The Political Report – August 22, 2023

Donald Trump holds a commanding lead over the rest of the 2024 Republican presidential field in Iowa — and a more than 2-to-1 lead over his closest rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis — with about five months to Caucus Day, a new Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows.

Among those likely caucusgoers, 42% say they plan to support Trump — a lead of 23 percentage points over DeSantis, who is at 19%. Sen. Tim Scott follows in third place with 9%.

NBC News: “Trump is fueled by his standing among self-identified Republicans and evangelical Christians, as well as by the two-thirds of likely caucusgoers who don’t believe he has committed serious crimes as he faces charges in multiple indictments.”

Russell Berman: “A new, broader survey of Republican voters suggests that the indictments have, in fact, dented Trump’s advantage in the primary. The study was designed by a group of university researchers who argue that pollsters have been asking the wrong questions to assess how the indictments have affected Republican voters.”

Mike Murphy: “For all the punditocracy noise about national primary voter polls and Donald Trump’s supposed unbreakable lock on the Republican Party (I’m still dubious), in my view the nomination race boils down to a brutally simple formula: somebody has to beat Trump in Iowa and then a week or so later in New Hampshire. That would upend the race and Trump would quickly melt into orange goo Wicked Witch of the West style. And the polling I see shows Trump doing worse in Iowa and New Hampshire — where he is starting to have competition — than he is nationally.”

“With enough vodka, you can formulate this beat Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire scenario for each of the major contenders. DeSantis could have a comeback, he’s doing better on the ground in Iowa than in the airy salons and green rooms of the Beltway conventional wisdom machine. But the terror of Tallahassee is still a lousy candidate with campaign mired in a Stalingrad of fratricide while saddled with a lousy strategy of being a dime-store version of Donald Trump. Nikki Haley might have a terrific debate moment, which somehow fuels a comeback. Maybe. But probably not. Vivek Ramaswamy is enjoying the primary cycle’s usual Ben Carson/Herman Cain/Steve Forbes outsider oddball’s early bump, but I doubt it will last through the winter. Doug Burgum, despite a terrific launch video, is inexplicably running for Secretary of Energy. I’ll discuss the ceiling hanging over Chris Christie a bit later.”

“To my mind, it is Sen. Tim Scott who has the biggest set of advantages.”

Ron Brownstein: “In each of the past three contested GOP nomination fights, Iowa Republicans have rejected the candidate considered the national front-runner in the race, as Trump is now. Instead, in each of those three past caucuses, Iowa Republicans delivered victory to an alternative who relied primarily on support from the state’s powerful bloc of evangelical Christian conservatives.”

“But each of those three recent Iowa winners failed to capture the Republican presidential nomination or, in the end, even to come very close. All three of them were eventually defeated, handily, by the front-runner that they beat in Iowa. That pattern played out in 2008 when Mike Huckabee won Iowa but then lost the nomination to John McCain, in 2012 when Rick Santorum won Iowa but lost the nomination to Mitt Romney, and in 2016 when Ted Cruz won Iowa but lost the nomination to Trump. Not since George W. Bush in 2000, and before him Bob Dole in 1996, has the winner of the Iowa caucus gone on to become the GOP nominee.”

“That record frames the stakes for this round of the Iowa caucus, which will begin the GOP nominating process next January 15. Beating Trump in Iowa remains central to any hope of denying him the nomination.”

The latest CBS News/YouGov poll finds that Donald Trump’s supporters trust him more than religious leaders, more than conservative media figures and even more than their own friends and families.

The question wasn’t about a specific issue or event. It wasn’t about Trump’s legal problems.

It was simply about whether they believed Trump told the truth.

If you’ve had a hard time understanding the level of devotion Trump has among his followers, this poll isn’t going to help much.

It’s truly astounding.

THE DEBATE. “Donald Trump is now officially bowing out of the first GOP debate in Milwaukee later this week, but his team is planning a blitz of sorts to keep him in the mix,” Semafor reports.

“The Trump campaign intends to have surrogates in the ‘Spin Room’ after the debate, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Carlos Gimenez and former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. Some of Trump’s most senior aides — Chris LaCivita, Jason Miller, and Steven Cheung — will also be in town, and have plans to attend the debate.”

Washington Post: The elephant (not) in the GOP debate room.

Playbook: “While we often point out that making the debate stage is the most important hurdle for any Republican aspirant running in the primaries, hosting a presidential primary debate is enormously important to television networks. But for the Murdoch empire, beset by upstart rivals, it is existential.”

“Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump are the two most important sources of information for Republican voters, and in the last eight years they have waged war for supremacy. Sometimes they use each other (Trump gets airtime, Fox gets ratings), sometimes they are closely aligned (as in a general election against the Democrats), and sometimes they are openly hostile to one another (during primary season in 2015-2016 and again today when Fox and other Murdoch entities search for an alternative to Trump).”

“As with other power centers of the modern GOP that have not fully embraced MAGA, such as the Senate Republican leadership, Trump is again attacking Fox News with the same fury — and weird specificity — that he usually reserves for political rivals.”

Politico: “Even if Trump doesn’t show, the debates will still command larger audiences than anything else the candidates will do over the next six months. So it’s an unparalleled opportunity for those seeking their breakthrough moment, like Tim Scott, Nikki Haley or Vivek Ramaswamy. And the peril for a once-hyped hopeful like Ron DeSantis if he doesn’t deliver is real.”

“Yes, Trump has a huge lead in the national polling at this stage — far larger than any of the six primaries we examine below — and a slightly-smaller-but-still-commanding advantage in the early states. But if he’s serious about skipping the debate, he risks being upstaged.”

The Hill: DeSantis rivals sharpen knives for first debate.

“Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he has met the donor threshold to participate in the first GOP primary debate after a swell of contributions that followed GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s indictments for alleged election interference,” USA Today reports.

“Hutchinson said he surpassed the required 40,000 unique donors on Saturday evening. The insurgent Republican candidate attributed the donor surge to his sharp warnings about the GOP’s future with Trump as its leader.”

TRUMP 2024. “Donald Trump’s campaign is upping its efforts to stop Republicans who use his name and likeness to fundraise without the former president’s consent,” Politico reports.

“Donald Trump confirmed Sunday that he will skip the first Republican presidential primary debate Wednesday — and indicated he may not attend future ones, either,” NBC News reports.

“The former president wrote on his Truth Social media platform that polling shows him leading in the Republican primary field by such a wide margin that he doesn’t need to stand alongside his rivals on the debate stage.”

Politico: “Trump’s presence will still loom large over the debate.”

Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle will attend the first GOP debate of the 2024 election cycle despite Donald Trump’s absence, the Daily Caller reports.

Although Donald Trump is skipping the first Republican debate, he “has repeatedly said publicly that he wants debates” with President Biden, “and Mr. Trump’s advisers view face-offs with the incumbent president as vital to Mr. Trump’s chances of winning,” the New York Times reports.

“It is unusually early to begin considering the contours of a general election debate, with months still to go until the Iowa caucuses and not a single vote cast in a primary race so far defined by Mr. Trump’s four criminal indictments. But with both parties heading in the direction of renominating the same candidates as in 2020 — Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump — some thinking has already gone into potential matchups, at least on the Trump side.”

“The strong desire of Mr. Trump and his advisers to see him debate Mr. Biden may lead to Mr. Trump undercutting work by the R.N.C., which has spent the last two years searching for an alternative to the Commission on Presidential Debates for hosting general election matchups.”

MAGA Inc., the super PAC behind Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential bid, is out tomorrow with a new ad slamming President Biden on the economy.

DESANTIS 2024. Axios: “The debate is a crossroads for DeSantis. He’s far behind Trump in GOP polls, and Republican megadonors who want a Trump alternative tell Axios they’ll be watching to see whether DeSantis — or anyone else — has a hope of contending.”

“That’s why the Florida governor’s top advisers expect the theme of the night to be “dog-pile on Ron” for many of the eight other expected GOP candidates.”

The Trump campaign and MAGA world on Saturday blasted Gov. Ron DeSantis for remarks appearing to label some of the former president’s supporters “listless vessels,” Politico reports.

Said DeSantis: “A movement can’t be about the personality of one individual. If all we are is listless vessels that’s just supposed to follow, you know, whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning, that’s not going to be a durable movement.”

Said Trump adviser Jason Miller: “Looks like Ron DeSanctimonious just had his ‘Basket of Deplorables’ moment.”

“On a weekend tour through New Hampshire, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida debuted a noticeably revamped version of his stump speech that focused more on the economy and border security — issues that voters in the Republican presidential primary say they care about deeply — while leaning less heavily on his reputation as a culture warrior and his record leading his home state,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. DeSantis offered a more personal touch, opening one speech with an anecdote about his first visit to Fenway Park during his time on the Yale baseball team and told the crowd at another event about a stranger buying him an elaborate meal at a steakhouse where he got to wear his dress-white Navy uniform out in public for the first time.”

“Both reflected a marked change from his usual, more generic introduction, which remains in the speech, about sending President Biden ‘back to his basement.’”

Washington Post: “To help them haul in large sums of money, the document suggested that lobbyists be allowed to offer their clients certain perks, such as meals and rounds of golf with DeSantis, who loves the sport. DeSantis’s fundraisers envisioned that some golf outings with the governor would net contributions of $75,000 or more, according to other emails among DeSantis’s political advisers.”

“While it is common for politicians to seek donations from lobbyists, the efforts by DeSantis to effectively auction off his leisure time to those seeking to influence state policy created a special pathway of access for wealthy donors to the governor that is striking in the way that it was documented in writing, ethics experts said.”

Molly Ball: “DeSantis’s attempt to personalize these issues has limits. When I ask how he was parented, he talks about where his parents were from—Youngstown, Ohio, and Aliquippa, Penn.—but says nothing about them as people. When I ask whether his view of the primacy of family comes from his faith, he responds in generalities rather than give a window into his personal spirituality.”

Said DeSantis: “My marriage and family, that’s just something that I always envisioned that would happen, and that’s been something that’s been very, very positive for me as a person.”

“And when I ask how he’ll respond if one of his children turns out to be gay or trans, his eyes flash momentarily, and he swiftly shuts down the question.”

He adds: “Well, my children are my children. We’ll leave that—we’ll leave that between my wife and I.”

RAMASWAMY 2024. Vivek Ramaswamy told Fox News that he was “not interested” in being someone’s running mate if he does not win the Republican presidential nomination.

“If Vivek Ramaswamy wants to appear on Newsmax, he should pay to do it,” Semafor reports.

“That was the message that network chief Chris Ruddy delivered to the Republican presidential candidate during a private call earlier this summer, according to two people to whom the candidate described the conversation. Ramaswamy had complained that the right-leaning network was sticking him in little-watched midday slots or ignoring him outright.”

“Ruddy also suggested a solution, Ramaswamy told associates: buy more television ads on the network.”

SOMEONE ELSE 2024. “Several top GOP donors, panicked about their current choices, are holding back 2024 money with the long-shot dream of luring an alternative to former President Trump into the presidential race at the last minute,” Axios reports.

“Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp are getting secret overtures from establishment Republicans — and haven’t ruled out running.”

Playbook: “The Youngkin yearning is probably a pipe dream. If the governor waited to enter the race until after the November elections in Virginia, he’d forfeit two of the first four states, Nevada and South Carolina, which have October qualifying deadlines, and risk not qualifying in his own state of Virginia, which has a December 14 deadline.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) described the case against Donald Trump for allegedly mishandling classified documents as “almost a slam dunk” and said he thinks Trump should drop out of the 2024 presidential race, CNN reports.

Said Cassidy: “I mean, you’re just asking me my opinion. But he will lose to Joe Biden, if you look at the current polls.”

He added: “I think any Republican on that stage in Milwaukee will do a better job than Joe Biden. And so I want one of them to win. If former President Trump ends up getting the nomination, but cannot win a general, that means we will have four more years of policies which have led to very high inflation … and to many other things which I think have been deleterious to our country’s future.”

“I do believe that Doug is probably the most normal of these — that’s a pretty weird group of folks going to be on the debate stage. Doug’s a pretty good guy, but he’s trapped in a Republican Party with no ideas.”

— Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D), quoted by Politico, on North Dakota Gov. Doug Bergum (R).

“An obscure race for county commissioner underway here in a suburb outside of Philadelphia could tell us a lot about who will win the presidential election in 2024,” Politico reports. “Bucks County is one of the swingiest counties in one of the swingiest states in America.”

“This year it is home to a local race that has the hallmarks of a race for national office: Candidates sparring over book bans in schools, crime and public safety, and the security of democracy in the next presidential election.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) urged Republican presidential candidates in a New York Times op-ed to drop out of the crowded primary if they do not qualify for the first two debates.

Said Sununu: “It must be said that candidates who stay in this race when they have no viable path should be called out… At a minimum, any candidate who does not make the stage for the first two debates must drop out.”

He added: “I plan to endorse and campaign for the best alternative to Mr. Trump. As of now, it’s anyone’s for the taking.”

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that running for president this cycle “is not something as of today that I see happening for a number of reasons.”

Said Phillips: “Setting up a competitive campaign, the infrastructure, the people, the systems in multi-states, requires a tremendous amount of effort and time, and there are people who have laid that groundwork. I’m not one of them. Perhaps in the future. We’ll see about that.”

“President Joe Biden is preparing to blanket the airwaves with a $25 million television and digital ad campaign in battleground states this month as Republicans are set to face off in their first presidential primary debate,” CNN reports.

“The first minute-long ad, titled Fought Back, which was first obtained by CNN, has an economic focus, marking the campaign’s latest effort to improve voter perceptions about Biden’s handling of the economy. It also makes explicit reference to Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, as Democrats attempt to tie GOP candidates at this week’s debate to Trump’s ‘MAGA agenda.’”

New York Times: “The focus on ‘electability’ — the basic notion of which candidate has the best shot of winning a general election — was most intense in the aftermath of the disappointing 2022 midterms. Republicans were stung by losses of Trump-backed candidates in key swing states like Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And the issue offered a way to convince a Republican electorate still very much in the thrall of Mr. Trump to consider throwing its lot in with a fresh face in 2022. It was a permission slip to move on.”

“But nine months later, interviews with pollsters, strategists, elected officials and Republican voters in early-voting states show that the dim Republican opinion of Mr. Biden’s mental faculties and political skills has complicated that case in deep and unexpected ways.”

“Mr. Trump’s rivals are still pushing an electability case against the former president, but even their advisers and other strategists acknowledge that the diminished views of Mr. Biden have sapped the pressure voters once felt about the need to nominate someone new.”

Associated Press: “Wisconsin will be one of the biggest toss-ups in the general election. It’s a distinction held by a shrinking but often-shifting number of places, as former swing states like Ohio and Florida become more reliably Republican and Virginia and Colorado more Democratic.”

“That leaves Wisconsin along with Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada as among the most competitive states that could decide the presidency.”

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

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