Lightfoot’s crushing defeat shows that Democrats are vulnerable

March 6, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 10

  • Lori Lightfoot’s crushing defeat in Chicago shows crime is a live issue
  • Trump dominates CPAC as others cede the field
  • No Democrats step forward yet to challenge Rick Scott


Crime: Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot just got destroyed in last week’s primary election. With only 17%, the incumbent received roughly the same share of the vote as President Trump had in the city of Chicago — and for the record, Trump didn’t do that well within Chicago’s city limits.

The issue that killed Lightfoot was crime. Joe Trippi, the consultant who famously helped Howard Dean launch to the top of the Democratic field in 2004, recognized the potential of the crime issue and helped first place finisher Paul Vallas crush her using it. Vallas, who finished with nearly 34%, faces the second-place finisher, a defund-the-police leftist and former teachers union organizer, Brandon Johnson, who got only 20%. Vallas, who has the backing of the police union, is the favorite in the second round.

Crime is the very issue that Republicans intend to use against Democrats in 2024 — an issue they used with some success in 2022 in some states, particularly New York. The reasoning is that if this issue can help San Franciscans oust their district attorney, and help Chicagoans oust their mayor, why can’t it help Republicans win more broadly? 

In combination with other issues, crime is indeed potent. It should also resonate, as large American cities get worse and worse. Liberals, unwilling to blame their own preferred policies and records, are already starting to say things people were saying in the early 1980s — that big cities are ungovernable. But that isn’t true. Rudy Giuliani was one of the first to show that it wasn’t true when he took the nation’s biggest city and made it governable again.

And of course, it doesn’t even take a Republican mayor to learn those lessons. Many U.S. cities with Democratic mayors likewise became significantly safer through aggressive policing and longer prison sentences for habitual and violent offenders.

Washington D.C. had leaders earlier this century, such as Mayors Anthony Williams (D) and Adrian Fenty (D), who managed to bring the crime rate down to reasonable levels. But currently, D.C. has seen carjackings quadruple since 2019. Homicides were up last year by 25% over 2019 levels and more than 100% over 2012 levels. So far this year, they’re up another 33%. 

The situation in D.C. is bad enough that President Biden backed down last week from his pledge to veto the Congress’s bill overturning the District Council’s soft-on-crime rewrite of its criminal code. Ultra-woke D.C. council members, over the veto of the current mayor, are attempting to reduce penalties for robbery, burglary, and carjacking in the middle of a crime wave. If Biden is backing off so easily, especially after promising a veto earlier, then Democrats are clearly scared of this issue. At the very least, Biden just made the 173 House Democrats who voted against the measure walk the plank for nothing.

Republicans need to find a way to get a handle on this issue. Although they cannot count on winning majorities in big cities, they must do more to appeal to city residents on issues of public safety in order to blunt Democratic margins. In some states, with strong suburban and rural performances, a better-than-usual urban vote tally could be enough for a statewide victory.

President 2024

Donald Trump: At CPAC, Trump easily won the straw poll with 62 percent as his chief rival stayed away in order to avoid being upstaged. Trump’s performance put him 42 points ahead of DeSantis — a much bigger lead than he enjoys nationally, and also a clear reflection of how he has come to dominate the CPAC event since he was first laughed at during his appearances early last decade. He has come a long way.

Trump’s speech went for nearly two hours, which is long even for him. He laid down markers for some of the attacks he plans to launch this year against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). This includes DeSantis’s past support for either raising the retirement age or creating private accounts in Social Security. It is already clear that Trump has DeSantis on his mind, as no other candidate — including Nikki Haley — poses any sort of real threat to his possession of the nomination.

Trump also savaged the Republican Party of the Bush era and raised further doubts about whether he had actually lost the 2020 election, as opposed to having it stolen from him fraudulently.

Ron DeSantis: Meanwhile, Trump’s likely chief rival was promoting his book in a series of interviews and media appearances that will end when Florida’s new legislative session begins later this month. 

Again, DeSantis trails Trump. There is no question that Trump is the front-runner in this race. However, as an incumbent effectively taking a second shot at reelection, one would expect him to lead this early in the game.

DeSantis is definitely running, to Trump’s chagrin. There is definitely a real race here, as a relatively small double digit gap between the two candidates persists in many states. For example, DeSantis trails Trump by 11 points in Virginia, 16 points in Arizona, and actually leads him by eight points in California, all before even announcing his run or giving a single campaign speech. 

Primary elections are always much more fluid than general elections. The similarity of the views of DeSantis and Trump makes it much easier for voters to switch between one and the other, depending upon circumstances.

Although it is just a footnote for this past week, the decision by former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) not to run means that at least the anti-Trump vote will not be split quite as badly as it would be otherwise. That a very tiny plus for DeSantis at this point, assuming he actually runs.

RFK, Jr.: In addition to Marianne Williamson, Biden will have as a nuisance challenge the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Given recent events, Democrats seem unlikely to back him, but he might provide an outlet for those upset to see Biden renominated.

Senate 2024

Arizona: Kari Lake, the 2022 gubernatorial loser, claimed at CPAC that she had been offered a bribe to stay out of politics for two years. She did not name names, Even though she really has to if she wants people to believe such a thing.

Florida: The Hotline has a piece out this week on the reluctance of high-profile Democrats to take on Sen. Rick Scott (R). Despite his potential vulnerabilities — his personal feud with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, his potentially exploitable legislative proposals that Democrats have attacked — Scott is the wealthiest U.S. senator. He is capable of spending a large eight-figure amount of money from his own personal funds in 2024, just like he did in 2018. He is also reasonably popular and an excellent campaigner, having won three close statewide elections in eight years, and having knocked off an extremely popular Democratic senator in the Democratic wave year of 2018.

Given the extremely poor showing of former Rep. Val Demings (D) against Sen. Marco Rubio (R) last year, and the general implosion of the state’s Democratic Party in 2022, Scott finds himself standing alone, a formidable incumbent whom no serious Democrat wants to take on. 

The one saving grace for Democrats is that Florida’s primary is very late — August 20 — and this means that there is a whole year for some credible Democrat to step forward and take the plunge.

Nevada: Rep. Mark Amodei (R) has ruled out a Senate run against Sen. Jackie Rosen (D). Republicans are still searching for a credible candidate in this race. 

In the meantime, Democrats easily managed to oust their much-criticized socialist party chairwoman, ending a brief period in which democratic socialists seized control of the state party. This may help improve their party’s performance this cycle after they lost the governorship in 2022. Mainstream Democrats had circumvented the socialist leadership by forming a shadow organization, Nevada Democratic Victory, and transferring party funds to it on their way out the door. Now they have control of the party machinery once again.