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DeSantis’s problem: How to campaign against Trump

A very happy Easter season to all of our readers.

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 15

  • Conservatives lose consequential race in Wisconsin
  • Trump’s indictment is helping him for now, but that could change
  • DeSantis faces a problem no Republican has yet solved: how to counter Trump?

Outlook

Wisconsin: Republican Dan Kelly was crushed once again, by almost the same margin as in 2020, in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election. Which invites the question — why was this man nominated despite being such a poor candidate the first time?

Kelly was nominated to the Supreme Court by Scott Walker in 2016 and was defeated in the 2020 election. But his real undoing was probably his involvement in the scheme to seat a slate of Trump electors after Trump lost Wisconsin in 2020. This scheme was not as nefarious as many leftists have portrayed it, but it was a piece of heavy partisan lawyering that many people would view as unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice. 

Liberals’ takeover of the court could be highly consequential, potentially overturning its anti-abortion law, forcing the legislature to revisit its state legislative and congressional maps, and possibly even reversing Scott Walker’s landmark Act 10 legislation limiting the powers of public employee unions. In short, Wisconsinites may be about to discover how far a narrow partisan majority is willing to go.

President 2024

Donald Trump: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) got his moment in the limelight last week, as former President Donald Trump was arraigned on 34 charges related to false bookkeeping entries surrounding a single transaction — a (perfectly legal) secret legal settlement for $130,000 to prevent adult film actress Stormy Daniels from discussing the affairs she had already alleged that they had almost two decades ago. Trump denies the affair, but all parties agree that a payment was made. The key question has to do with what the payment was for — was it a legal expense, or a campaign expense? And does it automatically become an illegally concealed campaign expense just because Trump was running for office in 2016? In fact, the fate of Bragg’s indictment hinges upon the answer to this question. 

The New York statute that Bragg is relying upon requires that Trump not only made false bookkeeping entries, but also did so for the purpose of furthering or concealing some other crime. If this did not happen, then the most that can be proven is that Trump might have committed a misdemeanor whose statute of limitations already ran out five years ago. (The statute of limitations might still have run out anyway, but that’s another issue that will have to be settled.)

To date, no such underlying crime has been proven or even prosecuted. Oddly, Bragg appears to be relying upon an unprosecuted federal campaign finance crime in order to justify this entire indictment. It is a very dubious and flimsy case that he has put together, as even some of Trump’s harshest critics have acknowledged. And if this prosecution depends upon an assumption that Trump is guilty of some other crime that he has never been tried for, can this statute even hold up to constitutional scrutiny given the requirement of a presumption of innocence?

So far, the indictment is helping Trump’s polling numbers. That isn’t guaranteed to stick for long, though. It is worth noting that a majority of voters currently believe Trump did something wrong on purpose, as a new ABC News poll shows. A large majority of general election voters do not believe that he is the victim of an overzealous or malicious prosecution designed to rig the 2024 election against him, even if Republicans specifically are sympathetic.

In the long run, this cannot be good for his brand or his electoral support. The same poll suggests that more than six in ten U.S. citizens do not want Trump to be president again. This is consistent with other polls that show that, no matter how unpopular Joe Biden is, Trump is considerably less popular.

Meanwhile, a key Florida Republican lawmaker who could have gone for Ron DeSantis — Rep. Byron Donalds —  just endorsed Trump instead. Donalds is viewed as a rising star and a potential eventual successor to DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis: The Florida governor faces a nearly impossible question that no one has yet been able to answer: how do you work against the most powerful force in the Republican Party, namely Donald Trump?

As the Washington Post pointed out over the weekend, DeSantis has gone back to avoiding direct criticisms of Trump. He had received some backlash after making remarks critical of Trump’s character related to the sordid legal settlement underlying the Manhattan indictment. Republican primary voters generally don’t like it when you attack Trump, as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and a host of others discovered in 2016. To date, no Republican has figured out how to counter him in a primary.

Then again, especially given the magnitude of the legal problems Trump could be facing beyond Manhattan, no one should assume that he is entitled to or even can win the nomination in 2024.

At the moment, it is true that Trump is leading in most national polls. But two points about this: first, there is no national primary election, and so the state polls that give DeSantis a much better chance are probably a more reliable indicator of the state of affairs. Second, such an early lead can be illusory. It means very little at a moment when Trump’s main opponent isn’t even a candidate yet.

Finally, here’s another thought. Just as there were shy Trump voters in 2016 who made the difference, various operatives and even journalists in the field report quietly that there are shy Republicans for DeSantis who don’t want their Trump-loving friends to know. DeSantis recently impressed conservative gatherings in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he will keep moving conservative measures through the state legislature until it ends in May.

Senate 2024

California: If you’re wondering why Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) went so far above and beyond to woo Democrats hopeful about the Russiagate hoax during the Trump presidency, look no further than his fundraising totals in this year’s senate race. 

An otherwise unimpressive older white male in a Democratic Party that normally looks down on such things, he is now leading the field for the open primary in both polling and fundraising. His $6.5 million haul for the first quarter is $2 million better than the runner up (Rep. Katie Porter (D) with $4.5 million).  

Nevada: Jacky Rosen is officially running for re-election. So far, Republicans have no formidable candidates to run in what should nonetheless be a competitive race. 

Governor 2024

Missouri: Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R), son of the former senator and U.S. attorney general, intends to maintain the family business with a run for governor next year to replace the term-limited Republican Gov. Mike Parson (R).

North Carolina: Well ahead of next year’s race to succeed Gov. Roy Cooper (D), Republicans gained functional control of the state when state Rep. Tricia Cotham switched to Republican, giving the GOP three-fifths majorities in both houses and the ability to override Cooper’s vetoes without any Democratic help. They have already overridden Cooper’s veto on a measure to abolish pistol permitting and are soon expected to override his veto of a universal school choice bill. This is the second party-switch this year (after another in Louisiana) to create a veto-proof GOP majority in a state legislature.

West Virginia: Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), who lost his 2018 bid for Senate against Joe Manchin (D), officially announced his bid for governor early last week. As a candidate with four statewide runs already under his belt (and three wins) in the last 11 years, he begins his race amid a very large but mostly undistinguished field, which includes Del. Moore Capito (the son of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R)) and the current state auditor and secretary of state. Morrisey’s last win was a 28-point blowout in 2020.

Trump wins sympathy, but the outcome is unpredictable

This Week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 14

  • Trump’s indictment imminent
  • Wisconsin Supreme Court race may be the most important this year
  • Why is Asa Hutchinson running?

Outlook

Wisconsin-Supreme Court: Tuesday’s runoff between former Justice Dan Kelly and Judge Janet Protasiewicz has been billed as the nation’s most important race. This may seem absurd for a state supreme court election, but a victory by Protasiewicz would return the state supreme court to the hands of the far left for the first time since the Walker era. This is why both sides have poured tens of millions of dollars into this race.

If given this power, liberals could attempt to redraw political maps, undo Walker’s popular public employee collective bargaining reform, and cause all manner of political chaos. 

A victory by Kelly would preserve the court’s current 4-3 conservative majority.

 Protasiewicz is actually campaigning on decisions she might make, whereas Kelly is slamming her as soft on crime.

This result on Tuesday could be extremely close, with Protasiewicz slightly favored.

Chicago runoff: This week’s runoff for Chicago mayor between Democrats Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson is another important bellwether. It will once again test an important question about 2024: can Democrats just “woke” their way into power, or will they have to address the looming issue of crime that concerns voters most?

Former teachers union official Brandon Johnson is testing progressive strength in Chicago. The thinking is that if the Left can’t get away with downplaying crime and racializing an election in one of the nations most left-wing jurisdictions, then they can’t do it anywhere. 

The defeat of Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the first round was already a bad sign for this election strategy, but this is not Richard J. Daley’s Chicago. Vallas, who has the backing of the police union, is narrowly favored to win.

President 2024

Donald Trump: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis brought his officially-not-a-presidential campaign to Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation Museum. Supporters of former President Donald Trump showed up in a massive, noisy, honking caravan.

It’s the sort of light-hearted moment everyone looks forward to in a presidential race. But this moment is not really so light-hearted.

President Trump is expected to turn himself in tomorrow and be arraigned on an indictment in Manhattan that reportedly contains more than 30 counts, including at least one felony charge. 

The initial reaction by nearly every Republican has been the same: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a political animal through and through who lets criminals go and prosecute innocent people who defend themselves, actually campaigned on targeting Donald Trump. He is now following through on his shady political promise with a dubious indictment intended to raise his own profile for a future citywide or statewide run for office.

This is all true. And Trump is very prepared to play the martyr this week, even to the point of requesting a “perp walk” in handcuffs.

Still, this week’s legal proceedings should serve as a reminder that Trump faces more than just one flimsy indictment in New York. He faces potentially less flimsy charges in Georgia (for attempting to interfere in the vote count in 2020) and at the federal level (for his handling of classified documents).

And then there’s the lawsuit he’s fighting this month. Its merits may be paper-thin, but getting sued is no joke. It’s exhausting, even if you’re Donald Trump.

Granted, it would probably be far too brazen for federal prosecutors to go after a presidential candidate yet again, especially after their Russia collusion investigation bombed so badly. But the Georgia case at least remains a threat. And perhaps Bragg has now made it easier for other prosecutors to go after Trump by opening the Pandora’s box of political prosecutions. Trump could be dragged through one legal proceeding after another all this summer and even into 2024.

Make no mistake, this weaponization of prosecution against a former president is completely unprecedented. It’s obviously a dirty trick that has nothing to do with enforcing the law or protecting the residents of New York County. This is why the whole affair has made Republican voters more sympathetic toward Trump even than before. But this is how lawfare works..As the Left finds new ways to weaponize government each day, Trump could find himself increasingly bogged down in one or more courtrooms at a time when he needs to be campaigning for the Republican nomination. For the moment, he’s riding high thanks to a ridiculous political prosecution, but the tables could turn very quickly.

Ron DeSantis: DeSantis received good reviews for his appearance over the weekend at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference

Trump leads DeSantis in most polls. However, even though polls this early mean very little, a super PAC supporting DeSantis produced one giving him a narrow lead over Trump among Republican voters in Georgia. DeSantis leads, 48% to 38% in a head-to-head, and 37% to 36% in a more crowded field including six other candidates.

This comes after recent state surveys showing a DeSantis lead in Iowa and a tie in New Hampshire, where DeSantis will make an appearance April 14.

Asa Hutchinson: As a two-term governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson (R) reportedly kept demanding that Sen. Tom Cotton (R) meet with regional trade officials from the People’s Republic of China. Cotton says he refused, on the grounds that the Chinese plan was simply to threaten to withhold business from Arkansas unless Cotton stopped speaking out against China’s human rights abuses.

Hutchinson also vetoed a bill preventing the mutilation of children through so-called gender-affirming care (here is his explanation of why), despite presiding over a state where such a measure would not have harmed his popularity at all. The least of his problems is the fact that he expanded Medicaid in his state under Obamacare.

And so his decision to run for president is a bit baffling, given what could be described as his total lack of moral authority.

The presidential field is probably already too crowded just between Trump and DeSantis, the two big Republican stars of the era. Some would even argue it is already too big for Nikki Haley, the undoubtedly accomplished former UN ambassador and South Carolina governor who has struggled to carve out a third lane for herself. 

This makes Hutchinson’s sudden announcement of a presidential run on Sunday…well, pretty odd. A former congressman darling of conservatives who served as a floor manager during Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Hutchinson also urged Trump to get out of the race. It’s Hutchinson’s right to say whatever he likes. But If anyone has even less of a path to the presidency than Chris Christie, Hutchinson is the guy.

Senate 2024

Florida: The suggestion that Gov. Ron DeSantis would jump into this Senate race was never anything more than a fantasy. There is no love lost between DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott (R), but he isn’t crazy enough to take on the junior senator with the nine-figure net worth.

The more interesting question is whether any Democrat of note will get in and run against Scott. The four candidates who have currently filed paperwork are non-entities. In spite of Scott’s potential vulnerabilities (including his feud with Mitch McConnell), the Daily Beast could not find any takers in Florida’s congressional delegation. And although the name of former Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) has come up from time to time, she has shown no interest in the race so far. Democrats have no statewide office-holders at this time.

One thing keeping them out of the race might be Scott’s vast personal fortune, reportedly worth as much as $355 million, and his well-earned reputation as a tireless and disciplined campaigner who does whatever it takes to win.

This wouldn’t be the first time Florida Democrats failed to field a serious candidate in a U.S. Senate race in recent years — take, for example, 2010, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist (a Republican at the time) ran as an independent and split The liberal vote. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) managed only a pathetic 20% showing in that race as Marco Rubio cruised to victory.

And in 2022, former Rep. Val Demings had the entire field of potential democratic candidates step aside for her, only to be humiliated in a 17-point blowout loss. 

Democrats held both of Florida’s Senate seats as recently as 2004, but they have not won a Senate race since 2012 or a governor’s race since 1994. 

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s “60 Minutes” Interview

“60 Minutes” host Lesley Stahl spoke with Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) The interview aired during Sunday’s broadcast. Liberals quickly criticized Stahl for interviewing Taylor Greene and CBS for daring to allow such an interview to air. “Some of the most important decisions you make as an editor are about who and what NOT to cover,” Laura Helmuth said. Independent journalist Glenn Greenwald argued that the liberal left was giving the game away.

Read More on The Daily Wire.

Parents In The Way

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DeSantis both defends and attacks Trump over NY case

Photographer: Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg via Getty Images

March 27, 2023

This Week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, issue 13

  • A new phase of the Trump-DeSantis GOP battle
  • Trump’s struggles on a net positive, so far
  • Republicans have an opportunity in Nevada, but do they have a candidate?

President 2024

Christie: Yes, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, has stated that he will be making a decision on whether to run for president in the next 60 days. But Christie is the answer to a question no one is asking.

It is funny, because there was a time when he really might have been relevant to the presidential conversation. And his endorsement of Trump, at a moment when Trump still had very little mainstream Republican support, helped turn him into the nominee in 2016.

But in fact, Christie lost the trust of anti-Trump Republicans, then lost Trump’s own trust. It is difficult even to remember today how popular his press conferences once were with Republicans and conservatives, as he tore apart liberal journalists, their activism, and their shibboleths. He could be considered a forerunner to Trump’s even more confrontational style. And now, it would be hard to find a Republican who supports him.

Trump: Even facing prosecution in multiple jurisdictions, Donald Trump is a force to be reckoned with.

Indeed, the prosecutions currently seem far more likely to help Trump than to hurt him.

Trump can incredibly claim — and even his most self-interested Republican detractors cannot disagree with this — that the Soros-backed woke District Attorney in New York City who is attempting to have him indicted has an extremely weak and tenuous campaign finance charge to bring against him. 

There are also potential charges coming in Georgia, which could be more serious. But these have been damaged by one idiotic grand juror’s loose lips. In every case, Trump has been boosted and helped by the people who hate him most. Some Republicans even view this as a conspiracy by leftists to get him nominated!

If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is using a book tour and a Florida legislative session to run for president, then Trump is using his own potential indictment and even the lawsuit he faces over an alleged rape to do the same thing. 

Nothing about Trump’s actual campaign has been impressive so far at all, but if he can continue to cast himself as the victim of vindictive leftist prosecutors, he will reap abundant benefits for the coming presidential primary.

DeSantis: Given the opportunity to comment on Trump’s legal woes, DeSantis savaged Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg for bringing a political prosecution. But he didn’t hesitate to take a shot at Trump, either, and this was something new. Here’s what he said: “Look, I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.”

Was it a low blow? Well, maybe. But could anyone — even the biggest supporter of Trump — deny that the former president would say almost exactly the same thing if DeSantis were facing similar legal troubles? Of course not. Trump would say it in a heartbeat. So why would his former friend and ally do anything differently?

This isn’t DeSantis’s first shot at Trump. Earlier, when invited to draw a comparison, he simply responded, “I won re-election.” But this is much more pointed attack on Trump’s character. Indeed, DeSantis did not stop with the mention of Trump’s ethical problems above, but actively raised the fact that this speaks to the man’s character in a subsequent interview with Piers Morgan: “At the end of the day, as a leader, you really want to look to people like our founding fathers. Like, what type of character — it’s not saying that you don’t ever make a mistake in your personal life — but I think, what type of character are you bringing?”

Will this tactic work? Go back to the conservatism of 2004 or even 2012, and yes, it probably would have. Many conservative leaders were undone by ethical faults in those times. But Trump seems to transcend all moral boundaries. 

In 2016, This sort of scolding over his manner of life did not work at all — not even with the very sort of religious Christians whom one would expect to object most strongly. Filled with low energy, establishment politicians unwilling to fight on immigration and various cultural issues, the entire GOP field flailed and failed as the entire party became Trump’s footstool.

Is DeSantis different? Well, he has shown himself willing to fight on all the issues where Trump did. The legislative session is adding new accomplishments to his resume day by day, and he understands keenly that the harder he fights on issues where the media hates him, the better he does.

Even so, if he finds the formula to take Trump down a peg, then he will be the first Republican to do so.

The polls in this race have shown a great deal of variation. Most national polls show Trump in the lead, but DeSantis is competitive.

Last week, a survey from Public Opinion Strategies showed DeSantis leading Trump in Iowa (45 to 37 percent) and tied with him in New Hampshire (39 percent each) in a head-to-head race. In both states, Trump’s unfavorable ratings are twice those of DeSantis and his favorable ratings are lower. 

However, DeSantis will not likely have the benefit of a head-to-head race. The numbers in these early states are good enough to show that he is a real contender, but he will be the underdog. Also, he trails Trump (by just two points) in a crowded primary in his own state of Florida, which is another problem he must overcome.

Governor 2023

Kentucky: Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has opened himself up to a possible electoral attack by vetoing the legislature’s Bill banning child mutilation (which leftists call “gender-affirming care”). The legislature may override his veto as soon as this week, as the bill had enough support for an override.

Governor 2024

North Carolina: The Republican field to reclaim the governor’s mansion will feature at least two candidates — State Treasurer Dale Follwell, who just announced over the weekend, and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is widely expected to announce soon.

Senate 2024

Maryland: Amid rumors that Sen. Ben Cardin (D) might retire (he will be 81 years old on election day), former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has ruled out running. Marylanders have not elected a Republican senator since 1980.

Nevada: Sen. Jacky Rosen (D) is viewed by Democrats as a potential liability in 2024, and by Republicans as a potential pickup.

Although Joe Biden carried Nevada in 2020, and Democrats have carried it in the last four presidential elections, he is now 15 points underwater there according to a new OH Predictive Insights poll (55% disapproval) and certain to serve as an anchor on Rosen, who also has a negative approval rating (30 percent approve, 40 percent disapprove).

Rosen won her seat in 2018, a Democratic wave year. Republicans have since been working very hard to make inroads with Hispanic and Asian voters, a process that began in earnest (with Asian voters, anyway) with an experiment in 2012. As in Texas, they have been having enough success in targeting these voters to make Democrats worry.

So far, the Republicans’ biggest problem is that they don’t have a candidate. Their bench is somewhat weak insofar as they had lost all major statewide elections (not counting races for controller and Secretary of State) since 2015 before finally winning last year’s governor’s race. 

As mostly second-tier candidates consider whether to run, this could become a race where some NRSC recruitment meddling would be welcome.

Did You See What Conservative Icon Newt Gingrich Just Said About 2024 Presidential Candidate Perry Johnson?

Perry Johnson has been making some big waves since officially jumping into the 2024 Presidential campaign earlier this month, declaring his candidacy at a packed reception during the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside Washington DC. 

CPAC is the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservative activists, politicians, and candidates.

Johnson, the “Quality Guru” and Constitutionally Conservative, Trump Republican who helped revolutionize America’s auto industry in the 80’s, stunned the swamp with his historic finish in the CPAC straw poll, finishing 3rd, ahead of establishment politicians like Nikki Haley. 

Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina, is well known, well funded, and has essentially been running for President for years—but Johnson still beat her.

Johnson’s speech was a big hit with the crowd—his message resonated while his supporters were passionate, and well organized, clearly visible every step of the way at the conference. 

Conservatives across the country took notice of Johnson’s big speech and straw poll win, including the legendary Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House and Presidential candidate, praised Johnson on Twitter.

“I just noticed that Perry Johnson, a remarkable innovative Michigan businessman came in third in the CPAC poll with 5% of the vote beating out a whole range of traditional politicians,” Gingrich said. “His message must have resonated.”

Gingrich is referring to Johnson’s plan to balance the federal budget by cutting 2 pennies off nearly every dollar currently being spent.

Johnson, who recently called on Biden to pardon President Trump and save the country from a political persecution, is spending a lot of time in Iowa.

He recently launched his 2nd ad campaign in the Hawkeye State, and has made stops at Drake, Iowa State, and many others. Johnson says he’ll launch a bus tour in Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming weeks.

Manhattan DA reportedly to arrest Trump

March 20, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 12

  • Candidate Biden stares down and unwelcome economic crisis
  • Trump’s impending indictment both helps and hurts him for 2024
  • Pennsylvania Republicans face another Mastriano problem in the 2024 Senate race

President 2024

Joe Biden: The sudden collapse of a handful of regional banks contains within a great peril for President Joe Biden (D) as he prepares to launch his re-election campaign. Biden is already deeply unpopular — a survey last week by Quinnipiac found him at 55% disapproval, versus just 39% approval among registered voters. He has a lot of ground to cover to regain popularity in the next 17 months. An economic crisis is the last thing he needs at the moment. 

So Biden’s political life is hanging in the balance as regulators and bankers try to save the entire system — otherwise, Biden will only be remembered for bailing out the depositors of Silicon Valley Bank well beyond what FDIC insurance would normally allow.

Meanwhile, the fact that Democrats are well and truly stuck with Biden for a second election cycle has not changed.

Donald Trump: The former president announced on Truth Social, in all caps, that he expects to be arrested this week. The charge really does look like a political witch hunt, given that the supposed offense — a payment of hush money over an alleged affair — has been public knowledge for several years now. Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg has never met a criminal he wasn’t willing to let off the hook, until now. His involvement should immediately raise suspicion, given his political nature. 

Will this impending indictment result in a Trump landslide victory, as Elon Musk has suggested? Probably not. But it will help Trump by reinforcing the victim narrative that has served him so well since he first launched his presidential campaign in 2015. Unless there are some huge surprises in the criminal complaint showing unexpected perfidy on his part, this will make him look more sympathetic, because it really does appear that he’s being railroaded.

On the other hand, any indictment, along with the lawsuit he is currently fighting over allegations of rape and defamation, make a Trump nomination much messier, at least. They make him a difficult person to nominate for president. Not that that stopped him in 2016…

Mike Pence: Speaking of difficult, it is difficult to see a path to victory for former vice president Mike Pence (R). The events of January 6 and the time since have created a massive rift between him and the party base. His accusations on Saturday, that former President Donald Trump was responsible for the rioting and lawlessness at the Capitol, set Pence up as the anti-Trump candidate, for good or for ill. 

“President Trump was wrong,” he said. “I had no right to overturn the election, and his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”

The problem is, most Republican voters are not anti-Trump, including many of the ones who have gotten over him and would rather vote for someone else. Neither Nikki Haley nor Tim Scott nor Ron DeSantis, nor any of the other potential Republican hopefuls, have been going at Trump quite like this. Yes, they are setting themselves up as alternatives to Trump, but not as his nemesis..

Pence, in contrast, is already framing his expected campaign as the one designed for the anti-Trump Republican vote. The market for this kind of candidate within the GOP primary will be limited.

Ron DeSantis: DeSantis received the endorsement of Rep. Chip Roy (R) this week — his first so far from a sitting member of Congress and his third recent endorsement from someone who might have been expected to back Trump. For him, that’s not bad, considering that he isn’t actually in the race yet.

Meanwhile, just as he used his book tour to his utmost advantage, DeSantis is now using the Florida legislative session to his utmost advantage as well. Yes, he is obviously running a shadow presidential campaign, but it is subtle enough that the ethics complaint filed against him by a Trump-backed super PAC will go nowhere.

Florida’s legislature is currently working on a new “heartbeat bill” restricting abortion, a long-desired tort reform bill, and a universal expansion of school vouchers. The legislative session is supposed to end May 5, at which point DeSantis is expected to announce for president. 

Governor 2023

Mississippi: in contrast to the recent poll showing Gov. Tate Reeves (R) losing to Brandon Presley (D), a new survey by Mason-Dixon has Reeves leading by seven points.

Even so, Presley has relatively low name recognition, with 37% saying they do not know who he is. With Reeves at only 46% support, there is at least a chance that the Democrat could grow his following. Reeves, in contrast, has universal name recognition. His approval rating in this poll is low but not fatally so at 39% (versus 34% who disapprove).

Governor 2024

West Virginia: Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) would hold a narrow lead in a crowded field, or he to jump into the open race for governor. He is reportedly considering doing so. The current governor, Jim Justice (R), is term-limited but widely expected to run for Senate against Sen. Joe Manchin (D), who won’t be making up his mind about running again until December.

Senate 2024

Pennsylvania: Former state Sen. Kathy Barnette (R), who stirred up the 2022 Republican Senate primary but finished third for the nomination, is sitting it out in 2024. Perhaps inspired by a recent poll showing her in third place against potential GOP candidates Dave McCormick and Doug Mastriano, She has chosen to bow out. 

However, It must be noted that Republicans have a big problem on their hands in the Keystone State, with or without Barnette in the race. Mastriano was badly blown out last year and would be almost certain to lose again in a statewide race against Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D). Yet the primary poll showed Mastriano leading McCormick, 42 to 28 percent in a head-to-head matchup.

With Barnette in the race, he would lead McCormick by even more — 39 to 21 percent. In the event that Mastriano does run, Democrats can be counted on to help him to the nomination, the way Gov. Josh Shapiro did in 2022.

House 2024

DCCC scandal: The DCCC, the campaign arm of House Democrats, has come under fire for its role in the illegal access of military service records of several Republican candidates in 2022. 

The House Judiciary Committee is now investigating this illegal breach, at the request of two of the victims — incumbent U.S. Reps. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.).

Most infamously, Democrats were illegally given access to the records of candidate Jennifer-Ruth Green (R-Ind.), which indicated that she had been sexually assaulted while in the Air Force. Flouting long-standing norms of journalistic ethics, Politico exposed her as a possible victim after the information was leaked to that publication.

Other unsuccessful Republican candidates also had their military files illegally accessed by Democratic operatives.

Republicans are eager to make Democrats’ weaponization of the bureaucracy an issue in 2024. This little scandal puts that on a silver platter for them. They may also find another example in the major leak of personal tax information to the leftist activist group Pro Publica.

Democrats view ‘No Labels’ as a threat to Biden

March 13, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 11

  • Trump’s “Thunder” and “Lightning” abandon him
  • “No Labels” Party has Democrats worried
  • Newly aggressive NRSC shaping Senate races in Montana, West Virginia

President 2024

Pennsylvania: Two of Donald Trump’s earliest and biggest supporters from 2016 have turned against him. The reason? His endorsements in 2022 gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and Senate candidate Mehmet Oz. These — especially the former — led to a statewide disaster for Republicans in what was supposed to be a promising Republican year. And in the case of Mastriano, who still might run for Senate this year, Trump was endorsing him over one of his own former allies, former Rep. Lou Barletta.  

Both Oz and Mastriano lost, reportedly causing Trump to go into a rage over the advice he had received to endorse them. Assuming the account relating that is true, he wasn’t the only one angry.

Barletta and former Rep. Tom Marino — the men whom Trump had referred to as “lightning” and “thunder” for their tireless campaigning on his behalf during his 2016 campaign — they both just endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for president, even though DeSantis isn’t even officially running yet.

Barletta and Marino aren’t big national figures. This isn’t necessarily going to turn the tide against Trump. But the fact that such devoted early Trumpers would change sides does have some deep significance. Although Trump retains most of his support from before, there are small cracks developing in the facade. His nomination is not guaranteed. The polls show a race he is clearly leading, but also a race close enough that things could get very interesting in 2024.

No Labels: The “No Labels” party has now succeeded in making the ballot in Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado, and intends to make the ballot in at least 20 other states. This has Democrats nervous about the presidential race, since such a third-way minor party would be far more likely to peel off moderate Democrats disaffected with Biden, of whom there are evidently many, than it would be to win over Republican voters. 

As the Democratic group Third Way put it, “Their candidate cannot win the presidency [and] such a candidate ‘will succeed in electing Trump.’”

Such a party could also help Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) win re-election in a three way race against Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and a Republican.

Senate 2024

Indiana: On the Republican side, Rep. Jim Banks is considered a conservative, anti-establishment candidate, which is reflected by his early endorsement by the Club for Growth. But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell himself is now scheduled to attend a fundraiser for Banks, a clear sign that the party establishment will not or cannot put up any serious resistance. Trump already endorsed Banks last month, so there just isn’t much chance of anyone stopping him or even trying.

On the Democratic side, there is no bench to speak of and no interest yet from anyone credible. Democrats’ desperation became evident from the fact that former Rep. Baron Hill (D) has been trying unsuccessfully to convince former White House chief of staff Ron Klain (D) to run for the seat. The idea that a top-ranked Biden official would run well in Indiana is rather far-fetched. Biden’s approval rating was 35% in Indiana just after the 2022 election. Indiana isn’t the competitive state it was in 2008, when Barack Obama snuck in a last-minute victory

The most optimistic scenario for them would involve recruiting former Sen. Joe Donnelly (D), who is currently serving as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. The only other candidate mentioned so far is Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett (D), who has run unsuccessful statewide races twice. But Hogsett is already committed to running for re-election in November 2023. This would put him on a challenging (although not impossible) timeline in terms of raising the money and making other preparations needed for a Senate race the following year. Then again, his re-election would lower the stakes by ensuring he still has a prominent political role 

Montana: In contrast to Indiana, Democrats got a huge boost when Sen. Jon Tester (D) announced that he would run for reelection once again. Republicans, who have now come up just barely short twice against him, are determined not to let that history repeat itself.

NRSC Chairman Steve Daines, who is also the junior senator from Montana, is recruiting retired Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy (R) to run against Tester. Sheehy’s candidacy would mark a departure from the usual and apparently losing formula in Montana of elected Republican officials (former Rep. Dennis Rehberg in 2012 and then current Rep. Matt Rosendale in 2018) running against Tester. 

Sheehy, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, founded an aerospace company. A political outsider, he is a multi-millionaire with huge self-funding potential. He has reportedly spoken to Donald Trump about running in the hope of receiving the former president’s endorsement. According to Axios, Trump was impressed.

It is already evident that Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) would move aside for Sheehy if he decides to run. So would Gov. Greg Gianforte (R), who polls against Testerbetter than anyone else already in politics against Tester. But Rosendale, a favorite of the Club for Growth, might challenge Sheehy in a primary anyway.

This is one case where Trump’s endorsement might end up aligning with the main line Republican Party. 

New York: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is telling donors that disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is going to try to make a political comeback by running against her. Is her fear real, or is it just a scare tactic to raise money? Cuomo probably cannot use any of his $9 million in state campaign funds to run for a federal office, so at least on that score it seems unlikely. Nor has Cuomo himself said anything about it, and his spokesman has denied planting the original story about this in the Daily Beast.

On the Republican side, former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) would be most Republicans’ favorite candidate after his impressive performance for governor in 2022. He already launched some sharp attacks at Gillibrand in his appearance at CPAC, calling her “one of the laziest, most forgettable, unaccomplished senators in the country.”

West Virginia: Daines has also been at work in the Mountain State, recruiting Gov. Jim Justice (R) to run against his former political ally, Joe Manchin (D). A recent poll showed Justice defeating Manchin, whereas Manchin led his other prospective opponents by wide margins. 

West Virginia could be a test of the new NRSC policy of choosing favorites and making early endorsements.

As for Manchin, he has said he will not announce his decision on whether to run for reelection until December. That gives  a very long time to wait, but it’s not as if there are any other Democrats waiting in the wings who could hold his seat in his absence.

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Lightfoot’s crushing defeat shows that Democrats are vulnerable

March 6, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 10

  • Lori Lightfoot’s crushing defeat in Chicago shows crime is a live issue
  • Trump dominates CPAC as others cede the field
  • No Democrats step forward yet to challenge Rick Scott

Outlook

Crime: Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot just got destroyed in last week’s primary election. With only 17%, the incumbent received roughly the same share of the vote as President Trump had in the city of Chicago — and for the record, Trump didn’t do that well within Chicago’s city limits.

The issue that killed Lightfoot was crime. Joe Trippi, the consultant who famously helped Howard Dean launch to the top of the Democratic field in 2004, recognized the potential of the crime issue and helped first place finisher Paul Vallas crush her using it. Vallas, who finished with nearly 34%, faces the second-place finisher, a defund-the-police leftist and former teachers union organizer, Brandon Johnson, who got only 20%. Vallas, who has the backing of the police union, is the favorite in the second round.

Crime is the very issue that Republicans intend to use against Democrats in 2024 — an issue they used with some success in 2022 in some states, particularly New York. The reasoning is that if this issue can help San Franciscans oust their district attorney, and help Chicagoans oust their mayor, why can’t it help Republicans win more broadly? 

In combination with other issues, crime is indeed potent. It should also resonate, as large American cities get worse and worse. Liberals, unwilling to blame their own preferred policies and records, are already starting to say things people were saying in the early 1980s — that big cities are ungovernable. But that isn’t true. Rudy Giuliani was one of the first to show that it wasn’t true when he took the nation’s biggest city and made it governable again.

And of course, it doesn’t even take a Republican mayor to learn those lessons. Many U.S. cities with Democratic mayors likewise became significantly safer through aggressive policing and longer prison sentences for habitual and violent offenders.

Washington D.C. had leaders earlier this century, such as Mayors Anthony Williams (D) and Adrian Fenty (D), who managed to bring the crime rate down to reasonable levels. But currently, D.C. has seen carjackings quadruple since 2019. Homicides were up last year by 25% over 2019 levels and more than 100% over 2012 levels. So far this year, they’re up another 33%. 

The situation in D.C. is bad enough that President Biden backed down last week from his pledge to veto the Congress’s bill overturning the District Council’s soft-on-crime rewrite of its criminal code. Ultra-woke D.C. council members, over the veto of the current mayor, are attempting to reduce penalties for robbery, burglary, and carjacking in the middle of a crime wave. If Biden is backing off so easily, especially after promising a veto earlier, then Democrats are clearly scared of this issue. At the very least, Biden just made the 173 House Democrats who voted against the measure walk the plank for nothing.

Republicans need to find a way to get a handle on this issue. Although they cannot count on winning majorities in big cities, they must do more to appeal to city residents on issues of public safety in order to blunt Democratic margins. In some states, with strong suburban and rural performances, a better-than-usual urban vote tally could be enough for a statewide victory.

President 2024

Donald Trump: At CPAC, Trump easily won the straw poll with 62 percent as his chief rival stayed away in order to avoid being upstaged. Trump’s performance put him 42 points ahead of DeSantis — a much bigger lead than he enjoys nationally, and also a clear reflection of how he has come to dominate the CPAC event since he was first laughed at during his appearances early last decade. He has come a long way.

Trump’s speech went for nearly two hours, which is long even for him. He laid down markers for some of the attacks he plans to launch this year against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). This includes DeSantis’s past support for either raising the retirement age or creating private accounts in Social Security. It is already clear that Trump has DeSantis on his mind, as no other candidate — including Nikki Haley — poses any sort of real threat to his possession of the nomination.

Trump also savaged the Republican Party of the Bush era and raised further doubts about whether he had actually lost the 2020 election, as opposed to having it stolen from him fraudulently.

Ron DeSantis: Meanwhile, Trump’s likely chief rival was promoting his book in a series of interviews and media appearances that will end when Florida’s new legislative session begins later this month. 

Again, DeSantis trails Trump. There is no question that Trump is the front-runner in this race. However, as an incumbent effectively taking a second shot at reelection, one would expect him to lead this early in the game.

DeSantis is definitely running, to Trump’s chagrin. There is definitely a real race here, as a relatively small double digit gap between the two candidates persists in many states. For example, DeSantis trails Trump by 11 points in Virginia, 16 points in Arizona, and actually leads him by eight points in California, all before even announcing his run or giving a single campaign speech. 

Primary elections are always much more fluid than general elections. The similarity of the views of DeSantis and Trump makes it much easier for voters to switch between one and the other, depending upon circumstances.

Although it is just a footnote for this past week, the decision by former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) not to run means that at least the anti-Trump vote will not be split quite as badly as it would be otherwise. That a very tiny plus for DeSantis at this point, assuming he actually runs.

RFK, Jr.: In addition to Marianne Williamson, Biden will have as a nuisance challenge the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Given recent events, Democrats seem unlikely to back him, but he might provide an outlet for those upset to see Biden renominated.

Senate 2024

Arizona: Kari Lake, the 2022 gubernatorial loser, claimed at CPAC that she had been offered a bribe to stay out of politics for two years. She did not name names, Even though she really has to if she wants people to believe such a thing.

Florida: The Hotline has a piece out this week on the reluctance of high-profile Democrats to take on Sen. Rick Scott (R). Despite his potential vulnerabilities — his personal feud with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, his potentially exploitable legislative proposals that Democrats have attacked — Scott is the wealthiest U.S. senator. He is capable of spending a large eight-figure amount of money from his own personal funds in 2024, just like he did in 2018. He is also reasonably popular and an excellent campaigner, having won three close statewide elections in eight years, and having knocked off an extremely popular Democratic senator in the Democratic wave year of 2018.

Given the extremely poor showing of former Rep. Val Demings (D) against Sen. Marco Rubio (R) last year, and the general implosion of the state’s Democratic Party in 2022, Scott finds himself standing alone, a formidable incumbent whom no serious Democrat wants to take on. 

The one saving grace for Democrats is that Florida’s primary is very late — August 20 — and this means that there is a whole year for some credible Democrat to step forward and take the plunge.

Nevada: Rep. Mark Amodei (R) has ruled out a Senate run against Sen. Jackie Rosen (D). Republicans are still searching for a credible candidate in this race. 

In the meantime, Democrats easily managed to oust their much-criticized socialist party chairwoman, ending a brief period in which democratic socialists seized control of the state party. This may help improve their party’s performance this cycle after they lost the governorship in 2022. Mainstream Democrats had circumvented the socialist leadership by forming a shadow organization, Nevada Democratic Victory, and transferring party funds to it on their way out the door. Now they have control of the party machinery once again.