues associated with Trump’s plans if elected to office. 

“[Trump] wants to abolish the civil bureaucracy and replace it with political appointees,” Katyal said. “He wants to resuscitate versions of executive power.”

According to Tapper, the Democratic and Republican parties each have a clear campaign strategy to win the election. 

“The Trump team will tell you that they think they can win on the border, crime and the economy,” Tapper said. 

The Democratic Party will try to counter these narratives and emphasize the strength of the economy, Trump’s lack of fitness for office and threats to democracy, according to Tapper. 

Tapper stated that the election hinges less on Trump’s base and more so on Biden’s, along with independent voters and “groups at the margins.”

“Donald Trump’s base loves him,” Tapper said. “Donald Trump’s base has been fed an alternate history of the world — by him, by Fox, by Newsmax.”

Tapper referenced the results of the Feb. 27 primary in Michigan, when over 100,000 registered Democrats voted “uncommitted” — which represents a protest against the Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas War.

“It’s typical for a sizable chunk of the primary voters in Michigan to vote uncommitted, usually about 20,000 [voters],” Tapper said. “This was 100,000 … Most of those votes were a protest vote against Joe Biden for his strong support of Israel as Prime Minister Netanyahu wages the war as he’s waging it.”

Tapper stated that it was “pretty clear to everybody, including Nikki Haley, that Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee.” He predicted that protest votes against Biden and primary votes for Haley would pose “significant issues for both men.”

Tapper predicted that it would “be easier for Biden to pick up Nikki Haley voters theoretically than it will be for Trump to pick up the protest voters who voted ‘uncommitted.’”

“But that said, it’s a jump ball, both in Michigan and in general,” Tapper said.

Tapper also stated that the abortion issue is “the Democrats’ ace in their sleeve” and that the Democratic Party has over-performed polling in every single election since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022.

“It is inaccurate to think that this is only an issue that will help Joe Biden in traditionally blue or purple states given that we have seen that the abortion rights side of the equation wins every single time, in Kansas, in Montana, in Kentucky, in Ohio,” Tapper said.

Mahoney asked Katyal and Tapper whether they thought this election was “an anomaly or a harbinger,” and whether they think Trump himself is a “one-off or some sort of playbook that future candidates might want to pick up.”

Katyal stated that he believes this election and Trump are both anomalies. 

“I think our constitutional structure is generally designed to weed out people like [Trump],” Katyal said. “... He’s a singularly destructive force to our American democracy. 

Tapper said that Trump has created a “new normal” by attacking the press, institutions and political opponents. 

Mahoney asked whether the results of Trump’s legal challenges would change the minds of his base.

JJ Dega ’26 stated that he came to the event to “hear an in-person, less structured take on the election from two great Dartmouth alumni and great speakers for democracy.” 

Quinn Allred ’26 added that he appreciated Katyal and Tapper’s perspectives on the upcoming election.

“Both political tilts are obvious, both run liberal … but to talk about and to critique our own platform is something that needs to be encouraged and can’t be seen as something that’s going to damage our future,” Allred said. “That’s how we get better, that’s how people’s views get more accurately reflected.”