No candidate is likely to beat him; he could still lose

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, issue 27

  • Democrats grumbling about Biden’s renomination continues
  • Trump’s Republican support is surprisingly durable
  • Dave Reichert enters Wash. governor’s race

President 2024

Sour on Biden: Although there is very little chance he will be replaced at this point, Democrats are clearly experiencing buyers remorse over Joe Biden‘s impending renomination. The truth is, opinion pieces questioning his mental acuity have expanded beyond the conservative media sphere into mainstream and even left-leaning publications, as former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney observes today.

Even so, neither California Gov. Gavin Newsom (he has ruled himself out, but we’ll treat him as a potential candidate again anyway) nor former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu nor anyone else is going to step forward and challenge Biden this year. 

And the chances of the sitting president actually bowing out should also be discounted out of hand. At this point, in spite of his appalling approval ratings (55 percent disapprove in the latest Economist poll), Biden can survive almost any amount of Democratic grumbling. Even comparisons to former President Lyndon Johnson and his decision to bow out in 1968 do not hold up, because Johnson was facing serious opposition already at the time he did so. There is no chance that Biden will bow out In late summer when the only candidates in the field (Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson) are clearly far outside the party mainstream and will not pose any threat to him in any state primary or caucus.

Things could have gone differently if more mainstream Democrats had been willing to jump in early before Biden announced for reelection.

Durability of Trump’s support: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) launched this campaign two months ago. In the time since, he has failed to make the sort of headway. Perhaps his supporters believed he would rapidly eclipse former President Donald Trump. If so, that was probably a mistake.

In fact, despite the many legal problems that Trump has encountered in the time since — this includes a federal indictment — DeSantis has failed to gain any appreciable ground against Trump.

What does this mean? To be sure, it is still only the beginning of the campaign. Six months remain before the Iowa caucuses. But many Republicans who support DeSantis, or who at least want to see some conservative other than Trump take the nomination, are already pressing the panic button. They fear that The conduct of DeSantis’s campaign is the reason for his failure.

What they have perhaps underestimated is simply how popular, and how durably popular, Trump is. Yes, he can be indicted. Perhaps he could even run from jail. But that all only makes his supporters more loyal. There is no practical consideration of victory that will make them abandon him. His 79 percent favorable rating among Republicans shows few signs of stress, in spite of all the legal stresses on the former president and his campaign.

So is DeSantis is done for? Hardly. The key to understanding this race is that it is Trump’s to lose, and there is some small, non-zero chance that he will indeed lose it or choose to quit.

There is probably nothing Ron DeSantis can do of his own power to take Trump down. But he still has a longshot chance of winning the nomination, because something else might..

An indictment out of Georgia (still a possibility) could bring a swifter trial and conviction, for example, then the federal indictment of Trump, which for various technical reasons is likely to stretch until after the election.

Of course, the idea that any prosecution will take Trump down politically is still far-fetched. But it is also still there.

The failure of DeSantis to catch fire has some Republicans talking about looking for another Trump alternative. But that’s not really the issue. The issue is that, at this point in time, it seems unlikely that Ron DeSantis or anyone else will be able to out-campaign, out-debate, or otherwise out-compete Trump for the nomination without massive help from intervening events. Any early hopes or expectations that this might not be the case seem to have been dashed by now.

That still doesn’t mean Trump is invincible or invulnerable. But it does mean that the nomination of any other candidate will likely require Trump to be forced out of the race by circumstances beyond any of their control. 

This is not terribly different from what we’ve been saying all along. Trump remains the frontrunner, but his status could be upended at any moment. It just seems that the chances of this happening go down with each passing week.

Governor 2024

Washington: Moderate former Rep. Dave Reichert (R) jumped into the governor’s race on June 30. He is almost certainly the most formidable candidate Republicans could feel. This development probably guarantees that Republicans will at least have a candidate in the top-two general election runoff. The former King County Sheriff, made famous for tracking down the Green River Killer in 2001, has a serious opportunity to run on a law and order platform amid the perception that Seattle and other West Coast cities are devolving into crime-ridden homeless tent colonies. 

The leading Democratic candidate at the moment, Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D), immediately lashed out with a statement that Reichert was a “profound threat to reproductive freedom.” This is a clear sign that they take his candidacy seriously, and also an indication of Democrats’ broad belief that the abortion issue will be their most powerful weapon in 2024.

Washington is obviously a liberal state, and has only become more so in the last 20 years. This is the sort of situation where conservatives have often proven willing to overlook a candidate’s moderation — in Reichert’s case, he has always been squishy, but then so were George Pataki and Rudy Giuliani. The state and city that those two politicians temporarily helped rescue from its current decline was about as much of a Democratic lock in the early 1990s as Washington state is today. 

Republicans have not won a governor’s race in Washington for even longer than in New York — not since 1980.

Senate 2024

Delaware: Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D) appears set for a coronation as the Democratic nominee for Senate. Republicans have little or nothing going on in the state.

Nevada: Sam Brown (R), the wounded War veteran who lost the 2022 Senate primary but nonetheless outperformed expectations, has entered the race against Sen. Jacky Rosen (D). Republicans have a rather thin bench in the state after former Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s loss in 2022. Still, that means that a political newcomer like Brown could be just what the state party needs for a change. 

The NRSC recruited Brown, and Chairman Steve Danes (R-Mont) had some nice comments for him as he entered. The national party would much sooner see him represent Republicans on the ticket than former State Rep. James Marchant (R), who insists that President Trump won the 2020 election and had it stolen from him.

West Virginia: Yet another poll of Republican voters shows Gov. Jim Justice (R) with a prohibitive lead over Rep. Alex Mooney (R) in the race for the nomination to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin (D). This poll, by Orion Strategies, gives Justice a lead of 56 percent to 19 percent. 

Manchin has put off his decision on whether to run again until later this year. The primary is in May. This seat is widely viewed as one of the most likely Senate seats to flip in 2024, if not the most likely.