The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 8

February 21, 2023

This Week:

  • Consequential statewide election in Wisconsin today
  • Trump scores a small victory in DeSantis’s backyard
  • Tim Scott prepares to enter the presidential race


Today’s primary election in Wisconsin for an open Supreme Court seat may be the most important race of 2023. This race, which will be decided in April, will determine the court’s lean, as one of the four conservative justices is retiring.

Today’s race is a top two primary with four candidates — former Justice Dan Kelly and Waukesha County judge Jennifer Dorow on the right, and two left-wing judges, Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell. The top two finishers, from whichever side, will face off in April. This will likely be one liberal and one conservative, but such a result is not guaranteed.

Kelly, who had been appointed by Gov. Scott Walker (R) in 2016, lost the race to keep his seat in spring 2020. He may also be damaged in this race by late revelations that he was involved in advising national Republicans on seating alternate electors to vote for Donald Trump after the 2020 presidential election.

Dorow, who like Kelly studied law at Regent University, was the judge in the high-profile trial of the Waukesha Christmas parade massacre.

If liberals retake the state Supreme Court in April, Republicans in Wisconsin could see a lot of the gains they have been fighting for since the Walker era, in both political and policy terms, threatened. Liberal supreme courts across the country — in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, for example — have shown a rather lawless approach on some issues that they would not have tried even ten years ago. This includes, for example, aiding Democrats with partisan redistricting by concocting new legal theories out of thin air, as they tried in North Carolina (this will likely be reversed soon) and pulled off successfully in Pennsylvania. But a liberal court could even try to find an excuse to strike down Act 10, the state law that made Walker famous and limited the scope of public employees’ collective bargaining.

President 2024

Donald Trump: Former President Donal Trump scored a victory of sorts in the backyard of his chief putative opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. His candidate for state party chairman, Christian Ziegler, defeated a candidate aligned with DeSantis. Party leaders, however, have projected an air of unity since his selection — something that can be believed of what is arguably the nation’s most successful state party. 

Meanwhile, a recent Harvard-Harris poll is one of the best primary polls for Trump in some time, showing him at 46 percent, well ahead Desantis’s 23 percent. Both men currently lead President Joe Biden, who polls at a miserable (for an incumbent) 41 percent.

Since some fans of both candidates have brought it up, it should be noted that Trump and DeSantis cannot run as a ticket unless one of the two renounces his Florida residency — something DeSantis cannot do as governor, and which Trump is unlikely to do. Under the Constitution, the president and vice president must be from different states.

Ron DeSantis: On the other hand, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Trump leading DeSantis by only six points nationally, 42 to 36 percent — quite a different result. This poll shows Trump’s favorability rating upside down by 20 points — 37 percent favorable, 57 percent unfavorable, which is worse than Biden. DeSantis clocks in at 37 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable.

So far, Trump has been very focused on DeSantis as a potential opponent, and extremely upset that his former ally would dare run. He has quite a few insults to throw at him. 

But rather than engage him, Desantis continues his policy quest to be the most based governor in America. In recent days, he has traveled to Democratic states such as New York and Illinois to deliver speeches about how bad their crime problems are. He told a crowd of police union members in Illinois that they will be more welcome in Florida — that they will receive a $5,000 signing bonus, and they won’t have to put up with prosecutors who let violent and career criminals out of jail after they’re arrested.

This isn’t presidential campaigning, technically. (Or at least don’t tell his non-profit that it is.) But as we have noted previously, it is the best sort of presidential campaigning that DeSantis could possibly do. It helps him to avoid a mud-wrestling match with Trump, which never worked out for any of the other 2016 candidates, but it also keeps him in the spotlight with conservatives in a positive way.

Tim Scott: Although he would not be not the first black conservative to run for president on the Republican side, Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C) will be the best-credentialed, if he does indeed pull the trigger after putting out the word that he is preparing a run for president.

Unlike Ben Carson, Herman Cain, and Alan Keyes, Scott is actually an incumbent officeholder. What’s more, he is the most popular incumbent officeholder in his state, which happens to be one of the more important presidential primary states.

Scott’s run complicates life for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who announced her run just days earlier. Then again, she needs some kind of miracle just to overcome Trump, whose continued strength in her home state we noted previously.

Although Scott begins as a clear underdog against the big two candidates — namely, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis — he is a genuinely conservative and smart man who could catch on with voters given the right set of circumstances. If he brings out unconventional voters to take part in the presidential primary, he could also change the makeup of the race.

Senate 2024

Arizona: Yet another poll — and this time a poll independent of the candidate himself — shows left-wing Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego leading in a three-way race against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and all Republicans tested. 

Gallego also leads in all head-to-head matchups with a Republican. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and former Arizona State regent Karrin Taylor-Robson each trail Gallego by just four points, whereas Blake Masters and Kari Lake trail by double digits. For her part, Sinema has a net negative rating of seven points.

Lake, the only major Republican so far showing true signs of interest in the race (although there are other potential candidates), has an astounding 22-point net negative rating among Arizona registered voters. But Masters, who lost the Senate race last year, has an even worse 24-point net negative rating. 

Montana: Sen. Jon Tester (D) has never had an easy statewide election in Montana. But this time, if he chooses to run for reelection, the strongest Republican candidate against him appears to be Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) Gianforte, who enjoys a 61% approval rating, runs even with Tester at 45% each. In contrast, both Reps. Ryan Zinke (R) and Tester’s unsuccessful 2018 opponent, Rep. Matt Rosendale ® run six and five points behind, respectively. Tester still has not committed to running again.

Texas: We had previously pointed out some potential ambiguity, but now Sen. Ted Cruz (R) appears to be genuinely running only for reelection and not for president in 2024.

West Virginia: A poll out of West Virginia by Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund shows Gov. Jim Justice (R) crushing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, 52-42 percent. The poll is a bit strange however, as it shows Manchin above 50% and crushing the other two Republican candidates — Rep. Alex Mooney (who has already announced his candidacy) and his 2018 opponent, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. It is extremely uncommon for an incumbent senator to poll so badly against one candidate and then back up above 50% against others. The creation of this poll suggests that Republicans in Washington already have a favorite candidate, and it is not outlandish to think that the NRSC, which is now taking sides in primaries, might officially help justice once he announces.

House 2024

House Democrats’ campaign arm, the DCCC, is facing a minor scandal over its operatives using false pretenses to gain illegal access to the military records of at least two and as many as ten Republican candidates. The investigation into this activity began after the odious leak of Indiana congressional candidate Jennifer-Ruth Green’s service record, which outed her as a victim of sexual assault during her time in the Air Force. Although it is unclear how much of a role this disclosure played, Green narrowly lost her 2022 race against incumbent Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan in a heavily Democratic district in northwest Indiana.