The Political Report – August 24, 2023

It’s hard to imagine a better debate for Donald Trump — and he wasn’t even there. When the Republican candidates were asked if they would still support Trump — even if he were convicted of the criminal charges against him — all but Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson raised their hands.

It’s a shocking reality of how these candidates perceive Republican voters.

Ron DeSantis needed to outperform expectations — which were already low — and he didn’t come close. The other candidates almost entirely ignored him. It’s hard to imagine he’ll still be in this race by the time Iowa votes.

Vivek Ramaswamy tried to dominate every exchange by repeating right-wing rhetoric from conservative media back to an audience that consumes only conservative media. But the other candidates obviously see it working, which is why they spent so much time attacking him.

It’s worth pointing out that both DeSantis and Ramaswamy are weird. That’s the main reason why Trump isn’t afraid of either of them.

Nikki Haley, Tim Scott and Doug Burgum are the most “normal” of the candidates but only Haley seemed to improve her standing among the field. She had good responses to exchanges on abortion and the war in Ukraine.

Mike Pence, Christie and Hutchinson are obviously struggling in today’s Republican party. Their criticisms of Trump are completely out of step with GOP voters.

By the end of the debate, none of the eight candidates gained much traction. They spent two hours tearing each other apart while leaving Trump unscathed.

Trump did the right thing by skipping this debate. Don’t be surprised to see him get the biggest bounce in the next round of polls.

Josh Marshall: “Our first impressions were pretty similar: surprisingly strong showing by Mike Pence. [I]t was Pence who took up that challenge [of bringing the fight to Trump] and he managed to wrestle applause from the audience for doing it. There’s a strong element of ‘not that it matters’. But in the context of this debate, it was Pence.

DeSantis had what I’d call a marginally positive showing for his campaign. The worst thing for DeSantis is that no one was attacking him because basically no one cares. But DeSantis did manage to remain apart from the big fights of the evening and to rattle off, mostly uninterpreted, his basic stock lines without a wild amount of weirdness. Again, this only makes sense in the context of radically diminished expectations. But in that context, marginally positive.

Then there’s Vivek Ramaswamy who in many ways was the dominating force through the debate but also came off as what I can only call a cocky little shit. He was dominating in the vein of the cocky know-it-all who talks constantly in class and everyone ends up hating. My own response was visceral and I got the sense that the other candidates up their dislike him in a deeply personal way. I think most Republicans will react similarly. But there’s a smallish but not insubstantial slice of the GOP electorate that likes that trollish, debate me! vibe and they’ll like him a lot. Given that 60% of the vote is already locked up with and that this whole debate was about the remaining 40%, even that smallish slice can be significant.”

Daily Beast: “With axes to grind against Fox News, Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson held another lengthy and largely amicable discussion that was posted online five minutes before the right-wing network’s first GOP primary debate Wednesday—a discussion that began with Carlson asking the quadruply indicted former president why he skipped the event.

“Do I sit there for an hour or two hours—whatever it’s going to be—and get harassed by people that shouldn’t even be running for president?” Trump said in the pre-taped interview, which Carlson oddly hyped up as “debate night in Bedminster.”

Trump went on to criticize Fox News—“a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me”—for “backing” Florida Gov. Ron Desantis. “And now they’ve given up on him. It’s a lost cause,” Trump said, perhaps aware of the network’s increased attention on GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.

Trump further explained that it felt “more appropriate” for him to not attend. He then cited his wide leads in several polls—an argument he has made in Truth Social posts in recent weeks. […] “I’m going to have all these people screaming, shouting questions at me, all of which I love answering, I love doing, but it doesn’t make sense to do them. So I’ve taken a pass, as you’ve probably noticed,” Trump said, cracking up Carlson.”

President Biden’s reelection campaign has purchased airtime on Fox News and plans to run its first national television advertisement of the 2024 cycle during the time slot directly before Wednesday’s 9 p.m. ET debate, Semafor reports.

Fox prohibited candidates from purchasing ads during the actual debate.

Mother Jones: “Donald Trump may have skipped the first Republican presidential debate. But nearly one hour into the televised event on Wednesday, the issue of the former president’s four indictments, and whether the eight candidates on the debate stage would support his candidacy should he be convicted, took center stage.

“If former president Trump is convicted in a court of law, would you still support him as your party’s choice?” Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked during the debate’s portion intended to address the “elephant not in the room.” Baier then asked the candidates to raise their hands to confirm their support.

The first hand to shoot up belonged to Vivek Ramaswamy, the self-funding, 38-year-old amateur rapper. What followed was a strange rollout of five more hands, some appearing more reluctant than others, indicating they too would support a convicted, four-times indicted, twice-impeached loser for the presidency. That included Mike Pence.

Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson declined.”

Matt Lewis: “Everyone hates Vivek. That was the biggest takeaway from the Fox News debate on Wednesday night. And who can blame them?

“I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for,” Vivek Ramaswamy boldly declared after calling climate change a “hoax.” This broadside was arguably the moment that Ramaswamy became the most hated person on the debate stage, at least by his Republican adversaries.

Ramaswamy, a slick, young, rich man in a hurry (who has been gaining in the polls), came into this debate with the idea that he should pander to the base with impunity and simultaneously be involved in every skirmish. This is often a smart move, akin to controlling the clock in a football game.

But he forgot that he was facing some talented (and vastly more experienced) competitors, and that picking a fight with seven adversaries might amount to biting off more than he could chew, especially for a “rookie,” as Mike Pence called him.

Out of the gate, he looked pompous and oleaginous, with what can only be described as a smarmy, shit-eating grin that belied his sharp elbows. Regarding the slickness, Christie observed that he sounded “like ChatGPT.” And regarding the elbows, at one point, even Sen. Tim Scott—you know, the optimistic guy who has a reputation for being too nice—even accused him of “being childish.”

Ramaswamy’s first line—“I want to just address the question that is on everyone’s mind at home tonight. Who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name?”—essentially plagiarized Barack Obama. Christie, who was on the ball, called him on it. (Ramaswamy responded by reminding us of the time Christie hugged the former president following Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of large parts of New Jersey.)”

TRUMP 2024. Axios: “No presidential candidate has closed the gap on a lead as wide as Trump’s since at least the 1970s.”

“Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is endorsing Donald Trump, giving the former president the support of a governor whose state is expected to hold its nominating contest on the all-important ‘Super Tuesday’ primary date,” Politico reports.

“There is Donald Trump, and then there is everyone else,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“That has been the story of the race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination so far, and it will be again Wednesday night on the debate stage in Milwaukee, where eight Republican hopefuls will try to emerge from the former president’s shadow at an event he doesn’t feel the need to attend.”

“Their challenge: trying to grab some of the spotlight from Trump and show their viability before a prime-time audience. Millions of devoted Republicans as well as some independent and Democratic voters will be watching as the GOP wrestles with whether the party should continue to follow Trump’s lead or find a new standard-bearer.”

Washington Post: “That the two men [Trump and Tucker Carlson] were talking at all seemed extraordinary given what had transpired between them. Trump and Carlson are both giant figures on America’s political right, their interests and ambitions long intertwined. But in March, a trove of text messages released as part of a lawsuit against Fox revealed Carlson had once confided that he hated Trump ‘passionately’ and that he couldn’t wait until he could ‘ignore Trump most nights.’”

“Now, with Trump seeking a third straight Republican nomination for president and Carlson attempting to remake his career off cable television, the two had put aside any lingering animosity to take on Fox News.”

Rolling Stone: Trump tells allies he’s skipping debate to punish Fox, Murdochs.

Donald Trump supporters ribbed Gov. Ron DeSantis on the eve of the first presidential debate, standing outside Fiserv Forum on Tuesday with signs that said, “Be likable and show emotion, Ron!,” The Messenger reports.

The Trump campaign was dining with a number of top reporters last night in Milwaukee while passing out pudding snack packs as well as debate bingo cards to troll Gov. Ron DeSantis, Politico reports.

“Donald Trump has attracted a lot of attention for his lead in the polls and the money race, but he’s also already ahead in an essential area that’s gotten less notice: the delegate process,” CNN reports.

“Trump’s team has the lead in both its understanding of the delegate process and the steps the team has taken to tilt the scales in their favor.”

“Understanding the delegate count on a state-by-state level is a wonky but necessary part of winning the presidential nomination, especially in primaries that drag on for months. Delegates – awarded to candidates after the primary or caucus takes place in each state – officially nominate a candidate at the party convention, and the candidate with the most delegates will be the party nominee.”

RAMASWAMY 2024. Vivek Ramaswamy called CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins a “petulant teenager” after an interview where she pressed him about topics including his recent comments on 9/11.

BURGUM 2024. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) was taken to a Milwaukee emergency room Tuesday after suffering an injury while playing a game of pick-up basketball with his staff, making it unclear whether he will be able to stand for the debate tonight, CNN reports.

HUTCHINSON 2024. Hundreds of college students “were paid $20 a pop for every family member, friend or acquaintance they could persuade to donate $1 to Hutchinson this summer,” Politico reports.

“The texting-for-pay plan was one of several efforts by Republican contenders to beef up their number of unique donors by paying for them.”

CHRISTIE 2024. Jonathan Bernstein: “One thing we can be fairly sure of about Wednesday’s first Republican presidential debate is that Chris Christie will denounce Donald Trump, including calling him a coward for not showing up. Another thing we can be fairly certain of is that Christie is not going to be the Republican nominee for president.”

“That doesn’t make Christie’s effort pointless.”

“It’s not clear, as Bloomberg’s Joshua Green reports, whether Chris Christie really thinks he can be president despite some of the worst poll numbers in presidential nomination history, or if he’s simply out for revenge against the former president. The truth is it doesn’t matter as long as he sees bashing Trump as the means of getting whatever it is he’s after. That’s because his party needs some Trump-bashing.”

BIDEN 2024. “Dark Brandon, President Joe Biden’s satirical alter-ego, is making a bold appearance on the day of the first 2024 Republican debate — not only on billboards in Milwaukee, where eight GOP candidates are set to take the stage on Wednesday evening, but in digital ads plastering the homepage of,” People reports.

“From midnight on Wednesday until 11:59 p.m., the internet meme-turned-campaign tool is taking over Fox News’ website with pro-choice ads touting Biden’s mission to defend abortion rights, one year after the conservative Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.”

New York Times: “These days, retail politics has a whole new meaning. At a point in the electoral cycle when candidates are desperate to distinguish themselves and have only minutes onstage to do so, being able to deliver a zinger that will play on via swag is a key advantage.”

“Ever since the inauguration of George Washington, voters have been participating in the electoral process by means of merch. Back then, it was fancy commemorative buttons that were sewn onto clothes (and were, largely, accessible only to the well-off).”

“Over the years, the ‘store’ — effectively an alternate way for candidates to elicit small-dollar donations and add to their supporter base by appealing to consumer culture — has grown in importance as technology has transformed our ability to make stuff, sell stuff and mine data. Now, almost as soon as presidential contenders declare their candidacy and their websites go live, the shops go live with them.”

DESANTIS 2024. Washington Examiner: “His behind-the-scenes behavior in the last few months shows how important he believes the debate to be. He has prepared for the debate for months, hiring the top Republican debate consultant, Brett O’Donnell, in May when some other candidates had not yet devoted any time to debate preparations. (Some of the candidates started looking for help as recently as three weeks ago.) When some of DeSantis’s debate prep documents became public, either accidentally or on purpose, it showed a candidate who had been doing his homework.”

“DeSantis spent a lot of time preparing for a debate in which Trump would participate. But he always believed that he, DeSantis, would be the prime target of his fellow candidates even if Trump were onstage. And, of course, Trump himself could have been counted on to trash DeSantis at every opportunity. Plus, most of the other candidates would have been too afraid to attack Trump in a way they would happily attack DeSantis. All of this indicates that DeSantis stood to lose the most of any candidate onstage regardless of whether Trump appeared, and his fellow candidates would like to help DeSantis have a bad night.”

Reuters: In Trump’s absence, DeSantis seen as ‘punching bag’ in first Republican debate.

“The New Hampshire Democratic Party announced Tuesday that Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro will headline its convention next month, marking the first-term governor’s initial visit to an early nominating state,” NBC News reports.

“I just want to remind people that I am the same guy they voted for. I am the same guy that they know from the neighborhood.”— Rep. George Santos (R-NY), quoted by The Messenger, without mentioning that he lied about his background.

INDIANA 5TH DISTRICT. Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings announced last week that he was dropping out of the Republican primary for this gerrymandered seat, saying that “on June 15, I experienced a significant health event which has caused me to reconsider my candidacy.”

Cummings’ departure leaves a pair of self-funders, state Rep. Chuck Goodrich and trucking company owner Sid Mahant, as the only serious contenders running to succeed retiring Rep. Victoria Spartz, though the field may grow again soon. Howey Politics wrote last week that Max Engling, who is a former aide to Speaker Kevin McCarthy, is moving back to Indiana ahead of his own launch, while former state Sen. Mike Delph is also reportedly interested.

NEVADA 3RD DISTRICT. Republican Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama on Monday announced that she would take on Democratic Rep. Susie Lee for a district in the southern Las Vegas area where the GOP previously lacked a viable candidate. Kasama, who is a former president of the Nevada REALTORS, won her spot in the legislature 54-44 in 2020 as Donald Trump was pulling off a smaller 50-48 victory in the old version of her seat, and she pulled off the same performance two years later in what was still a light red constituency.

Kasama joins a nomination contrast that already included former state Sen. Elizabeth Helgelien and conservative columnist Drew Johnson, but both of them struggled to raise money during their opening quarter. Lee, for her part, finished June with $810,000 banked to defend a seat that Joe Biden carried 52-46.

Siena College Poll: “By a 46% to 32% margin, voters said that migrants resettling in New York over the last 20 or so years has been a ‘burden,’ not a ‘benefit’ to the state. And by 58% to 36%, voters said New Yorkers have already done enough and should try to slow the flow of them.”

“Voters disapproved of the job that Gov. Kathy Hochul is doing to address the influx by a 51% to 35% margin, and they didn’t support the handling of the situation by Mayor Eric Adams by 47% to 31%.”

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. State Sen. Sandra Cano earned an endorsement from the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals on Wednesday, a move that comes not long after the state’s other major teachers union, the state NEA, also backed her.

We still haven’t seen any negative TV ads two weeks ahead of the packed Sept. 5 Democratic primary, and both Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and former Biden administration official Gabe Amo are remaining positive in their newest spots. Matos is emphasizing her support for abortion rights in what WPRI’s Ted Nesi says is her campaign’s first TV commercial in two weeks. (EMILY’s List and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC have been airing pro-Matos ads while she’s been off the air.) Amo, meanwhile, touts his White House experience.

CALIFORNIA 22ND DISTRICT. Democratic state Sen. Melissa Hurtado announced Tuesday that she would challenge Republican Rep. David Valadao in California’s 22nd District, a Central Valley constituency that favored Joe Biden by a 55-42 margin in 2020. Hurtado joins former Assemblyman Rudy Salas, a Democrat who is running to avenge his 52-48 loss last year against Valadao, in the top-two primary.

Hurtado joined the state Senate in 2018 when she unseated Republican incumbent Andy Vidak 56-44, a victory that made the 30-year-old the youngest woman ever elected to the chamber. She faced a tough battle four years later to remain there, though, especially after the state’s independent redistricting commission left her with a seat that was about one-third new to her.

Democrats were also only too aware that the party’s long struggle to turn out their Central Valley base in non-presidential cycles meant that the electorate would be considerably more conservative than the one that favored Biden 53-45 two years before in Hurtado’s revamped 16th Senate District. Republican Brian Dahle ended up scoring a 55-45 victory here over Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, but Hurtado narrowly held on and beat Republican David Shepard by 13 votes.

Hurtado’s tight win came the same night that Valadao defeated Salas in one of the year’s most expensive House races as Dahle was carrying his seat 52-48. Salas soon began laying the groundwork for a rematch, but Hurtado’s name only surfaced a week after the former assemblyman launched his campaign in July. She begins the contest with a big geographic base of support, though: Hurtado already represents 96% of the 22nd District, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections, while Salas served just over half of the seat when he lost to Valadao.

Both Salas, who earned an endorsement last week from Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, and Hurtado would be the first Latino to represent the Central Valley in the House. Valadao, for his part, is one of several people of Portuguese descent who has represented this heavily Latino area.

UTAH 2ND DISTRICT. Republican Gov. Spencer Cox demonstrated a strange idea of what is or isn’t an endorsement during his Thursday press event when he bestowed compliment after compliment on Celeste Maloy right after insisting he wouldn’t be taking sides in the special Sept. 5 GOP primary to replace soon-to-be-former Rep. Chris Stewart. “I would love to have some representation off of the Wasatch Front … We don’t have a member of Congress who lives out there,” said the governor without explicitly mentioning Maloy, a former Stewart aide who is the only candidate from the area.

Cox quickly admitted, “I know that obviously sounds like I’m endorsing someone,” and he went on to briefly say nice things about the other two Republicans, former state Rep. Becky Edwards and former RNC member Bruce Hough. Cox, though, proceeded to immediately make it again clear exactly who he wants to win, saying, “Celeste, having worked with Congressman Stewart, can hit the ground running faster than anybody else.”

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

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