Here’s the key question facing GOP voters in January — and beyond

Happening this Wednesday: We are now 12 days until the Iowa caucuses… NBC’s Dasha Burns and the Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel interview Vivek Ramaswamy… Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis campaign in the Hawkeye State, while Nikki Haley stumps in New Hampshire… Biden campaign announces president will deliver speech marking Jan. 6 anniversary and casting Trump as a threat to democracy… And Happy New Year!

But FIRST… It’s going to be a jam-packed January. 

The Iowa caucuses (on Jan. 15). The New Hampshire primary (on Jan. 23). The debates before those contests. The polls. The closing arguments in Donald Trump’s New York civil fraud trial (Jan. 11). And the Supreme Court likely deciding whether Trump can be on the ballot in Colorado, Maine and elsewhere (TBD). 

Yet here’s maybe the biggest question of all looming over January, as well as over the next three months: Do a majority of Republican voters still want Trump to continue as their party’s leader? 

Because if they do, he’s going to be their nominee, setting up that inevitable presidential rematch versus President Joe Biden. 

Despite Trump’s four different criminal indictments. Despite the challenges to keep him off ballot by invoking the 14th amendment. Despite the GOP’s losses in 2018, 2020 and 2022. And despite all of the other controversy surrounding him and his political rhetoric. 

It’s the biggest political storyline in the first part of 2024, at least until we get to the start of that first Trump criminal trial on March 4 — the day before Super Tuesday. 

And according to our last national NBC News poll of 2023, 50% of Republican primary voters said they wanted Trump to continue as their party’s leader, versus 23% who said Trump was a good leader but it’s time for the GOP to consider other leaders, and another 23% who said the GOP needed to go in an entirely different direction. 

Does that 50% increase? Decrease? Stay the same? 

It’s the essential question heading into the caucuses and primaries.

Headline of the day

The number of the day is … $105 million

That’s how much money Republican presidential candidates and outside groups spent on ads in Iowa alone in 2023, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact. SFA Fund Inc., the super PAC supporting former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, surged to be the top-spending group in Iowa last year.  

Never Back Down, a super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, was the second-largest Iowa ad spender in 2023, but the group recently pulled its ad reservations amid internal turmoil, and other pro-DeSantis groups are launching ads instead.  

So far, SFA Fund Inc. is also outpacing other campaigns and outside groups over the next two weeks before the Jan. 15 caucuses. Read more about Iowa ad spending and some of the campaign’s recent ads on 

Eyes on 2024: Biden to center democracy in campaign pitch 

President Joe Biden’s campaign on Tuesday laid out new plans to make its case that Trump is a threat to democracy, including a Saturday speech in Valley Forge, Pa., to mark the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, NBC News’ Megan Lebowitz reports.

Biden’s deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said during a Tuesday press call that Biden “will make the case directly that democracy and freedom — two powerful ideas that united the 13 colonies and that generations throughout our nation’s history have fought and died for a stone’s throw from where he’ll be Saturday — remains central to the fight we’re in today,” per Lebowitz. 

The Biden campaign plans to focus on threats to democracy throughout the 2024 campaign, with Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez saying, “”Our message is clear and it is simple: We are running a campaign like the fate of our democracy depends on it. Because it does.” 

While Biden makes his case on Saturday, Trump will be in Iowa for two rallies, per NBC’s Jake Traylor. 

In other campaign news … 

Debate drama: CNN announced Tuesday that Trump, DeSantis and Haley each qualified for the network’s Jan. 10 debate in Iowa. NBC’s Jake Traylor reports that Trump will instead participate in a live town hall event with Fox News. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy announced he would counterprogram the debate with a live podcast interview, per NBC’s Katherine Koretski.  

Dem drama: Biden will be the lone Democratic candidate on North Carolina’s primary ballot, the state’s election board decided on Tuesday, per the Associated Press. Minnesota Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips sharply criticized the decision amid his own longshot primary bid, likening the move to Iranian elections, writing on X, “Never imagined the Florida and North Carolina Democratic Parties would use Iran’s tactics to guarantee the outcome of an election.”

99 counties, twice: Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy on Tuesday celebrated the completion of what he’s dubbed the “Double Grassley,” after he visited every county in Iowa twice over the course of his Republican presidential primary bid NBC News’ Alex Tabet, Lindsey Pipia and Katherine Koretski report.

A tale of two Steves: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise announced Tuesday that he is endorsing Trump in the GOP primary, even after Trump did not back Scalise’s unsuccessful speakership bid. And former Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King announced that he is endorsing Ramaswamy. (King lost his 2020 primary after he was removed from his committees for making racist comments.)

Lieberman on No Labels: Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, No Labels’ founding chairman, told CNBC that the group is reaching out to potential candidates for its presidential ticket, noting that “right now nobody is saying ‘No,’ but nobody is saying ‘Yes, I’m ready to declare.’”

More allegations: Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., is facing more allegations as part of a second superseding indictment filed on Tuesday, which says that Menendez was involved in helping a New Jersey developer secure an investment from a Qatari-linked company, per NBC’s Tom Winter and Dareh Gregorian. Menendez has not yet said if he is running for re-election this year. 

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world:  

NBC News’ Sahil Kapur previews five big fights facing Congress this year, including a looming government shutdown and a clash over funding for Israel and Ukraine.

An armed man in Colorado broke into a Denver building that houses the state’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, causing “significant and extensive damage” to the building,” NBC News’ Rebecca Shabad reports.

A federal appeals court ruled that Texas can ban emergency abortions, even as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that a federal statute supersedes Texas’ law.