A poll without DeSantis in second place

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 30

  • A more serious Democratic challenger to Biden?
  • RNC debate requirements prompt very odd behavior by candidates
  • Vivek Ramaswamy climbs into double-digits, second place in Ohio


Economy: The public perception of Joe Biden’s economy continues to weigh him down, according to a new poll from CBS News, in spite of the administration’s attempts to tout “Bidenomics” as some kind of plus this summer.

The words that people use to describe the economy currently are “struggling” (61 percent), “uncertain” (56 percent), and “bad” (65 percent). 

Importantly, this perception has not changed since June. In addition, respondents seem perfectly capable of perceiving that the econony is “bad” (65 percent) even though the job market is marginally considered “good” (46 percent versus 43 percent “bad”).

Ohio referendum: On August 8, Ohio voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that pro-life voters should be especially aware of.

The amendment will be the only item on the ballot next week. On the surface, it is merely procedural. It would make future constitutional amendments harder to pass. 

This is more or less the same as what Florida did nearly two decades ago when it raised the threshold for amendment referenda from 50 percent to 60 percent. The issue there was a bevy of nuisance constitutional amendments, including one that required construction of a high-speed train. (Indeed, some Florida legislators now want to raise the threashold again to 67 percent.)

This referendum is very important because its passage might be necessary in order to stop another amendment that would enshrine a right to abortion and exclude parents from many of their children’s medical decisions if it passes this fall. A poll from Ohio Northern University shows support for the poll evenly split at 42 percent in favor versus 41 percent against. 

The abortion referendum, which is scheduled to appear on the ballot in November, has roughly 54 percent support in the same poll, so this could be critical.

President 2024

Dean Phillips: RFK, Jr. is uniquely unsuited to challenge Joe Biden in a Democratic primary. The reason is simple: As a longtime vaccine skeptic in the post-COVID era, he is someone most liberals simply won’t listen to, regardless of the rest of his agenda.

That may not be the case for Rep. Dean Phillips(D-Minn.), a wealthy former executive who represents a suburban district outside Minneapolis. Unlike every top-shelf Democrat who could have challenged Biden, he has been openly calling for someone to do so and previously tried to encourage Biden not to run for re-election. Although a Phillips candidacy is considered unlikely, he has been approached by donors and is not shutting down the speculation.

RNC Debate requirements: The requirements to make the GOP debate stage in August include a minimal polling threshold and a donor threshold. This has created very weird incentives for candidates. 

In an effort to get to the 40,000 unique donors required to make the debate stage, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R), a longshot contender, was spotted on Twitter recently, giving away $20 gift cards in exchange for $1 donations

Similarly, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has offered $20 Visa or Mastercard gift cards to as many as 50,000 donors who give just $1. 

This all sounds completely illegal and looks like a scam, although it may not be. Probably the best answer here is for the Republican National Committee to figure out better criteria for candidates for future debates, to make sure they don’t create such perverse incentives.

Donald Trump: A new superseding indictment accuses former President Donald Trump (R) of attempting to destroy evidence, on top of earlier federal charges that he mishandled classified documents that he had not declassified as president. 

The political nature of the underlying charge continues to help Trump with Republican voters — particularly in contrast to the treatment that Biden’s son, Hunter, has received for apparent tax evasion, lying on a federal form, and influence peddling. 

On the other hand, Trump appears to be spending enough to defend himself that it is affecting funding for the super PAC supporting his campaign.

Trump is viewed unfavorably by a large majority of voters. His unfavorable rating among voters overall is 63 percent, compared to 35 percent favorable, according to a Pew poll released this month. This should raise a red flag above any ideas of renominating Trump, but so far it isn’t. Republican voters love him and so far show no signs of caring how unpopular he is among non-Republicans.

As we have previously noted, there is a chance that Trump will become so deeply buried in legal trouble (he now has two separate indictments and could still face at least two more) that even supporters will worry about his ability to keep his head above water and win a general election. But that day has not yet come.

Vivek Ramaswamy: The same survey cited above from Ohio Northern University has Donald Trump far ahead of the GOP field with 62 percent support — no surprise there. But 37-year-old entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is in second place with 12 percent, leading Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) by three. His strategy of making every possible appearance on media (including left-wing shows) and YouTube channels is definitely helping him gain traction.

Nikki Haley: Where former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has tried to monopolize the “gunning for Trump” category of candidate all by himself, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has opted for the less flashy strategy of running against Trump but mostly opposing Christie. She accuses the corpulent former governor of being “obsessively anti-Trump.” 

Probably this is not unfair — the anti-Trump path is the one Christie has consciously chosen. But it might be more interesting that Haley seems to be angling for the spot of Trump’s running mate. It is not implausible for someone with her accomplishments and political appeal to fill that role.

Will Hurd: Speaking of Christie, he now has some competition for top Trump-hater in the field. Former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) was heartily booed right near the end of his speech at an Iowa Lincoln Day event when he said that “Donald Trump is not running for president to make America great again….Trump is running to stay out of prison.” The crowd had actually been pretty welcoming toward him up to that point, even with his criticisms of Trump for presiding over Republican losses, but that all changed quickly with his final few lines.

DeSantis, Tim Scott: DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the two candidates who fit best into the conventional conservative politician category, were in Iowa last week, competing for the most important primary contest for their own campaigns. This is exactly where they should be — in fact, it is probably where they should camp out for several months. 

To be sure, Trump is far ahead of both of these younger men in all polls. But the best chance for either of these Republican also-rans is to surge at the right time in an early state (probably Iowa) just as Trump falters ahead of one or more of the criminal trials he is facing. 

Their best hope is that Republican anxiety rises over the likelihood of a Trump conviction next Spring, leading more Trump-sympathetic voters to go with a second choice. It may be an unlikely path to victory, and it is a path that can only be found at the last minute, but it is probably the best and only path for either of them.

One additional consideration for DeSantis is that, as governor of Florida, he’s going to need some divine forbearance as well. It is hurricane season, and he may have to break off his campaign activities at any moment if a strong storm heads toward his state.

Governor 2024

Kentucky: The lightheadedness shown by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week helps highlight the importance of this race. 

According to a 2021 law, state Republicans would choose the replacement for McConnell were he to die or be forced to resign before his term ends in 2027. However, Democrats in Kentucky are already making noises about challenging this law in federal court or even just outright ignoring it, should they have a chance to appoint a replacement. 

This would add a lot of power to the next governor — either incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear (D) or Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R). Kentucky is no longer the kind of state where a Democrat can win for president or for Senate, but Beshear is still the frontrunner for re-election this fall.

Meanwhile, the state Republican Party has released a video criticizing Beshear for vetoing a bill banning gender reassignment for children. Naturally, as part of Google’s program of special consideration for Democratic politicians, YouTube has banned and pulled  the ad, calling it “hate speech.”