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What wavering Black voters really think of Biden and Trump: From the Politics Desk

Plus, what the current and former president's dueling trips to the U.S.-Mexico border say about the state of the 2024 race.
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Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, national political reporter Ben Kamisar reports on a focus group of Black voters in North Carolina who are not fans of Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Plus, senior national politics reporter Jonathan Allen explains why the president's trip to the border shows his likely 2024 opponent's bet on immigration is paying off.

Wavering Black voters: Biden is flawed, but Trump is unacceptable

By Ben Kamisar

What do you do if you’re faced with a choice between two candidates you don’t like? 

That question could help decide the 2024 presidential election, and it’s why we investigated it in our latest NBC News Deciders Focus Group series. 

Along with our friends from Engagious, Syracuse University and Sago, we spoke with 14 Black voters in the battleground state of North Carolina who view both Joe Biden and Donald Trump negatively to learn more about how they might cast their ballot in November.

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What did we learn? That most of these voters are deeply disappointed in a Biden administration that they feel is underperforming. But almost all of them ruled out supporting Trump.

“I feel like it’s a lesser of two evils. It’s either a politician who is making attempts to do things for the entire country, or someone who’s just about themselves or their party, their particular party and their people.” — Candice D., a 44-year-old from Charlotte 

Still, the discontent with Biden was real. After the respondents were shown a White House fact sheet trumpeting its accomplishments in helping Black Americans, they unilaterally panned it. One called it “political mumbo-jumbo,” while another cut at one of the biggest challenges the Biden White House is facing as it looks to find a winning message on the economy. 

“I’m sure the numbers are statistically accurate, but they haven’t been statistically significant. If it was a significant change in those areas, then it would be obvious. We could all see it and we could feel it in our day-to-day lives.” — Michael G., a 54-year-old from Greenville

Their comments about Trump were brutal: Three called him racist without prompting. And after seeing clips of remarks Trump made over the weekend — including that “the Black people” like him because he’s been “discriminated against” in the legal system — six others agreed. No matter their frustration with Biden, voting for Trump was a non-starter for all but two people. 

But that’s not Biden’s only potential worry. While only one participant affirmatively said they’d back Trump in a one-on-one race, four others chose third-party candidates when given the option. 

One 28-year-old who criticized Biden’s handling of Israel’s war with Hamas shed light on a particular challenge Biden faces on his left. That participant, Shaleeya L., backed Biden unenthusiastically in 2020, but chose activist Cornel West on a five-way ballot. That said, Shaleeya questioned whether a vote for West was even worth it, and weighed not voting at all.  

“For a fact, I’m not voting for Trump. So if I don’t want to vote for Biden either, then my choice is to not vote.” — Shaleeya L., a 28-year-old from Gastonia 

Read the full story →

Dueling border visits show Trump’s immigration bet is paying off

Analysis by Jonathan Allen

Presidents rarely admit mistakes, especially when they’re seeking re-election.

But Biden’s trip to the southern border Thursday is a raw, if tacit, concession that he’s botched the politics of immigration policy — and evidence that Trump’s bet in focusing heavily on the issue is paying off. 

Biden didn’t have much choice. The president and his team could only plug their ears, close their eyes and stick out their tongues for so long as Americans increasingly express concern over immigration.

A Gallup survey released this week found that 28% of Americans said immigration was the most important problem facing the country, more than any other issue. Trump led Biden 57% to 22% among registered voters on the question of who would better handle immigration in an NBC News poll last month. And 61% of registered voters, including 30% of Democrats, said in an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll this month that they disapprove of Biden’s approach to the issue.

The fact that he made just his second trip to the border as president on the same day as Trump — who made a border crackdown the centerpiece of his first campaign, his presidency and now his bid to return to the Oval Office — only underscores the electoral stakes for Biden.

“We’re underwater on immigration, but things like today, like the visuals, this is a big gesture,” a Biden campaign adviser told NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell. “We are slowly going to turn that message and that narrative on their head and going there, having the (border visit) visuals, driving it home.”

Biden is banking on his ability to blame Republicans in Congress, and Trump, for blocking his spending package for border security — a likely justification if he takes executive action in the coming days to stem the tide of crossings.

It’s a tricky issue for Biden because it unites Republicans, who are focused on border security, and divides Democrats. If there was something he could do without the risk of alienating one segment of his party or another, he would have done it long ago.

Now, Biden has to focus on winning a half-dozen swing states in November, and his instinct has always been to move toward the center as a general election approaches.

The two parties’ bases are likely to be displeased with any Biden rhetoric or executive action on immigration — progressives because it’s too much and conservatives because it’s too little — but they aren’t the president’s targets.

The Democratic Party should take comfort that he’s giving more attention to an issue that’s been killing him with the broader electorate. Whether it works to blunt Trump’s edge on immigration remains to be seen.

🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • 🔥 In the hot seat: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was pressed by House lawmakers on why he did not notify Biden about his recent hospitalization following a cancer diagnosis. Read more →
  • 🎤 SOTU response: Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama will deliver the official GOP response to Biden’s State of the Union address next week. Read more →
  • 🧑‍🧑‍🧑‍ The Three Johns: Sen. John Cornyn of Texas became the first Republican to enter the race to replace Mitch McConnell, who announced he would step down from his leadership post in November. At least two other senators named “John” are expected to be contenders too. Read more →
  • 🐘 Amash pit: The GOP Senate primary in Michigan became even more crowded with former Rep. Justin Amash, a vocal Trump critic who left the party in 2019, jumping into the race. Read more →
  • 🤠 Texas hold ‘em: Ahead of next week’s primary in Texas, Democrats battling to take on GOP Sen. Ted Cruz are focusing on the issue of abortion, previewing a focus on the issue to come in the fall. Read more →
  • 🕜 Decision time: No Labels delegates will meet virtually on March 8 to decide whether to move forward with a third-party presidential bid. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at

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