After a strong debate against Newsom, DeSantis suffers his worst setback yet

The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 48

Dec. 4, 2023

This week:

  • 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

President 2024

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.  

House 2024

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.

Senate 2024

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.

A sagging Biden trails Trump in 10 of the last 10 polls

The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 47

This week:

  • Democrats have ten out of ten reasons to be nervous about Biden
  • Vast majority believe Biden should not run
  • Sheehy takes a lead in Montana’s Senate race

President 2024

Democrats: No one is putting too much stock in the news, but Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) is not seeking re-election to the U.S. House. This is significant because he is running a longshot campaign for president against Joe Biden in the Democratic primary. 

Why is he giving up a safe House seat for this low-percentage venture? Maybe he is just tired of Congress. But there could be more to it. 

This does not signify that Phillips has a greater chance of winning. In fact, if Biden drops out for some reason, the smart money is on California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to jump in and bigfoot Phillips. But Phillips’ candidacy does exemplify the difficulty that Democrats now face. Their almost-certain nominee is losing in ten out of the last ten national polls against Donald Trump, in spite of the latter’s four criminal indictments, his civil fraud trial, and his typically low approval numbers. 

The recent Messenger/HarrisX poll of 3,000 registered voters, released Nov. 22, gives some indication of just how bad the situation is for Biden. The raw total shows 47 percent supporting Trump before leaners, a seven-point lead over the incumbent. For an incumbent president 40 percent is an appalling topline number in any poll, but for him to trail someone as controversial as Trump by seven points, and to do no better than 40, is astonishing. 

That’s only the beginning of the bad news for Biden. When leaners are added into this survey, they split almost evenly, such that Trump rises to 53 percent for a six point lead over Biden. But the relatively small difference here indicates an electorate that is largely set in stone. Biden has only a tiny audience to appeal to, and he has to win nearly everyone in it.

Here’s another problem for Biden: Trump has shown that he can win the election without a national lead. He lost the national popular vote by two points in 2016. 

The chances of Biden winning an Electoral College victory without a national vote majority are very slim, just given the way the country is divided geographically. Trump, on the other hand, already did this once, and he came very close to doing it a second time. He doesn’t even have to lead in national polls to win, yet he is leading by six or seven points, depending on how you count it. 

Additional bad news: Only 39 percent approve of the job Biden is doing as president and only 16 percent “strongly approve.” Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Biden, and 40 percent “strongly disapprove.” 

And on and on: Biden still trails Trump by roughly the same margin (seven points, or six with leanders) when independent candidates Robert F. Kennedy and Cornel West are added into the mix. Finally, even when given these four choices, only about 11 percent of respondents appear to be undecided at this early stage.  

Sixty-seven percent of respondents, including 40 percent of Democrats, believe Biden should not run for a second term, compared to just 55 percent who don’t want Trump to run. 

This is just one of many polls with similarly depressing numbers for Biden released in the last two and a half weeks. The Emerson College poll released the same day showed Trump widening his lead to four points and Biden’s approval rating plunging to 38 percent. Meanwhile, Republicans also lead on the generic Congressional ballot, a measurement that usually tilts Democratic.

All this comes despite Trump’s legal woes, despite Biden’s $39 million in television spending (as of Nov. 2) and $10 million in online ads, despite the media’s pro-Biden tilt, despite continued low unemployment at less than 4 percent, and despite the administration’s attempts to rebrand the economic situation with fancy terms like “Bidenomics.”

Biden, whose numbers began their plunge with the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, is being undone by increases in the cost of living, the resultant high interest rates, his apparent decline in mental acuity, and dissatisfaction with his policies on a myriad of issues, ranging from foreign policy to immigration.

The question at this point is how he can right the ship if all of this advertising so far has gone for naught. But there is one more potentially debilitating hurdle for him up ahead. He will not be appearing on the ballot of the New Hampshire primary, in protest of the state Democratic Party’s insistence on defining the DNC and holding it first on Jan. 23. 

In this environment, it is not at all difficult to imagine Biden’s Granite State supporters losing their write-in campaign on his behalf. If the voters pick someone else — say, Marianne Williamson or Phillips — it will be a humiliating black eye for the sitting president. 

Governor 2024

West Virginia: With its Senate race likely uncompetitive due to Joe Manchin’s retirement (more below), an early survey by WMOV Radio hints at a potentially very competitive race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the Mountain State. 

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), who lost to Manchin for Senate in 2018, leads Moore Capito (R) (son of the state’s junior senator and grandson of a former governor), 31 percent to 23 percent, with 14 percent supporting Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) and 10 percent behind businessman Chris Miller (R), who owns a prominent automotive dealership group in the state.

The Republican nominee will be heavily favored to win the general election. Election Day is May 14.

Senate 2024

Montana: After multiple surveys showing conservative upstart Rep. Matt Rosendale (R) with a sizable lead in the GOP primary, a new survey must have the party establishment and also Trump-world smiling. Tim Sheehy (R), a retired Navy SEAL and the party’s preferred nominee to take on Sen. Jon Tester (D), leads Rosendale, 40 percent to 24 percent in a new poll of the race

This is the second poll so far this month showing Sheehy with a lead. The first one, which was commissioned by a PAC supporting Sheehy, showed a closer race at 44 percent for Sheehy and 41 percent for Rosendale.

Experience has shown that primary electorates are far more fluid than general electorates. Given a field with multiple candidates who roughly share their values and ideals, voters are far more likely to change their minds given additional information or campaigning. Donald Trump, who personally dislikes Rosendale, and NRSC Chairman Steve Daines, who happens to be Montana’s senior U.S. senator, share an interest in a Sheehy victory. 

Surveys indicate that either Sheehy or Rosendale would be competitive against Tester, although Rosendale narrowly lost to him in his last re-election race, in 2018. With West Virginia now a likely GOP pickup, this has become the most important Senate race in the U.S., perhaps followed by Ohio.

West Virginia: The same poll mentioned above showed Gov. Jim Justice (R) easily leading his primary opponent, conservative Rep. Alex Mooney (R), 56 percent to 20 percent. That’s no surprise, given Justice’s popularity, and it only confirms what other polls have shown.

Louisiana runoff caps off a disappointing but far-from-disastrous election for the GOP

The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 46

This week:

  • Tim Scott never had a lane in the presidential race
  • Reichert versus Ferguson could be a real race in WA-Gov
  • Sherrod Brown is genuinely vulnerable in Ohio

Election 2023

Louisiana: An important reminder that the November 2023 elections were not really a true disaster for the GOP is to be found in the down ballot or otherwise underlying results in the states that voted earlier this month. 

Even in Virginia, for example, Republicans’ performance was at least good enough for a stalemate. They had not been heavily favored to win the legislature, even though they had high hopes. They essentially fought the Democrats to a standstill in what was supposed to be a poor political environment, gaining a state Senate seat in the process, even as they lost a net TK state House seats.

In Kentucky, Republicans’ performance was not good enough to take over the governorship against a popular incumbent — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear survived, winning by five points. But it was good enough to sweep all five of the other statewide races by vast margins approaching or exceeding 20 points.

In Louisiana, The runoffs over the weekend confirmed total Republican control of that state. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Jeff Landry, had already won his race outright in October. But on Saturday, Republicans crushed their Democratic opponents for all remaining statewide constitutional row offices (treasurer, attorney general, and secretary of state), in each case by more than 20 points.

In short, although they failed to achieve their objectives this year and are on a bit of a losing streak, Republicans need to have a bit of confidence about how they did. They also need to get back to the election fundamentals that made them competitive during the Obama era, even if their political ideology has a new spin on it with Trumpism.

As long as Republicans continue to play the card of whining about election outcomes they don’t like, they will only depress base turnout and deepen their own problems.

House 2023

Utah-2: Are Republicans really headed for massive, tsunami-level losses in 2024? One early indicator of such an outcome would be a Democratic victory in Tuesday’s special election between Republican Celeste Malloy and Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Riebe

This seat opened up when Rep. Chris Stewart (R) announced his resignation due to his wife’s stroke last year. Malloy should win easily in a district with an eleven point GOP lean, according to the Cook partisan voting index. Otherwise, there’s big trouble on the horizon for the GOP.

President 2024

Tim Scott: It came as no surprise to anyone who has been watching the presidential race that Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has dropped his candidacy. 

Despite his inspirational personal story, Scott languished in limbo as a presidential candidate for a variety of reasons. The first and foremost has to be the presence of former President Donald Trump in the race. The second is that he was upstaged not only by a potentially stronger non-Trump candidate in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but by in another candidate from his own state, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who originally appointed him to the U.S. Senate. 

Scott had many advantages as a potential president, but not that many as a candidate. He was not the candidate willing to say the craziest things to draw attention to himself (that would be Vivek Ramaswamy), nor was he the natural frontrunner (Trump, of course), nor was he the well placed governor of a swing state (DeSantis). 

He was a senator with a great personal story and decent rhetorical abilities. But that’s not enough to win the nomination, at least not in the Republican Party of the Trump era.

Governor 2024

Washington: It has been a very long time since any Republican won a statewide race in the Evergreen State, but a new poll shows former King County Sheriff and U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R) with a statistically insignificant lead (46 percent to 44 percent) over Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) in a head-to-head race. 

Given that this is a poll by a left-wing pollster on behalf of a left-wing organization, it is probably worth considering at least as an indication that there’s going to be a real race.

Senate 2024

California: California Democrats were forced by an angry anti-Israel mob to cancel events related to their state convention over the weekend. Equally significant, they failed to agree on a candidate to endorse in the multi-party jungle primary for the open-seat Senate race to replace placeholder Sen. Laphonza Butler (D). 

None among Reps. Barbara Lee (D), Adam Schiff (D), and Katie Porter (D) was able to manage the 60 percent support required for an endorsement. Lee came closest of the three, even though she polls worst.

A three-way split among Democrats should leave an opportunity for Republicans, at least given President Joe Biden’s poor approval numbers even there. Retired Padres’ baseball great Steve Garvey is running as a Republican, but the most recent polling suggests that he is running only in third place and with just 10 percent of the vote.

New Jersey: Tammy Murphy (D), wife of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), has entered the Democratic primary against Sen. Bob Menendez (D). A win by her would make for an unusually powerful power couple dominating a state known for its corruption and machine politics. In fact, especially in a state like New Jersey, voters might feel uncomfortable about it. 

Murphy will enjoy significant establishment support as she takes on Rep. Andy Kim (D), who announced his candidacy earlier in the month in a bid to unseat a senator accused of taking massive bribes. 

Polls suggest that Democratic voters are unlikely to let Menendez slip through the primary, although his chances improve mathematically every time an additional Democrat enters the race. But Kim’s capaign has released a poll showing him with a decisive lead over Murphy, 40 to 21 percent.

Ohio: With Republicans already almost guaranteed to pick up a Senate seat in West Virginia, the top Senate battlegrounds will most likely be Ohio and Montana. 

In the former, incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) is struggling, according to a poll released this month by a left-wing group, Data for Progress. The survey shows Brown tied with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) at 46 percent, and leading State Sen. Matt Dolan (R) by just one point, 47 to 46 percent. For an incumbent at this point, it’s not a good look. 

Add to this the fact that, whatever advantage Democrats think the abortion issue might give them nationwide, it will be a hard sell in Ohio after the recent referendum adding abortion to the state constitution has, legally speaking, taken the issue off the table.

Election 2023: harsh lessons for Republicans, with some silver linings

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks with reporters after touring a Loudoun County elections facility at the County Office of Elections, in Leesburg, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Youngkin inspected ballot scanning machines undergoing logic and accuracy testing. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 45

This week:

  • Election 2023 is a Republican failure in Virginia, albeit a narrow one
  • Biden’s unpopularity is not enough to sustain the GOP
  • Manchin bails out as Election 2024 begins


There is no way to sugarcoat it — Republicans underperformed expectations in last week’s off-year election. The degree to which this bodes poorly for their prospects in 2024 is probably overstated — it always is in every even-numbered year, as it was when Republicans had a relatively good showing in 2021. However, Republicans have some serious structural problems to reckon with before next November.

As expected, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves (R) was re-elected, and he did it without even needing a runoff. Also as expected, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) won re-election in Kentucky. This was not surprising, but still disappointing for the GOP and its formerly up-and-coming star, Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R). 

In Virginia’s legislative elections, Republicans were not exactly wiped out, but they did lose what control they had. They certainly failed to meet expectations. They needed to gain two state Senate seats to take control of the upper body, but they gained only one. In the state House, they were defending a tenuous 52-48 majority, but ended up on the losing end of a 51-49 split when the dust cleared.

Even the Democratic nominee for state representative who had livestreamed weird fetish pornography online for paying customers came within a thousand votes of victory. This result alone, although a loss for Democrats, is a sign of the extent to which the “Vote Blue, No Matter Who” movement has infected some quarters of the country. 

For now, the Republican brand is clearly very weak. It is failing to land with younger voters and others who have been more persuadable in the past. Another disappointment is that this result came in spite of Joe Biden’s overwhelming unpopularity as a president. According to Gallup, his approval rating at this point in his presidency is worse than any president since Carter.

Silver linings: However, the result in Virginia still shows that things are not entirely hopeless. Working with a Democrat-drawn map, Republicans still essentiallly managed to break even in Virginia (supposedly a hopeless blue state) while pushing for a ban on second- and third-trimester abortions and largely sticking to their guns on most important issues such as gun control and taxes. 

Loudoun County, a blue county in the Washington D.C. area, had became famous for its transgender school controversies. Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj (D) was targeted for leniency toward criminals and for her vicious prosecution of a father whose daughter had been raped because of the county’s liberal transgender school bathroom policies. Biberaj lost re-election. Voters also defeated the only two incumbent schoolboard members who ran for re-election, although they kept a liberal majority on the board, which had instigated a coverup of a rape and a second sexual assault by a male student wearing a skirt.

Ohio-abortion: The bitterest result for conservatives probably came in Ohio, where the abortion industry successfully convinced voters to enshrine a right to abortion (and perhaps even the abolition of parental rights over it, once the courts interpret it) in their state constitution. The result illustrates how far the pro-life movement has to go in order to convince voters in the post-Roe era.

There is no question that the electoral landscape has changed with the Dobbs decision. Prior to this, Republicans enjoyed a small but consistent net advantage by being pro-life. Now, the issue appears to cut slightly against them, at least when it is isolated on ballots in states like Ohio and Kansas before it.

The silver lining is that, in the end, the 13-point margin by which Issue One won could have been much worse. Over 43 percent in what is usually a pretty swingy state (or could be again) voted to defend Ohio’s relatively stringent abortion ban. That isn’t great, but it is not exactly the blowout that the abortion industry had hoped for. They won, but they failed to make an example of what happens when you take a principled pro-life position. 

With time and work, it may be possible in the future to use a ballot issue to restore the state’s power to limit abortions again and even to work, in time, toward abolition. 

The long-term story of Ohio’s abortion law teaches a different lesson that is often lost on conservatives. It illustrates the importance of accepting incremental change where necessary and of remaining in tune with each state’s electorate. 

Politicians’ bravery on this issue is laudable in one sense. If all it meant was that Republicans would lose more elections, it might be completely worth it to pass the most stringent laws available. But this becomes impractical if it results in Democrats seizing complete power just months later and reversing everything, legalizing abortion up until the moment a child goes to college — or, as in this case, enshrining such a right in their state constitution, which even a solidly Republican legislature like Ohio’s cannot do much about.

This is a feature of politics in any republic. Both fortitude and prudence have important roles to play. 

As is by now obvious, the Dobbs decision was only the first step for the pro-life movement, not its end goal. If you are a committed pro-lifer, then you understand that some states should ban abortion right away, as the voters there can sustain the result. Others, however, still have more convincing to do before they can get there. The question is where to draw the line, without sacrificing the principle that the ultimate goal is abolition. 

Virginia Republicans, despite their narrow loss, could be treated as a case study for having pressed the limits of what their state’s electorate would accept. This is probably the best approach. It will not always result in victory, but it is doubtful that they would have done better by raising the white flag on this issue and losing a key party constituency. 

Senate 2024

West Virginia: Not long ago, West Virginia was solidly Democratic. West Virginians only started voting consistently Republican for president in 2000. They kept re-electing two unbeatable Democratic senators and had a lock on the state’s U.S. House seats right up until 2010. In the time since, the voters have finally given up on Democrats altogether. 

It was only in 2014 that the GOP seized control of the state legislature, at which point a cascade of party-switches followed. Even after Democrats won the governor’s mansion in 2016, they lost it again when their candidate, Gov. Jim Justice (D), became a Republican. It was only in 2020 that Republicans finally seized control of all six statewide constitutional offices.

And the situation has only become more dire for the Democrats since. After the 2022 election, which in most of America was a disappointment for the GOP, only 14 out of West Virginia’s 134 elected state legislators and senators were Democrats. For context, that’s down from 33 just before the 2022 election and 77 before the 2014 election.

It is in this context that Sen. Joe Manchin (D) finally announced his decision last week. It was exactly what we expected. Having read the writing on the wall, he will be retiring at the end of his current term. He still has not ruled out a third-party presidential run. Manchin, a former governor of the state, could almost be called the last Democrat standing, and he certainly is the last Democrat electable statewide

There is no such thing as an absolute certainty in politics, but this is about as close as it gets: Republicans will pick up this U.S. Senate seat in 2024. There is no Democrat left in the state, aside from Manchin, who could hold it at this point, and probably Manchin wouldn’t have been able to hold it, either, especially with a presidential race at the top of the ballot.

All that needs deciding now is the Republican primary between Justice, an extremely popular governor and the favorite, and conservative U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney (R), who formerly represented a district in Maryland’s state Senate and served as state party chairman there before moving his family to the Mountain State. Mooney has the support of the conservative Club for Growth, but he also has a long uphill climb, if the available polling is any indication

With Manchin out of the race, it is likely that either Republican will win easily if nominated. 

Melting Approval

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Biden trails Trump in multiple swing states

The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 44

This week:

  • Biden is losing to Trump all over the map
  • Despite Trump’s trials, he polls above 50 percent
  • Big state and local elections tomorrow


Trump trouncing Biden? Just how unpopular is President Joe Biden right now? Last week, the New York Times commissioned polls of six battleground states by Siena College. The surveys were taken in Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. 

So here is how bad things are for Biden at the moment: In only one of the six states in question (Wisconsin) does Biden even get to 45 percent or better in head-to-head matchups against former President Donald Trump. And Biden trails Trump in five of the six states by margins ranging from four to 10 points.

These numbers, which come from a company that could never be accused of shilling for Trump, point one year ahead of Election Day to a broad national electoral college victory for Trump. They are also astounding for a number of additional reasons. 

First, Biden’s failure to crack 45 percent in so many key states is indicative of his continued, persistent unpopularity. An incumbent running for re-election to any position who suffers such low numbers is normally considered doomed. If we were conspiracy theorists, we might theorize that the poll was a New York Times’ attempt to push him out of the race altogether, so that a more viable Democrat could run and win. (We do not actually believe that, but some people might.) 

Second, former President Trump usually polls far below his real levels of support. The “shy Trump voter is a well-known phenomenon — this is why his victory in 2016 and his near-victory in 2020 were both so shocking. So either these numbers represent a departure from that trend, or they show that Trump is on his way to a much larger victory than anyone reasonably expected to date.

Third, Trump is beating Biden convincingly even in the key states — Georgia and Arizona — where he underperformed worst as a Republican nominee during his two previous presidential runs (including 2016).

Fourth, this comes even as Trump is going through a civil fraud trial and faces four separate criminal indictments. 

These polls suggest that America is rejecting, en masse and in diverse geographic locations, the dominant media narrative that the prosecutions and other accusations against Trump are meritorious, not frivolous or politically motivated. 

We have speculated previously about the potential results of a conviction, but just imagine what happens if Trump beats the rap or gets a hung jury in even just one of these trials before the election. It could prove a humiliating and politically devastating result for Biden’s Justice Department, as it might take only one juror or one judge in a ruling on appeal to ruin the entire plan.

All of Biden’s other polls look bad: Note that this is not the first or only poll showing devastating results for Biden right now. CBS News just published its own national survey showing Trump at 51 percent support. It is normally very rare for him to poll above 50 percent, but this has happened now in three of the last ten national polls over a period of one month. In fact, Biden leads in only two of those ten polls, and in those by just one point each. His unpopularity is so great that the normal incumbent’s polling advantage simply doesn’t exist for him.

People are not really that eager to put his presidency behind them as the widespread assumptions of the media would indicate. Journalists magnified every controversy and behaved in an almost  manic fashion when Trump was president. Today, though, the polls indicate that most people really wouldn’t mind hearing his dumb comments about injecting sunlight into his veins, his insulting names for all of his opponents, or his long, rambling and confrontational press conferences, so long as it means they don’t have to live under Biden any longer. 

Among the many concerns expressed in the poll about Biden were his being “too old” to be an effective president (71 percent), his “mental sharpness (62 percent) and his performance on the economy, where they prefer Trump by a 22-point margin. 

There is still a lot of time before next year’s election, but Democrats are in a bit of a bind over Biden’s situation. Many partisans continue to promote him without concern and disdain those who would challenge him. But on Sunday former top Obama aide David Axelrod suggested he should drop out of the race and make way for someone else — probably not Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), but perhaps California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), whose recent trip to China made clear he is running a shadow presidential campaign.

Iowa: Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) is endorsing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), just as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is catching up to him for second place in the Hawkeye State. This comes as it feels less and less likely that the legal actions brought against Trump are going to bring him down before the caucuses. 

Election 2023

A number of state and local elections take place tomorrow across the nation. Here’s a quick recap of what to watch for in some of the most important ones.

Kentucky: Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is heavily favored to win re-election. But polling in Kentucky is notoriously unreliable. What’s more, with Biden’s numbers so bad nationally and even in far Bluer states than the Bluegrass State, a surprise upset by Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) cannot be ruled out. 

It must be added that Republicans are widely expected to sweep all of the other statewide constitutional offices besides the governorship — attorney general, secretary of state, agriculture commissioner, etc. If Beshear does survive on Tuesday, he will be the one island not overwhelmed by a rising red tide. Leaning Democratic retention.

Mississippi: Every Democratic poll has pointed to a very competitive race in Mississippi between Brandon Pressley (D) and incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves (R). All independent polls, however, suggest that this will instead turn out as a decisive win for Reeves.  

If the race really is close, it could result in a runoff under the new rules adopted three years ago. Under the old rules, a successful candidate had to win a majority of state House districts in addition to a plurality of the statewide vote, or else the state legislature would choose the governor. 

The new rules are much simpler and match those of other southern states such as Georgia, requiring only a 50 percent-plus-one majority. Likely Republican Retention.

Virginia: Republicans, led by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), are looking to take full control of the state legislature. This would require protecting their two-seat majority in the state Assembly and picking up at least two seats in the state Senate. This will be the first race since Youngkin’s 2021 victory in which the state Senate is up for grabs. The Senate outcome will be largely determined in about ten of the Old Dominion’s most competitive districts.

Senate 2024

West Virginia: Still no official decisions (one has been promised for fall, so it could be any day), but here are two small hints that Sen. Joe Manchin (D) may not be running for re-election. First, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is not treating West Virginia as a battleground state with its initial allocation of resources, even though it is arguably Republicans’ best Senate pickup opportunity. 

Second, Sen. John Fetterman (D) of neighboring Pennsylvania remarked that Manchin “is not going to be around much longer” and even said he looked forward to inheriting Manchin’s parking spot on the Capitol grounds. The two have had a dispute over the recent reinstatement of the Senate dress code, an action in which Manchin participated, which targeted Fetterman specifically for wearing hoodies around the Capitol. 

Military Grade

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Biden gets a Democratic challenger (again)

The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 43

This Week:

  • ‘Mike Who?’ A new Speaker takes the gavel
  • Biden draws a challenger,  chickens out in N.H.
  • N.C. Republicans reclaim their state’s map


Speaker’s race: In 1998, Newt Gingrich, facing a rebellion by House Republicans and revelations of an affair with a staffer, stepped down as Speaker of the House. The affair was a more serious problem than it might have been otherwise because at that moment Republicans were moving to impeach President Bill Clinton for perjuring himself in connection with an affair with an intern several decades his junior.

Republicans had to choose a new Speaker, and this was the first time in four decades their party had faced a genuinely wide open Speaker’s race.

At first, they were poised to go with Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), But then pornographer Larry Flint managed to dig up dirt on his own infidelity in what would become a successful effort to save Clinton’s skin. 

Ultimately, Republicans came up with an unexpected choice — Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), an obscure and seemingly inoffensive member of Congress from rural Illinois. For the next 16 years or so, political science professors would look at Hastert’s election as an example of what could happen when you are nobody’s favorite but everyone’s second or third choice. But in more recent years, the dark side to this choice (it emerged in 2015 that Hastert was secretly a child molester) also made it a cautionary tale that everyone’s “inoffensive” second choice might not be vetted quite thoroughly enough to be just two heartbeats away from the presidency.

Mike Johnson: Not that we have anything bad to say about Rep. Mike Johnson (R.-La.) — quite the contrary. For now, his selection seems to have united the Republican caucus in a way nothing else could. But like Hastert, he really did come out of nowhere in his surprise victory in the race for Speaker last week. 

As one of almost a dozen hopefuls, he had been no one’s favorite for the job until after the ouster of McCarthy and the subsequent failure of multiple more powerful and high-profile members, who already rank high in leadership or the committee structure, to find the votes they needed (or would have needed) inside the Republican conference to be elected Speaker on the House floor — that is, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.). Johnson was elected to the House in 2016, which means he is only in his fourth term.

There is one thing Johnson has not done historically that Speakers usually do for their parties. Unlike McCarthy, who raised millions for House Republicans while occupying the chair, he does not have a history of being a prolific fundraiser.

Johnson’s brand of politics, although more Evangelical-Religious Right than it is Trumpist or establishment Republican, is mainstream within the Republican conference, and most members of the party are comfortable with it. At first blush, he appears to live by the motto that Mike Huckabee and Mike Pence both made popular in the first decade of this century: “I’m conservative, but I’m not angry about it.”

He’s going to have to keep that equanimity in order to succeed. When McCarthy was seeking the speakership in January, we discussed at some length the decision about whether to allow just one member to move to vacate the Speaker’s chair. Although that decision was not the reason for McCarthy’s downfall — it took several Republicans to vote to remove him, along with all Democrats — the narrow margin in the House highlights the fact that all it takes is a small handful of Republicans to rebel in order to create big problems for the Speaker and the entire conference. Johnson’s job, therefore, will be as much like herding cats as McCarthy’s was. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and his companions have been widely reviled, including by many conservatives, for helping Democrats to oust McCarthy and create chaos in the House. However, something good may come of this if the Speaker’s chair is made a bit less powerful by it. 

Johnson’s approach to his position will have to be one of humility, as he cannot afford not to listen to his constituents as Speaker — namely, the members of his conference. He is, for example, more likely to allow free votes on clean bills and amendments on such topics that divide Republicans as Ukraine aid and Israel aid (he has already promised a clean vote on the latter), as he cannot afford not to give his members reasons for resentment. 

In short, there will be no more forcing everyone to eat the proverbial “crap sandwich” that former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) once talked about, nor can he simply impose his will by putting key issues inside of a “Christmas tree” bill that everybody has to vote for unless they want a politically dangerous government shutdown. 

If Johnson can make such concessions without becoming a pushover, and also without over-exercising his authority against recalcitrant members, then his speakership can be a rousing success. The most important challenge he faces initially is to get a spending package through the House in time to avoid a shutdown, then to restore regular order in the House and pass the individual spending bills by department that the House failed to move under McCarthy. 

President 2024

Nikki Haley: The latest Des Moines Register survey shows the former South Carolina governor has reached a tie in Iowa with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for the only prize currently available — second place to Donald Trump. Haley and DeSantis each have 16 percent, with the rest of the field in single digits. This poll was taken before Mike Pence dropped out of the race, but he received only 2 percent in this poll anyway.

Given that Iowa is DeSantis’s only hope for breaking Trump’s stranglehold on the nomination — Donald Trump has 43 percent in Iowa, which is a big lead but still under 50 percent — things are not looking great for his campaign. On the other hand, Haley looks much better as the potential Trump-killer, Although it seems very doubtful that she or anyone else can stop the former president.

Dean Phillips: RFK, Jr. is out of the Democratic primary and running as an independent, but Joe Biden has a Democratic challenger once again. Although he is the longest of longshots, third-term Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) represents the moderate “Biden can’t win” wing of the Democratic Party, and has cited the possibility for former President Trump winning again as the reason for his candidacy.

Phillips filed to run in New Hamphsire on Friday. Joe Biden, however, will not be on the ballot because of the Granite State’s refusal to move its primary back to a later date in obedience the Democratic National Committee’s diktat. There will, however, be a write-in campaign for Biden. He might live to regret this decision if his disrespect for New Hampshire’s primary process causes an embarrassing result when the primary takes place Jan. 23 next year.

House 2024

North Carolina: The state Senate passage of the new congressional map restores the GOP advantage that the courts had taken away. This puts Republicans on a likely course of gaining three additional House seats at Democrats’ expense, and of gaining a fourth seat in a good election year. 

This was made possible by the election of a 5-2 Republican majority to the state Supreme Court last year, which flipped from a 4-3 Democratic majority. This highlights the importance of state-level elections that some people consider obscure or less noteworthy.

State 2023

As we have noted here previously, governorships in Kentucky and Mississippi, as well as state legislatures in Virginia and New Jersey, will be on the ballot next Tuesday. It should be noted, however, that local and municipal elections are occurring all over the U.S. If recent controversies over school boards are any indication, all of these races matter, and we highly encourage all of our readers to get out and vote.

Biden’s issue-approval deficit should both please and alarm Republicans

Former US Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19, known as the Coronavirus, during a press event in Wilmington, Delaware on March 12, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 42

October 23, 2023

This week:

  • House Speaker race expands with no end in sight
  • Biden’s approval deficit and its potential danger to Republicans
  • Will Biden get a serious primary challenger this week?


House Speaker: The House still needs a Speaker. Given current events, it probably needs one more urgently than it usually does. 

After Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) failure to win the speakership after three tries, the race for Speaker has expanded into a nine-way contest with no clear favorite. The main problem is that none of the nine may be capable of inspiring the almost-unanimous support that would be required from Republicans in order to win without Democratic help. This could lead ultimately to a bipartisan coalition choosing a new Speaker as we speculated last week, but we are probably still a long way from anything like that happening.

The usual suspects who helped a unanimous Democratic Caucus oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are unlikely to back someone like Pete Sessions (R-Texas) or Tom Emmer (R), both veterans of House Republican Leadership. Emmer additionally draws ire from former President Donald Trump (R), having voted against overturning the 2020 election in his favor. 

Meanwhile, the same Republican members who defeated Jordan’s bid for the speakership are likely also to refuse to support someone like conservative Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.).  

Meanwhile, Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) is making a bid for a temporary Speakership, selling his candidacy on the fact that he is older, lacks ambition for leadership, and would step down at the end of the year after finishing the budget.

A question in the minds of some members is whether Republicans want a Speaker who voted to overturn the 2020 election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Democrats lack such compunction — Nancy Pelosi told reporters in 2017 that concerns over “voter suppression” and Russian collusion would justify holding a vote to overturn the 2016 election, as many House Democrats wanted to and tried to do. (They failed to find a senator who would second their objections on the House floor.) Note that this would justify voting to overturn all elections, since Democrats make allegations of “voter suppression” every time they lose.

But in the meantime, it is noteworthy that seven of the nine Republican candidates for Speaker voted to object to the slates of electors from Arizona or Pennsylvania or both on Jan. 6, 2021. The other one who did not was Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.).

President 2024

Biden approval: A series of new presidential polls show apparently good news for Donald Trump’s bid to return to the White House. According to CNBC, Trump leads Biden by four points, 46 to 42 percent. Trump also led in two new polls last week — Emerson and Harvard-Harris. And yet another poll, this one of swing states, suggests that Trump leads Biden in four swing states he lost in 2020 — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

This sounds good if you like Trump, but note the unusual context in which these polls are being taken.

Biden is historically unpopular, and he has hit new all-time lows this month, according to a new survey from Ipsos that looked at his approval rating on a number of key issues important to voters. 

Biden’s approval rating on handling of the economy, for example, has fallen this month to 36 percent, the lowest level of his presidency so far. His disapproval rating on this issue is 61 percent, which is not the highest. Still, the net disapproval here is striking, especially considering that the job market remains relatively robust, and gasoline prices, although high, have still not come anywhere close to their summer 2022 highs in most of the country.

It is evident that inflation, despite its abstract nature, is something voters genuinely notice in their day-to-day lives, and it remains unacceptably high. On inflation specifically, Biden’s approval is now a net negative 40 percent, tied for the all-time worst of his presidency.

This issue is especially bad because people don’t like the cure for inflation, either. Consider that the environment for homebuyers and homeowners alike has become significantly worse because of the high interest rates that are arguably necessary to tackle inflation. Nobody likes the idea of taking out an 8 percent mortgage, especially when rates were below 3 percent in recent memory, and so it is now harder both to buy and to sell a home.

On crime, the Ipsos survey puts Biden at 33 percent approval, an all time low, and 64 percent disapproval, tied for the all-time high. On climate change, Biden’s rating has fallen to 39 percent approval, another all-time low, versus 57 percent disapproval, a new all-time high.

It is also worth noting that 70 percent of Americans disapprove of how Biden is handling immigration — an astounding figure that likely reflects discontent mostly on the Right but probably some also on the Left.

Ukraine reversal: One of Biden’s best issues throughout his term has been the Ukraine War. But according to Ipsos, his approval rating on the issue of Ukraine is now down to 41 percent approval, with 56 percent disapproval. This is tied with the rating he received in the Ipsos issue survey of January 2022, just before the war started. Recall that at that time, his administration was being accused of slow-walking aid that Ukraine needed to resist an expected invasion. Although his rating on the issue of Ukraine soared after the invasion in February 2022, it has since reverted to net-negative issue. This political reality might be driving at least some Republican skepticism about the war in Ukraine.

Republicans might be pleased to see Biden’s polling so low. But in fact, they should also be a bit alarmed about it. Any number of things could improve over the next 12 months, before next November’s presidential election. High interest rates, increased productivity, or an end to the Russia-Ukraine war could help curb inflation. Any number of other things could get better, too, convincing the public that maybe Biden’s presidency is a better alternative than a return to Trump.

In short, especially given that some polling has Biden tied with Trump despite all of his deficits on issues, there some reason to worry that he is cratering too early. It makes him more likely to recover some ground before the election, much like Barack Obama did in 2012. 

Then again, things could also get worse for the country, and for Biden, in the next 12 months.

Dean Phillips: In addition to all of the other challenges Biden faces, will he now draw a serious primary opponent? Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), whom we have previously mentioned as a possible challenger to Biden, has pulled a permit to hold a rally in Concord, N.H. at the State House Plaza this Friday. Friday also happens to be the filing deadline for the New Hampshire presidential primary

This should call to mind how Pat Buchanan’s 1992 challenge undermined George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign by exposing his weakness with a surprisingly strong 38 percent finish in the Granite State. With the exception of Donald Trump, losing incumbents have tended to show early weakness in their primaries, going back at least to Jimmy Carter and the modern era of presidential primaries.

Governor 2023

Kentucky: Polling in the Bluegrass State is, generally speaking, garbage, as Brandon Finnigan recently pointed out at DecisionDesk HQ. Out of the last 40 polls in statewide contests going back to 2014, 39 understated Republican support, and by an average of 8 percentage points. 

For that reason, surveys pointing to an easy victory for Gov. Andy Beshear (D) on Nov. 7 should be automatically distrusted. 

Still, a surge or comeback by Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) is something that at this point can only be imagined, not predicted. Beshear’s massive spending advantage over Cameron still makes him a favorite for re-election. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Wokeism Killing The Light

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Pat loves drawing, America, and the Big Man upstairs. His work aims to combine these three elements into a petri dish and see what happens. We hope you will find his work thought-provoking, insightful, profound, and maybe, just maybe, a bit humorous.