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Let Them Fight
We are officially in Primary season.
Happy Friday my beautiful babies. I have the most cursed words in the English language to say to you: We are only 641 days away from the 2024 election. Naturally, we will be talking about Don, Ron, Non (a.k.a. Nikki Haley, whose name doesn’t rhyme with Don or Ron). Like Virgil accompanying Dante, I am your guide on this road into hell.
A lot of people have sort of forgotten this, but Donald J. Trump is actually running for President of the United States. He announced his run back in November. He had events last weekend. He is making statements every day. The dude is a full-on Presidential candidate, who is shaking hands and kissing babies.
Maybe Trump’s inevitability has made his run seem boring. Or maybe it’s because we know that one of his direct rivals will be Ron DeSantis (should he choose to run), and the race really won’t start until he gets in. Or maybe it’s because the GOP feels lifeless as a political party, with Marjorie Taylor Greene sitting on committees and George Santos. Or maybe it’s just early! It’s any one of ten thousand different reasons, but I think it’s undeniable that there is currently a GOP primary going on and it just really doesn’t fell like it.
That is until you get into Trump’s social media presence, which is currently confined to Truth Social. And I think when you look into that, you get a sense that Trump (1) knows DeSantis is his main rival, and that he (2) also has a good sense of what the GOP base cares about:
You can sort of see Trump’s strategy for taking on DeSantis, which is the same one he used against the entire GOP field in 2016: These guys are the establishment; I am an outsider (even though I was president once before). They make you promises, but I’m the only one who actually delivers.
I’m sure there are some people out there who will watch that old video of DeSantis and think, “Well, Paul Ryan is pretty great, and would be better than Kevin McCarthy.” Heck, I used to be OK with Paul Ryan. But that’s sort of the point: Those people do not really vote Republican anymore. Ryan was hated by both Democrats and the Republican base, which led his 29% approval rating.
I have said this a million times, but one of the biggest misunderstandings about Trump was that people assumed he enraptured the GOP base and then led them around America, getting them to bow to his every whim. But in reality, Trump’s major political gift is that he knows how to follow the GOP base around better than any other politician. You can see that in some of his other attacks on DeSantis, where he calls him a “RINO globalist” who “loved” the vaccines. Even Trump - who previously called on his supporters to get vaccinated - knows that his promotion of the vaccines and Operation Warp Speed (a true achievement) is a weakness for him with the GOP primary base.
However, his unique political skills also forced the majority of the GOP to ingratiate themselves to him, which has given him a pretty potent argument in the primary against his opponent. Recently, he played a video of Nikki Haley promising not to run for President if Trump did. Similarly, he has a video of DeSantis dressing his child in a MAGA shirt. And these are just the candidates who are currently “active” in the field; Trump will eat up guys like Larry Hogan - should he choose to run - without even breaking a sweat.
So, who is gonna win?
I think all the smart bets are on a showdown between Trump and DeSantis, and in this scenario, it’s honestly hard for me to see DeSantis pull out a win. DeSantis has been making a true effort lately to connect to the GOP base. Even leaving aside his recent move on pulling books from libraries in Florida, DeSantis catered to anti-vaxxers by promising to impanel a grand jury to “look into” the problems with the COVID-19 vaccines.
DeSantis’s own problem is that he is now doing a 180 on the vaccines. As Trump himself pointed out, there are videos of DeSantis sitting there while elderly people are vaccinated. Here is a press release from DeSantis’s office bragging about his vaccination campaign:
It was only a year ago that pretty much all of conservative media criticized 60 Minutes after they aired a deceptive piece hitting him for “vaccine favoritism.” Here is a headline from The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro’s website:
Basically, the argument back then was that DeSantis was doing such a great job of distributing the vaccines, that the liberal media was making stuff up to make him look bad. And honestly, they were right; the 60 Minutes piece was hot garbage. But now Shapiro says he wouldn’t have taken the vaccine:
Here is the fundamental problem conservative media has created with Trump: Because they elevated him to God Emperor status, he can literally say things like, “Ron DeSantis loved the vaccine and forced people to take it at gunpoint,” and half of Trump’s supporters will believe it.
Does DeSantis actually have the ability to thread the needle, and magically become anti-vaccine after being super pro-vaccine? Can he make himself anti-establishment while clearly being tied to the establishment? I really don’t think so. So far, only Trump seems to have this mojo. Then you can extrapolate this to any one of a dozen issues for conservatives, and you see why Trump seems so unbeatable in a GOP primary.
Surely, the GOP won’t elect Trump again?
So, the actual must-read for this week is this piece from McKay Coppins on the GOP’s magical thinking about Trump. Basically, everyone in the Party - even some of those who are outwardly supporting Trump - know he is toxic and likely to doom their 2024 chances. They are just waiting for something to stop him, like death, an indictment, or his own morality (stop laughing):
“You have a lot of folks who are just wishing for [Trump’s] mortal demise,” [former GOP Congressman Peter] Meijer told me. “I want to be clear: I’m not in that camp. But I’ve heard from a lot of people who will go onstage and put on the red hat, and then give me a call the next day and say, ‘I can’t wait until this guy dies.’ And it’s like, Good Lord.” (Trump’s mother died at 88 and his father at 93, so this strategy isn’t exactly foolproof.)
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this exact same sentiment. Republicans everywhere - in office and out of office - say regularly that they hope Trump dies so that they don’t have to deal with him anymore. They recognize, perhaps better than anyone, that he is a huge drag on the Party, and the longer he sticks around, the worse it is for everyone.
In a poll conducted for The Bulwark, Sarah Longwell gets to the heart of the GOP’s Trump problem. While their poll showed Trump losing to DeSantis, it also showed that 28% of Trump’s voters would support him if he ran third-party. This was met with skepticism from the Very Smart Republican class:
Yes, Ross “There Will Be No Trump Coup” Douthat thinks he has a good bead on what Trump will do if he loses a primary to DeSantis. But leave that aside: Trump does not have to take 28% of the GOP primary vote with him to cause problems. Heck, he doesn’t even have to take 15% or 10% of the vote with him. If just 5% of GOP primary voters either sit out or write-in Trump in 2024, Joe Biden (assuming he is Democratic nominee) wins:
The question is, then: Are 5% of Trump primary voters only Trump voters, or will they pony up and vote for “Pro-Vaccine DeSantis, who shut down his own beaches, listened to Tony Fauci, and is close with Jeb Bush?”
I have learned my lesson enough times: Never bet against Trump. I think he can do it, and I think both of his semi-declared opponents are weak.
Does any of this even matter?
I honestly think a lot of this is pointless, because Biden looks to be an overwhelming favorite heading into the 2024 election. First off, exactly four seconds after 12:00 PM on January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was the favorite to win the presidency in the next election. Incumbents carry a huge advantage in an election, especially in a Presidential election.
Second, just look at the jobs report today:
Unemployment is now at its lowest point since Nixon was president. Labor force participation is up. Wage growth is still continuing, but slowing at about the right clip (which is what the Fed wants to see). Inflation is on a downward trajectory, with the Fed reducing their most recent hike to .25 points. Basically, Dark Brandon is having a good moment. As we learned from 2020, a crisis can come at any time, but if this is the environment in 2024, Biden will be very difficult to beat, whether its a rematch of 2020 or if he is fighting off DeSantis and Haley.
Two things from Mother Jones: 1. A neat piece on the dude behind Died Suddenly, a laughably bad “documentary” on the danger of the COVID vaccines.
2. Earlier in the week the Columbia Journalism Review posted a bad piece on the media coverage of the Trump Russia scandal that was heavily criticized for shoddy reporting and lazy arguments. It basically is a re-tread of every anti-anti-Trump trope of the probe that has been repeated and debunked for years, so at 24,000 words, it is not worth reading. David Corn’s response to it is, however.
This piece from fellow Long Islander, Frank Scaturro is pretty great.
See you all again next week.