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Is America ready for a Biden v. Trump sequel?

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.Getty Images; AP

If it’s FRIDAY… President Biden is set to launch re-election bid next week, NBC’s Kristen Welker, Monica Alba and Mike Memoli report… Donald Trump holds double-digit national lead over Ron DeSantis in WSJ poll… Defeated Republican California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder announces 2024 presidential campaign… And declared and potential 2024 GOP candidates (including Elder, Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Asa Hutchinson and Vivek Ramaswamy) speak tomorrow at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition gathering.

But FIRST… It’s still early, but a Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump rematch looks more and more inevitable.

NBC News reports that President Biden is expected to launch his re-election bid this week, and an April launch allows him to start stockpiling campaign money.

Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal poll is the latest to show Trump leading Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the rest of the 2024 GOP field — just two weeks since the former president was arrested and arraigned in New York.

While much of the political world has been preparing for a Biden-vs.-Trump rematch, the general American electorate might not be as ready.

A separate AP/NORC poll finds that just 26% of all Americans and only about half of Democrats want to see Biden run again.

And that could have profound consequences on the general election.

What’s turnout going to look like? (While Trump has energized both Dem and GOP voters since 2016, you can make an argument that turnout could be down from the record nearly 160 million who voted in 2020.)

What’s the size of the third-party vote? Will it look more like 2016 (when it was 6% of the popular vote)? Or will it be more like 2020 (when it was less than 2%).

Bottom line: Is the country — and key components of the electorate — ready for another Biden vs. Trump election?

Because while it’s still early, it sure looks like we’re headed down that path over the next year and a half.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is ... 4

That’s how many possible charges federal prosecutors have considered bringing against President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, NBC News’ Sarah Fitzpatrick, Tom Winter, Ken Dilanian and Michael Kosnar report. 

The potential charges include “two misdemeanor counts for failure to file taxes, a single felony count of tax evasion related to a business expense for one year of taxes, and the gun charge, also a potential felony,” they write. 

Fitzpatrick and NBC News’ Katherine Doyle also report that the White House is defending the investigations into Hunter Biden, insisting they are “free from any political interference” after an IRS special agent sought whistleblower protections to discuss “preferential treatment” in the case.

Other numbers you need to know today

$5 million: The amount MyPillow CEOP Mike Lindell, a Trump ally, has to pay to a man who won his 2021 “Prove Mike Wrong” challenge regarding the results of the 2020 election, an arbitration panel ruled.

7: The number of Biden’s judicial nominees that Senate Democrats advanced out of committee on Thursday with bipartisan support, despite the absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

30: The number of detainees left at Guantanamo Bay, after one was transferred back to Algeria.

4: The number of anti-transgender bills Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed on Thursday

10,000: The number of votes cast in the Senate by Washington Sen. Patty Murray in her lifetime, the first woman to ever reach that mark.

7: The number of financial institutions whose customers’ personally identifiable information was breached by a single employee at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency said Wednesday.

13: The number of charges against Theodore “Ted” DiBiase Jr., a former pro wrestler and son of WWE legend “The Million Dollar Man,” for his involvement in a welfare scheme led by former NFL player Brett Favre.

Eyes on 2024: Republicans cap off a week devoted to the culture wars

If there’s one thing that unites this field of prospective GOP presidential hopefuls, it’s the culture wars. 

And with a key social conservative confab on the schedule in Iowa this weekend, the week served as a reminder that the next year will be filled with a healthy dose of identity politics as Republicans look to supercharge the GOP base. 

On Thursday, House Republicans passed bill banning transgender women and girls from competing in female school athletics. Biden will likely veto that legislation even if it somehow passed the Democratic Senate. But the vote teed up yet another clash on the issue that’s made its way into campaign ads and stump speeches across the Republican Party (and after the right has spent weeks criticizing Bud Light for partnering with a transgender spokesperson). 

And Republicans are at odds over abortion, too — just as the Supreme Court is slated to weigh in on whether to uphold a ruling that would ban the medication abortion pill mifepristone. 

Many GOP presidential hopefuls have danced around specifics on how exactly they’ll push to regulate, or restrict, abortion, even as they’ve broadly coalesced around the idea of promoting “pro-life” legislation. But after Trump’s campaign told The Washington Post that he thinks “this is an issue that should be decided at the state level,” the anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony List hammered that position as “morally indefensible.” 

It’s no surprise that a primary leads to candidates jockeying for support among the party’s base before having to moderate in a general election. That’s a tale as old as time for both parties. But the spat on abortion comes as Republicans have lost a slew of high-profile elections where Democrats have sought to frame them as too far to the right on abortion rights. 

In other campaign news…

GOP field grows: Republican talk radio host Larry Elder, who made an unsuccessful run against California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall in 2021, announced Thursday night that he is running for president

Debatable: Republicans will host their second presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel announced Thursday. 

Hey Big(elow) spender: GOP donor Robert Bigelow tells TIME that he has already donated more than $20 million to the Never Back Down, a super PAC boosting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ expected presidential bid, pledging to spend more to back DeSantis. 

Endorsement race: Former President Donald Trump picked up another endorsement from a Florida Republican, this time from Rep. Michael Waltz, who represents DeSantis’ old district. Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio tells Semafor that he is not going to get involved in the race “for some time,” noting he has not spoken to DeSantis in “a number of months.” And the New York Times reports on Trump’s “personal touch” in the endorsement race. 

DeSantis on the death penalty: DeSantis signed a bill into law Thursday lowering the threshold to issue the death penalty, which will no longer require a unanimous vote from a jury, the lowest threshold in the country per the New York Times. 

Getting there: Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told Fox News he is “close to making a decision” on a presidential run, and he took a dig at DeSantis, saying the governor “seems to struggle with relationships.”

Pardon me: GOP businessman Vivek Ramaswamy pledged that if he wins the presidency, he’ll pardon a pro-Trump social media personality convicted after posting graphics falsely telling Democrats they could text a number to vote from home. 

Schooled: GOP lawyer Cleta Mitchell recently told Republican donors that the party should embrace a strategy to limit voting for college students and voters who cast ballots by mail, the Washington Post reports.  

The Calamari State: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC is backing Rhode Island Lieutenant Gov. Sabina Matos in the upcoming special election to replace outgoing Democratic Rep. David Cicilline. 

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world?

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wants Chief Justice John Roberts to testify to Congress about judicial ethics. 

 The U.S. is preparing for the possible evacuation of U.S. personnel from Sudan by sending more troops to East Africa, NBC News’ Courtney Kube reports.