The Political Report – March 8, 2023

Donald Trump’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend was perhaps the darkest speech he’s ever given — and that’s saying something for a guy who began his presidency talking of “American carnage.”

At CPAC, Trump warned the country is “a nation in decline” and a “crime-ridden, filthy communist nightmare.” He spoke of waging a “final battle” with the “villains and scoundrels” and “sinister forces” on the left. He declared himself the “retribution” his followers were seeking.

When Trump was elected president in 2016, we were told his rhetoric was nothing more than an act by a reality television star. We were told he would surround himself with “grownups” to help him govern. The news media — and virtually the entire Republican party — treated him like a normal political leader.

But after years of watching Trump attack the Constitution and instigate a violent insurrection, it’s impossible to listen to Trump today and not worry for the country. When Trump says he’s seeking retribution, be clear that it’s because he was turned out of office in a fair election. Trump is not just another choice in an election this time. He’s an existential menace to our democracy and a threat to our national security.

Aaron Blake: “The line validates long-held suspicions that Trump’s 2024 campaign amounts to something of a ‘revenge tour.’ Trump has disputed that his goal is to stick it to his enemies; now he’s admitting that it is a revenge tour of sorts — if not for him personally, then for his supporters.”

“But as much as anything, it reflects just how much the Republican Party, despite its apparent interest in turning the page in 2024, has enabled Trump to rise again. There is no ‘revenge tour’ or ‘retribution’ without the GOP playing into speculative and often-fanciful ideas about the wrongs supposedly visited on its base — and which accordingly demand such vengeance. And there is no 2024 hopeful better situated to capitalize on that sense of persecution and injustice.”
“In that regard, the party and its allies made a series of fateful decisions in the three months after the 2020 election.”

“We know now the results of this thesis: We lose. We lost the House because of Trump in ’18. We lost the White House in ’20 because of Trump. We lost the Senate because of Trump in ’20 and ’22.”— Former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), quoted by the New York Times.

Donald Trump “is strongly considering picking a female running mate — and sees Kari Lake as a model for his vice-presidential pick,“ Axios reports.

“Trump is already gaming out the general election in November 2024 — and knows he has a massive weakness with the white suburban women he would need to beat President Biden.”

Other names mentioned: Kristi Noem, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Nikki Haley.

“Donald Trump hates losing so much that he has suggested he will mount a third-party campaign if he doesn’t win the Republican presidential nomination,” Bloomberg reports.

“But he can’t win that way either, thanks to ‘sore loser’ laws in six states he would need to return to the White House.”

“Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, as well as Arkansas and Alabama, have laws that bar a candidate defeated in a major-party primary from running as an independent or on a third-party ticket in the general election. That would put Trump at the general-election starting gate with a deficit of 91 electoral votes of the 270 required to capture the White House.”

Walter Shapiro: “The current Fox News numbers are impressive until you realize that 30 million Republicans voted in the 2016 presidential primaries. As a result, it is safe to assume that about 27 million of these GOP stalwarts are not watching Fox News on a typical evening. Reporters sometimes forget that most primary voters have better things to do with their lives than watch Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity.”

“In contrast, most political journalists are addicted to cable news, as many of them dream of a network pundit contract. So media coverage almost always exaggerates the importance of cable TV news. And it downplays other more pedestrian sources of political information, such as local TV news and the nightly reports on the broadcast networks.”

Walter Shapiro: “In 1995, Texas GOP Senator Phil Gramm confidently declared, ‘I have the most reliable friend that you can have in American politics, and that is ready money.’ Gramm dropped out after Iowa. In 2015, Jeb Bush was awash in money. His super PAC blew through $118 million, while his campaign spent another $34 million. And, of course, in 2020 Democrat Michael Bloomberg squandered a stunning $1.1 billion of his own money in just three months on his way to winning the caucuses in American Samoa.”

“Last month, it was front-page news that the conservative fundraising network originally associated with the Koch brothers was going to oppose Trump in the GOP primaries. But it is easy to overplay the significance of this anti-Trump move. Super PACs are handicapped in primaries because they are legally charged a much higher rate for TV ads than the candidates themselves. Also, the saturation media coverage of the presidential race means major contenders for the White House are much less dependent on TV ads than, say, Senate or House candidates.”

McKay Coppins: “Billed as the conservative movement’s marquee annual gathering, the conference was once known for its ability to draw together the right’s various factions and force them to compete noisily for supremacy. In the 1990s, Pat Buchanan rallied paleoconservative activists against the Bob Dole wing of the GOP. In the early 2010s, Tea Partiers in Revolutionary-era garb roamed the premises while scruffy libertarians hustled to win the straw poll for Ron Paul. Yes, the speakers would say controversial things, and yes, presidential candidates would give sporadically newsworthy speeches. But more than anything, it was the friction that gave the proceedings their electric, carnivalesque quality—that rare, sometimes frightening sense that anything could happen.”

“This year, that friction was notably absent. Trump, who jump-started his career as a political celebrity with a speech at CPAC in 2011, has so thoroughly captured the institution that many of the GOP’s other stars didn’t even bother to show up. Everything about the conference—the speakers, the swag, the media personalities broadcasting from outside the ballroom—suggested that it was little more than a three-day MAGA pep rally.”

“The result: In my decade of covering the event, I’d never seen it more dead.”

Ed Kilgore: “An odd amnesia seems to have obliterated memories of how completely screwed Trump initially seemed as a prospective rival to Hillary Clinton. According to the RealClearPolitics polling averages from that year, Trump trailed Clinton by nearly 20 points in trial heats shortly after he announced his candidacy. Yes, he did better in later polls, but despite the partisan hype, few people were convinced he would win. He was all but written off by a variety of party figures after the Access Hollywood tapes came out in October 2016. Republican senators Kelly Ayotte, John Thune, Deb Fischer, Mike Crapo, Cory Gardner, Mark Kirk, Lisa Murkowski, and Dan Sullivan, as well as governors Gary Herbert and Bill Haslam, all renounced their support for him instantly. Then–Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told his members they should feel free to abandon their presidential nominee.”

“How electable did he look then? Even when the furor had calmed down, there was a raging debate among pollsters and pundits aimed at Nate Silver’s allegedly too positive projection that Trump had a 29 percent chance of winning. And disputes about how so many people got so much of the 2016 election wrong dragged on for years.”

“So are we now supposed to believe that the Republicans who made Trump president in 2016 are going to write him off in 2024 because he can’t possibly win? The same Donald Trump who again defied the polls and nearly pulled off another shocker in 2020? And the same Republican voters who to a considerable extent believe Trump actually won a second time? This does not make a great deal of sense.”

NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR. The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling’s new survey for the progressive group Carolina Forward finds Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson edging out Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein 44-42 ahead of their likely match next year. Robinson, unlike Stein, has not yet announced he’s running for governor, though the far-right politician unsubtly used the weekend’s CPAC gathering to say, “It’s time for me to stand up and serve.”

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. The May Republican primary officially entered the negative campaigning stage this week when former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft’s allies at Commonwealth PAC launched its opening TV spot against the frontrunner, Attorney General Daniel Cameron. It’s not clear yet how much money is going into this inaugural attack, though: The Lexington Herald-Leader puts the size of the buy at $600,000, while Politico says the group “has placed nearly $930,000 in broadcast, cable, satellite and radio advertising to run over two weeks.”

The narrator charges that Cameron is “nice, but he’s no strong Kentucky conservative,” and goes on to attack him for not signing onto a lawsuit against the Biden administration over “the border wall.” The spot, without naming Craft, goes on ask if viewers would rather have “a conservative grizzly bear” in charge of Kentucky or the state’s “soft establishment teddy bear.” Cameron responded to that last bit by tweeting out a photo of a teddy sporting an “I ♡ Cameron” shirt.

NEVADA U.S. SENATOR. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei dismissed any talk that he could challenge Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen next year, though he did it in a way that left us wondering what he was talking about. “In terms of contributing to public service at the federal legislative level, I have no desire to enter the whole culture of mini-nationals in running for the Senate,” Amodei told the Nevada Independent’s Gabby Birenbaum, though he doesn’t appear to have explained what “the whole culture of mini-nationals” means to him.

Birenbaum, meanwhile, lists a few new names as possible GOP contenders to join what Amodei may think is the Model UN, though none of them have publicly expressed interest:

  • former Rep. Cresent Hardy
  • Pawn Stars star Rick Harrison
  • 2016 nominee Joe Heck
  • former Sen. Dean Heller
  • Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian

The only notable Republican we’ve heard express interest is Army veteran Sam Brown, who lost last year’s primary for the other Senate seat to Adam Laxalt 56-34, though Brown doesn’t appear to have said anything since last November. Laxalt, who went on to lose a tight contest to Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, also has been occasionally mentioned as a possible foe against Rosen, though he’s also yet to show any obvious interest.

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. The Washington Post’s Liz Goodwin reports that NRSC chair Steve Daines “has declined to express enthusiasm” about the idea of Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale seeking the Republican nod to take on Daines’ homestate colleague, Democratic incumbent Jon Tester. Goodwin adds that the junior senator “is actively looking for other candidates, though there’s no word on whom Daines does want to step up.

Rosendale, who lost to Tester 50-47 in 2018, has not yet decided if he’ll seek a rematch, but the well-funded Club for Growth said last month it would support him if ran. Rosendale’s detractors, however, got a new talking point Monday when the congressman was left explaining why he’d posed for a photo with two prominent white supremacists last week.

Rosendale told the Billings Gazette of the picture, which journalist Vishal Singh publicized, that “I absolutely condemn and have zero tolerance for hate groups, hate speech, and violence. I did not take a meeting with these individuals.” He continued, “I was asked for a photo while walking between hearings, accommodating as I do for all photo requests, and was not aware of the individuals’ identity or affiliation with these hate groups that stand in stark contrast to my personal beliefs.”

One of Rosendale’s companions in the picture was Greyson Arnold, a Nazi sympathizer who has a history of appearing with Republican extremists. Last fall, failed Washington House candidate Joe Kent also attracted unwelcome attention when news broke that he’d done an interview with him months before. Kent, like Rosendale, argued he had no idea who Arnold was.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. An unnamed source tells Politico that actor Harper Hill plans to announce in April that he’ll run to succeed his fellow Democrat, retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Hill, who is still part of the cast of “The Good Doctor,” would join a primary that Rep. Elissa Slotkin currently has to herself.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. “With just seven months until Louisiana’s election for governor, Shawn Wilson (D) officially entered the gubernatorial race Monday, becoming the first prominent Democrat to seek the seat later this year,” the AP reports.

“The former head of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, who appears to be the only high-profile Democrat that will run for the state’s top government post in October, announced his candidacy on social media and released an official campaign video Monday morning.”

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. The National Journal’s Matt Holt mentions former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and state Sen. Shevrin Jones as possible opponents for Republican Sen. Rick Scott, though Holt writes that both Democrats “declined to comment” about their interest.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Failed Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano (R) told Politico he’s considering challenging Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) in 2024.

WEST VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Sunday that he’d decide “in December” if he’ll seek re-election, a timeline that ensures we’re in for numerous more “What Will Joe Manchin Do” stories for the rest of the year.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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