Mr. Ron goes to Washington

April 24, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 17

  • Biden’s announcement comes as Democrats are resigned to his candidacy
  • DeSantis trip to D.C. gets bad reviews, but reports of a disaster are exaggerated
  • Justice expected to announce for Senate this week

President 2024

Biden: President Joe Biden Will be announcing his re-election campaign this week. The announcement will come at a time when Democrats are demonstrably less than enthusiastic about his candidacy. A poll from Suffolk University and USA Today shows that Biden has only 67% support despite having no serious primary challengers. That anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is already at 14% just after jumping into the primary is astounding, considering the Democratic electorate’s post-covid attitude toward vaccination.

To be sure, Kennedy is no threat to Biden’s ultimate victory, assuming that the field is limited to those two and Marianne Williamson. The only threat to Biden would be, say, if Gavin Newsom (or some other prominent Democratic officeholder) were to change his mind and jump in.

Biden’s bland, unenthusiastic support with the base will be a problem in any event. Just as marriage cannot save a failing relationship, the announcement of Biden’s candidacy probably cannot prevent Democrats from doubting his leadership for their party. 

Then again, as we have said many times, They are well and truly stuck with him.

DeSantis: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) did not get the boost he needed from his trip to Capitol Hill. He picked up only one new endorsement — by Rep. Laurel Lee (R-Fla) — in addition to the two he already had (Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). 

Several members of Florida’s congressional delegation also went over to Trump’s side — more on that below. 

Still, the trip was not the abject disaster that some are trying to make it. Yes, he has done poorly with endorsements, and endorsements probably matter for him more than they normally would for any other candidate facing any other opponent. But he also has to have expected this. Nobody in office who could potentially face a primary wants to cross the former president this early, especially not on behalf of a candidate who has not even announced for president yet.

Has DeSantis been negligent in forming relationships with members of Congress, and with Florida’s delegation specifically? Part of the issue is that his presidential star rose a bit unexpectedly. 

Candidates usually have a lot of time to lay the groundwork for a presidential race. Donald Trump certainly has. But think back to 2021, when DeSantis was just a narrowly-elected first-term governor of a swing state. Yes, people had mentioned his name as a potential candidate (we certainly did). But at the time, he was fighting for his life — being savaged in the media for keeping beaches open during COVID and by conspiracy theorists and political self-promoters who were given a blank check in terms of favorable media coverage. He also faced as strong a candidate in Charlie Crist as Democrats probably could have fielded. It was not at all obvious that he would flatten Crist as he did and become a household name as a potential presidential hopeful. 

During the COVID era, DeSantis didn’t exactly seem like he was on a glide path to the GOP nomination — or even to re-election as governor, for that matter.  As a consequence, DeSantis may not have done what he should have to form better relationships with members of Congress in order to gain the endorsements eariler in the process that he is currently not getting.

Is this late start hurting DeSantis? Definitely. Given Trump’s current status as the de facto Republican Party leader, it should be a very important part of any challenger’s early campaigning to garner endorsements from elected officials who might otherwise be expected to back Trump. This is not to say that endorsements matter as a rule, but in this case they give Republican voters permission, in a sense, to say out loud that they will be backing someone else besides Trump.

To date, DeSantis is not doing this well, but that doesn’t mean he will always fail. One reason he can’t get many endorsements at this point is that he has waited so long to get into the race. This delay has benefits, but also costs, and he has to be willing to live with both.

Has his candidacy collapsed? Hardly. He trails Trump in the latest national poll, 51 percent to 38 percent. That’s about as good as he could hope for at this point, and in fact slightly better than the same poll’s result last month. He will still trail Trump when he enters the race, but Trump — facing an (admittedly flimsy) indictment, a lawsuit, and at least two other criminal investigations, has  a rockier road ahead.

Trump: Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has enjoyed a great deal of success in getting Florida’s congressional delegation behind him. 

Trump also gave an interesting interview to Mark Levin in which he slammed the campaign strategy of his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. He argued that Clinton should have made better use of her husband in campaigning for her, and should have been more active in Wisconsin and Michigan. Although by now this is really just the common wisdom about his 2016 win, it is unusual to hear Trump talk about political strategy in this way, and also to hear him speak so warmly of Bill Clinton.

Senate 2024

Pennsylvania: Right now, the big question remains whether 2022 loser Doug Mastriano (R) strangles Republicans’ chances in the crib by jumping into this race. Assuming he doesn’t, hedge fund manager David McCormick (R) is probably the favorite, but he might still get some company (or there might be a backup) in the form of former Western Pennsylvania Rep. Keith Rothfus (R), who is also considering a bid against Sen. Bob Casey (D).

Texas: Roland Gutierrez (D), a state senator from San Antonio, is expected to announce a challenge Sen. Ted Cruz (R). Such a bid would not require him to give up his seat, as he is not up for re-election until 2026. Another potential candidate is Dallas-area U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D).

West Virginia: Gov. Jim Justice (R) will announce his campaign for Senate against incumbent Joe Manchin (D) this week. Justice already holds a wide lead over Manchin in what little polling there is so far, and he also holds a wide lead over the GOP primary field, including the other announced major candidate, Rep. Alex Mooney (R). 

Justice’s entry into the race could play a large role in Manchin’s decision whether to retire. Although Manchin’s chances against Justice are poor, it is widely believed that no Democrat except Manchin can win a statewide race in West Virginia in the current environment, especially with the Republican presidential candidate receiving up to two-thirds of the vote at the top of the ticket. 

Wisconsin: Rep. Tom Tiffany (R) is seriously considering running against incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), even going so far as to reserve a domain name for such a campaign. This would, at this point, make him her only serious Republican challenger.