The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 48
Dec. 4, 2023
- DeSantis gets some debate publicity, but suffers his biggest setback yet
- Santos expulsion narrows House GOP majority to 221-213
- Wisconsin GOP might have its best shot yet at beating Sen. Tammy Baldwin
Debates one and two: For reaching Republican voters, last week’s high-profile debate between Ron DeSantis (R) and Gavin Newsom was a very good opportunity for the former. The merits of the debate — between the governor of a state whose population is growing versus one whose population is vanishing — represented an easy softball opportunity for DeSantis, which he took and crushed.
Newsom was largely reduced to taunting DeSantis over his failing presidential campaign. It surely stung, but this isn’t a substantive argument. It’s the sort of thing Donald Trump could get away with, but coming from Newsom, it can only make Republican primary voters more sympathetic to DeSantis. The debate had nearly 5 million viewers, according to news reports.
From a Democratic perspective, some worry that Newsom may have harmed the party brand by associating it with California, which is far from being the most successfully governed Blue State.
That said, it is doubtful that the event will significantly change the trajectory of the Republican primary process, which is unmistakably headed toward Trump’s nomination.
For his part, DeSantis continues to falter on the presidential score, just as Newsom said. In fact, it appears now that Nikki Haley has emerged as the favored non-Trump candidate for several important conservatives. This includes Charles Koch, whose conservative-libertarian network’s resources will go toward Haley’s nomination.
This is obviously a huge blow for DeSantis, who faced a deadline for consolidating support within Trump-weary and anti-Trump segments of the Right. Koch’s decision represents his ultimate failure to do so, and his supporters reacted by accusing Koch of tacitly backing Trump.
The other important debate is the presidential one set to take place Wednesday, to be moderated by prominent podcaster Megyn Kelly, the Free Beacon’s Eliana Johnson, and NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas. Those rooting against a third Trump nomination should not get their hopes up. Less than two months before the Iowa caucuses, the polls show no sign of improvement for DeSantis, who remains stalled at or below 20 percent, or Haley, who is just barely behind him.
As with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in 2016, the two Trump rivals’ combined total in the polls (over 30 percent) does nothing to stop or even slow Trump’s momentum. The field is still, at this point, betting on some kind of force majeure — either an act of God, Trump’s imprisonment, or a sudden decision by Trump himself that he no longer wants it — to derail Trump’s presidential campaign, because it appears that nothing else will.
Biden: Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s unpopularity continues to weigh him down. According to Gallup, his approval rating slipped once again below that of former President Jimmy Carter at this point in his presidency. This is only the third brief moment when Biden has been the most unpopular president in the history of Gallup polling — at 37 percent approval, he trails both Trump (43 percent) and Carter (38 percent) at this point in their respective presidencies, and will soon fall further behind, largely because Carter enjoyed a brief surge of support in late November 1979, with the start of the Iran hostage crisis.
Yet another new poll from The Messenger, released last week, shows Biden at a similar 38 percent approval. An incredible 67 percent of voters don’t want Biden to seek re-election, including 40 percent of Democrats. That is significantly more than the 55 percent who want Trump to stand down. As we noted last week, these numbers have only gotten worse in spite of Biden’s massive online advertising campaign.
The lack of enthusiasm for the incumbent is noteworthy. Biden’s support in the Democratic primary is only 65 percent, in spite of the lack of any prominent Democratic opponent at this point. Importantly, in a four-way race involving independent Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., this survey has Biden falling even farther behind, to 33 percent versus 41 percent for Trump.
New York-3: The 311-114 vote to expel the colorful alleged fraudster George Santos (R) over multiple House ethics violations will surely someday be part of a movie. In the meantime, at least temporarily, his expulsion contracts a very narrow House GOP majority by one. There are now 221 Republicans in the House, and 213 Democrats.
Former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D) has expressed interest in returning to run for his old district, which leans very slightly Democratic. Several Republicans had already entered the race to challenge Santos in the 2024 primary, but it will fall to the party chairs to select the nominees for the special election, which is expected to take place in February.
Michigan: Sandy Pensler (R), a businessman who lost the 2018 U.S. Senate nomination to now-Rep. John James (R), is entering the race for this open Senate seat, promising to self-fund his campaign. He will have to defeat former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R), anti-Trump former Rep. Peter Meijer (R) and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig (R). No Republican has won a Senate race in Michigan since 1994.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D) is currently the prohibitive favorite at this point for the Democratic nomination.
This seat is opening up with the retirement of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). The primary election is a late one, to take place Aug. 6, 2024.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin Republicans’ only Senate wins this century have been by the same man — plastics company CEO and owner Ron Johnson, who committed significant resources in 2010 to defeat former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) and has since won re-election twice.
So perhaps it is no surprise that Wisconsin Republicans might turn to another wealthy businessman. So far, the Hotline reports, there are two such Republicans who might run — former Indycar driver and QPS Employment Group founder Scott Mayer and Sunwest CEO Eric Hovde — after the party’s leading Republican officeholders have chosen to opt out. The primary will be held Aug. 13, 2024.
This could be Republicans’ best shot at this seat in years, as the incumbent, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), had a negative favorable rating (43 percent unfavorable versus 41 percent favorable) in a poll taken one month ago.
The last Republican to hold this seat was Joseph McCarthy, from 1947-1957.