May 15, 2023
This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 20
- Trump reminds everyone why he won in 2016
- DeSantis scores Iowa endorsements
- Kentucky governor primary tomorrow
Donald Trump: Sometimes, you can almost forget just how talented and effective Donald Trump is as a politician. Then there are incidents like CNN’s town hall last week to remind you.
Trump, having just lost a civil lawsuit over an alleged assault years ago, apparently understood the need to go on the offensive. During the town hall event in New Hampshire, he crushed the moderator, Kaitlan Collins, who mistakenly felt she could bring balance to the program by badgering Trump while he was trying to answer questions. The Republican voters in the room, who of course have no respect for CNN as a news organization, howled with laughter as Trump imputed the sanity of the woman who had just sued him and called Collins “a very nasty person.”
Trump also took the bull by the horns when it came to the many other issues raised.
He made news and also struck a middle-ground position when asked whether he wanted Ukraine to win its war against Russia: “I want everyone to stop dying,” he said. “Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying.” Trump also refused to label Vladimir Putin a “war criminal,” noting quite reasonably that he might later have to negotiate an end to the war and such incendiary language will make it More difficult. Trump did say of Putin, meanwhile, that he “made a tremendous mistake…a bad mistake” invading.
These Ukraine remarks have apparently cost him the support of Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) And possibly also Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.). On the other hand, Trump is probably still taking a smart position here in the long run. The Ukrainian cause is currently a popular one on both sides of the aisle, mostly because Russia is the aggressor in the war. Conscientious people view it as a necessary evil to fight against the aggressive power. But if the Ukraine War is still dragging on into Fall 2024, American voters are very likely to have lost their taste for keeping it going by then, and with good reason. By the time Trump or any president will have been inaugurated in January 2025, a negotiated settlement will surely be an imperative.
On the other hand, if the war is over much sooner than that — say, by this fall — then It becomes a non-issue anyway.
Trump came off so well in this town hall event that CNN anchor Anderson Cooper felt a need to do some hand-wringing later, figuratively scourging himself and his network in an on-air monologue. But this illustrates the bind in which Trump could put a very hostile media if he does indeed win the nomination. They cannot ignore him if he is the Republican candidate for president. The era when they could simply ban him from all social media in order to silence him has probably passed for good. Many Republican voters are frustrated at the idea that Trump might be their nominee again, but most of them would vote for him in a contest between him and Joe Biden.
All in all, the CNN event was a big win for Trump, proving to a possibly more skeptical Republican electorate that yes, he still has it.
Ron DeSantis: Trump is trying very hard to strangle the Florida governor’s campaign in the crib, before it even launches. A super PAC supporting him is telling donors that any money they give to Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, or any other Republican candidate might as well be a donation to Joe Biden himself. Moreover, Trump is the frontrunner, leading in every major national poll and many state polls.
However, DeSantis’s advisors expressed confidence to Politico’s Jonathan Martin that once in the race, DeSantis will successfully exploit the desire among many Republicans, just under the surface, to move on from the Trump era.
They believe that DeSantis’s superior favorability numbers in the early voting states (results from their own internal polls) will allow him to overcome the former president after a vigorous campaign. They also expect major Republican donors — as many as “85 percent” of them — to abandon Trump and side with him once he has jumped into the race.
DeSantis just came away from a relatively successful Iowa trip (Trump’s planned visit was interrupted by a tornado), during which he secured the endorsements of the state House and Senate Republican leaders and 35 other state legislators.
Sure, endorsements don’t necessarily mean that much to voters. But the decision to endorse anyone except Trump, in today’s GOP, is a significant one.
For now, DeSantis just has to stay part of the conversation and survive Trump’s early attempts to destroy him before he announces. Next, DeSantis has to make sure he is true to his core brand as the statesman with a record of conservative policy and electoral victories, even if he is less entertaining than Trump on CNN. Then he has to spend the next seven or so months raising money and campaigning with everything he’s got.
Nikki Haley: The former South Carolina governor’s comments on abortion over the weekend we’re not well received by pro-life activists. Haley said that national restrictions on abortion were “not realistic.” As campaigners from the Susan B. Anthony list argued in response, over 70% of Americans oppose abortion being legal after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Kentucky: Voters go to the polls tomorrow to choose the Republican nominee for governor. As we noted last week, the race is a close contest between Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former UN ambassador Kelly Craft, with state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles in third place.
A last-minute Emerson poll for a local television station suggests that Cameron, who enjoys a 63% favorability rating among the Bluegrass State’s Republican voters is leading for the nomination by double digits. Craft may live to regret her decision not to participate in the recent May 9 debate.
Cameron was a prohibitive favorite in this race at its inception, but Craft built a credible campaign, leveraging her massive financial advantage to close the gap — she just sank another $2 million into her own campaign, which brings her total self-funding alone to $9 million. She is supported by such national political figures as House Oversight Chairman Jim Comer (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Donald Trump are both backing Cameron, who was once considered a potential Supreme Court appointee for Trump.
State Legislature 2023
Pennsylvania State House: We don’t usually go into such fine detail about local races, but this one will at least be consequential. Tomorrow’s special state legislative election, caused when a Democrat was forced to resign over multiple sexual harassment allegations, could change control of the state legislature. Such a result is considered unlikely due to the composition of the district, but not impossible. In what could be an indication of their 2024 strategy, Democrats are leaning heavily on scare tactics over the abortion issue. An ad featuring Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) himself is alleging that if Republicans gain a state legislative majority, they will amend the state Constitution to ban abortion — something that would take years and be nearly impossible even if they did win.
New York: Former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) is considering a run against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), who is unpopular enough that he might at least be able to make it a race. He would still be running against the overall trend of a heavily anti-Trump vote at the top of the ticket.
West Virginia: A late April poll shows that Gov. Jim Justice (R) is in a very good position to win the Senate primary and perhaps even chase Sen. Joe Manchin (D) into retirement. Co/Efficient found Justice leading his GOP primary opponent, Rep. Alex Mooney, 45% to 17%. His lead over Manchin is even more astounding, 43% to 29% — not so much for its margin, but for the fact that it puts an incumbent senator below 30%. This suggests either that there is something wrong with the poll or that Manchin will very soon see the writing on the wall in his own internal polling and announce either his retirement or some kind of quixotic presidential bid.
Manchin hasn’t given up hope yet. So far this election cycle, he has been aggressively tacking to the right, suddenly speaking up against the Biden administration and aligning himself with Republicans on more and more issues. This is a clear sign that he knows he’s in trouble but still thinks he can get out of it.