March 13, 2023
This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 11
- Trump’s “Thunder” and “Lightning” abandon him
- “No Labels” Party has Democrats worried
- Newly aggressive NRSC shaping Senate races in Montana, West Virginia
Pennsylvania: Two of Donald Trump’s earliest and biggest supporters from 2016 have turned against him. The reason? His endorsements in 2022 gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and Senate candidate Mehmet Oz. These — especially the former — led to a statewide disaster for Republicans in what was supposed to be a promising Republican year. And in the case of Mastriano, who still might run for Senate this year, Trump was endorsing him over one of his own former allies, former Rep. Lou Barletta.
Both Oz and Mastriano lost, reportedly causing Trump to go into a rage over the advice he had received to endorse them. Assuming the account relating that is true, he wasn’t the only one angry.
Barletta and former Rep. Tom Marino — the men whom Trump had referred to as “lightning” and “thunder” for their tireless campaigning on his behalf during his 2016 campaign — they both just endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for president, even though DeSantis isn’t even officially running yet.
Barletta and Marino aren’t big national figures. This isn’t necessarily going to turn the tide against Trump. But the fact that such devoted early Trumpers would change sides does have some deep significance. Although Trump retains most of his support from before, there are small cracks developing in the facade. His nomination is not guaranteed. The polls show a race he is clearly leading, but also a race close enough that things could get very interesting in 2024.
No Labels: The “No Labels” party has now succeeded in making the ballot in Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado, and intends to make the ballot in at least 20 other states. This has Democrats nervous about the presidential race, since such a third-way minor party would be far more likely to peel off moderate Democrats disaffected with Biden, of whom there are evidently many, than it would be to win over Republican voters.
As the Democratic group Third Way put it, “Their candidate cannot win the presidency [and] such a candidate ‘will succeed in electing Trump.’”
Such a party could also help Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) win re-election in a three way race against Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and a Republican.
Indiana: On the Republican side, Rep. Jim Banks is considered a conservative, anti-establishment candidate, which is reflected by his early endorsement by the Club for Growth. But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell himself is now scheduled to attend a fundraiser for Banks, a clear sign that the party establishment will not or cannot put up any serious resistance. Trump already endorsed Banks last month, so there just isn’t much chance of anyone stopping him or even trying.
On the Democratic side, there is no bench to speak of and no interest yet from anyone credible. Democrats’ desperation became evident from the fact that former Rep. Baron Hill (D) has been trying unsuccessfully to convince former White House chief of staff Ron Klain (D) to run for the seat. The idea that a top-ranked Biden official would run well in Indiana is rather far-fetched. Biden’s approval rating was 35% in Indiana just after the 2022 election. Indiana isn’t the competitive state it was in 2008, when Barack Obama snuck in a last-minute victory
The most optimistic scenario for them would involve recruiting former Sen. Joe Donnelly (D), who is currently serving as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. The only other candidate mentioned so far is Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett (D), who has run unsuccessful statewide races twice. But Hogsett is already committed to running for re-election in November 2023. This would put him on a challenging (although not impossible) timeline in terms of raising the money and making other preparations needed for a Senate race the following year. Then again, his re-election would lower the stakes by ensuring he still has a prominent political role
Montana: In contrast to Indiana, Democrats got a huge boost when Sen. Jon Tester (D) announced that he would run for reelection once again. Republicans, who have now come up just barely short twice against him, are determined not to let that history repeat itself.
NRSC Chairman Steve Daines, who is also the junior senator from Montana, is recruiting retired Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy (R) to run against Tester. Sheehy’s candidacy would mark a departure from the usual and apparently losing formula in Montana of elected Republican officials (former Rep. Dennis Rehberg in 2012 and then current Rep. Matt Rosendale in 2018) running against Tester.
Sheehy, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, founded an aerospace company. A political outsider, he is a multi-millionaire with huge self-funding potential. He has reportedly spoken to Donald Trump about running in the hope of receiving the former president’s endorsement. According to Axios, Trump was impressed.
It is already evident that Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) would move aside for Sheehy if he decides to run. So would Gov. Greg Gianforte (R), who polls against Testerbetter than anyone else already in politics against Tester. But Rosendale, a favorite of the Club for Growth, might challenge Sheehy in a primary anyway.
This is one case where Trump’s endorsement might end up aligning with the main line Republican Party.
New York: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is telling donors that disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is going to try to make a political comeback by running against her. Is her fear real, or is it just a scare tactic to raise money? Cuomo probably cannot use any of his $9 million in state campaign funds to run for a federal office, so at least on that score it seems unlikely. Nor has Cuomo himself said anything about it, and his spokesman has denied planting the original story about this in the Daily Beast.
On the Republican side, former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) would be most Republicans’ favorite candidate after his impressive performance for governor in 2022. He already launched some sharp attacks at Gillibrand in his appearance at CPAC, calling her “one of the laziest, most forgettable, unaccomplished senators in the country.”
West Virginia: Daines has also been at work in the Mountain State, recruiting Gov. Jim Justice (R) to run against his former political ally, Joe Manchin (D). A recent poll showed Justice defeating Manchin, whereas Manchin led his other prospective opponents by wide margins.
West Virginia could be a test of the new NRSC policy of choosing favorites and making early endorsements.
As for Manchin, he has said he will not announce his decision on whether to run for reelection until December. That gives a very long time to wait, but it’s not as if there are any other Democrats waiting in the wings who could hold his seat in his absence.