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Mike Johnson’s Christmas Vacation
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Mike Johnson’s Christmas Vacation

Plus: A look at how a viable third-party candidate could throw the 2024 election into chaos.

Happy Friday! Andrew’s headed down to Arizona this weekend to see what Turning Point USA’s been up to lately—if you’re in Phoenix, drop him a line!

Up to Speed

  • Republicans in New York have selected Mazi Melesa Pilip as their nominee in the February 13 special election being held to replace George Santos in the vacant 3rd Congressional District. Santos was expelled from Congress after less than one term in office following a House Ethics Committee investigation that alleges the Republican committed fraud and other crimes during his 2022 campaign. Pilip is a Jewish, Nassau County legislator who migrated from Ethiopia to Israel as a child and served in the military there before immigrating to the United States. For their nominee, Democrats in the district selected Tom Suozzi, a former congressman and ex-Nassau County executive.
  • Negative advertising targeting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis surpassed $30 million this week, according to Rob Pyers, a research director at the nonpartisan California Target Book who tracks political spending. Groups backing Donald Trump are behind a significant amount of the anti-DeSantis expenditures. DeSantis has dropped precipitously in the polls since launching his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in late May. Although his campaign has made mistakes and been beset by controversy, no other 2024 presidential candidate has been subjected to as much critical advertising as the Florida governor, per Pyers’ calculations—not President Joe Biden, not the 45th president, and not former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
  • President Joe Biden’s campaign held a retreat in Washington on Thursday for high-dollar donors, Bloomberg’s Justin Sink reported, as it seeks to hit a goal of raising $67 million in the fourth quarter and counter concerns about the 81-year-old incumbent’s age and poor polling. The gathering at a local hotel was led by top Biden fundraisers, including Hollywood movie producer and campaign co-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg.
  • The Pew Research Center’s most recent polling reveals interesting data on how Republican voters view bipartisan deal making with Democrats. According to Pew, Republicans overall are split on whether they want lawmakers of both parties to work together to get things done, or push for maximalist policies even if that means getting nothing done. But differences on this question are more pronounced depending who a Republican voter supports for the GOP presidential nomination. Among supporters of frontrunner Donald Trump, just 36 percent want lawmakers to compromise with Democrats to get things done, with 63 percent favoring partisanship even at the expense of legislative accomplishment. Among supporters of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that compromise/don’t compromise split sits at 52 percent/47 percent; among supporters of former governor and ex-ambassador Nikki Haley it registers 72 percent/28 percent.

The Honeymoon May Be Over

House Speaker Mike Johnson walks through the Capitol on Tuesday, December 12, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
House Speaker Mike Johnson walks through the Capitol on Tuesday, December 12, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The Senate’s still hanging around, but the House of Representatives is done for the year. After all the chaos the People’s House suffered through in 2023, lawmakers can use the break. But it’s unclear how relaxing the time off will be for Speaker Mike Johnson, who enters the recess in an odd spot.

In some respects, Johnson has risen to the challenge of his new role since his October ascension. He shepherded his conference through a short-term funding fight and played the heavy in ongoing talks on a bill that would pair aid to Ukraine and Israel with reforms to U.S. border policy.

But he’s also benefited from an unusual amount of goodwill from the coalition of policy hardliners and political nihilists that tanked his predecessor. Euphoric over their unexpected success in swapping former Speaker Kevin McCarthy for a movement-conservative fellow-traveler and not eager to repeat the grind, the chaos faction in the House Freedom Caucus was ready to give Johnson a bit longer of a leash.

But Johnson has already had to spend down significant chunks of that extra political capital just to keep the government’s lights on. His short-term spending package in November, passed with significant Democratic support under a procedural maneuver preventing amendments on the House floor, drew a stern Freedom Caucus rebuke: “Republicans must stop negotiating against ourselves over fears of what the Senate may do with the promise ‘roll over today and we’ll fight tomorrow.’ While we remain committed to working with Speaker Johnson, we need bold change.”

That anger only grew this month during negotiations over another piece of must-pass legislation: the annual National Defense Authorization Act. The version of that bill passed by House Republicans this summer contained a number of provisions aimed at stamping out purported “wokeness” in the military, including measures banning the government from funding military personnel’s transgender care or travel to procure abortions.

The compromise package negotiated by House and Senate leaders stripped many of these provisions out. The final bill also included language temporarily reauthorizing a controversial spate of federal warrantless surveillance powers, further enraging the Freedom Caucus (and various other congressional civil-liberties hawks).

Whether any disgruntled lawmakers will come back to D.C. ready to reach for the motion to vacate—the procedural mechanism that doomed McCarthy—remains to be seen. But hardliners have already shown they’re increasingly willing to break with Johnson on important votes, requiring him to rely on Democratic help for must-pass bills, which in turn pours more gasoline on the hardliners’ ire.

As if that weren’t enough, Republicans’ already razor-thin majority continues to grow slimmer: McCarthy isn’t coming back to Congress in January, Rep. Bill Johnson is stepping down early next year, and expelled Rep. George Santos’ seat will remain vacant until a special election in February—one the Republican candidate is by no means guaranteed to win.

“We’re in a honeymoon period,” Rep. Carlos Gimenez told The Dispatch last month. “All honeymoons end.”

Biden vs. Trump vs. ______?

They don’t just write newsletters, folks. David and Mike Warren each have great pieces up on the site this week examining various elements of what’s shaping up to be one of the most distinctive features of the 2024 election: The wide array of third-party and independent candidates currently seeking to get on the ballot and the serious potential for disruption they provide.  

Mike’s piece takes a look at some of these candidates—and the specific challenges they’ll have to overcome just to get in front of voters in the first place: 

Getting on the ballot without the benefit of being a major-party nominee means navigating the patchwork of rules, requirements, and deadlines across the country’s states and territories. Some states have relatively easy requirements, sometimes as simple as a petition signed by 1,000 registered voters. Other states’ petitions require thousands more signatures, with specific thresholds for each congressional district or county. Some require a complete ticket, with a named presidential candidate and running mate, to apply for ballot access. Many require independent or unaffiliated candidates to provide a specific slate of certified electors when they file their paperwork. Depending on the state, an aspiring independent candidate may need to fulfill a combination of these requirements, and only within a prescribed period of time that can be as short as a week.

The various independent groups and candidates in question insist they’re up for the task. No Labels, the group that has long floated the possibility of a centrist challenger in the event of a Trump-Biden rematch, is chugging along with its $70 million effort to secure ballot access in more than 30 states—even though it has yet to settle on who its centrist candidate would actually be.

No Labels is unusually well-organized and unusually cash-flush for an independent group pushing a presidential candidate, but they’ve had plenty of organizational stumbles too, as David walks through in his piece today: 

Two weeks ago, No Labels canceled its in-person nominating convention scheduled for mid-April in Dallas, opting instead for a virtual gathering.

Last month’s announcement wasn’t the first time No Labels has backed away from a previous commitment. Indeed, No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy said just after Labor Day the group was working to establish ground rules for choosing nominees and would make them public sometime in October. “We really wanted to prioritize this selection aspect of this,” Clancy told The Dispatch in early September. October came and went, as did November and half of December, with no update on this process from No Labels.

Clancy also told The Dispatch in early April that No Labels was planning to accelerate candidate vetting in late summer or early fall. By September, however, he conceded the group might have gotten ahead of itself and was instead focused on devising and agreeing upon the candidate nominating process. And three months after that, candidate vetting still remains on hold as No Labels endeavors to lure high-profile candidates capable of coalescing broad voter support and winning a national election against the two major political parties.

“There’s more of a demand and more of an opportunity for this idea than ever before. However, I think the organization has had some stumbles,” a knowledgeable source said. “They haven’t been quite ready for prime time. It’s moving too fast—too quickly—and they weren’t prepared.”

Tie Goes to Trump?

All this third-party talk got us thinking about what would happen in the (for now) unlikely event that such a candidate actually wins enough electoral votes to throw the election to the House of Representatives. In such a scenario—or a 269-269 Electoral College tie—each state House delegation gets one vote, and it would take an outright majority of 26 states to elect a president.

Each state delegation would almost certainly vote for the major-party candidate, and Republicans are favored to control a majority in 26 states after 2024.

Here’s a look at the math:

House Democrats currently hold a majority in 22 states; two state House delegations are evenly split; and Republicans have a majority in 26 states.

In 2024, North Carolina is pretty much guaranteed to go from an evenly split delegation to a GOP majority due to redistricting. “On Oct. 25, the North Carolina General Assembly’s Republican supermajority swiftly approved an aggressive gerrymander designed to transform the state’s current 7D-7R delegation into either a 10R-4D or 11R-3D rout,” the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman reported in November.

So that would place Republicans at 27 delegations. The GOP has other decent pick-up opportunities, including Alaska’s lone seat, which is currently held by a Democrat. Democrats hold a 9-8 majority in Pennsylvania and a 7-6 majority in Michigan, but two Democratic seats in each state are rated as “toss-up” races by the Cook Political Report. When you look at its list of House races potentially in play in 2024, Democrats appear to have just one good opportunity to flip a GOP state to their column. Republicans currently have a 6-3 majority in Arizona, but that could change to a 5-4 Democratic majority if Republicans Juan Ciscomani and David Schweikert lose seats they narrowly won in 2022.

The Democrats’ next best chance of denying a GOP majority could be Montana, which currently has a 2-0 GOP House delegation. To make Montana an even split, Democrats would need to defeat incumbent Republican Ryan Zinke, whose race is currently rated “likely Republican” by Cook Political Report. In 2022, Zinke won by 3.1 points.

So if Republicans failed to flip any Democratic delegations and lost the aforementioned races in Arizona and Montana, that would leave them with control of House delegations in 25 states—one shy of a majority.

After Montana, Democrats appear unlikely to deny a GOP majority in any other state. They have an outside chance to change Iowa’s 4-0 GOP delegation to a 2-2 split by defeating GOP incumbents Zach Nunn and Mariannette Miller-Meeks. While Nunn won by less than a point in 2022 and his 2024 race is rated “lean Republican,” Miller-Meeks won by 7 points and her race is rated “likely Republican.” A political environment in which Democrats defeat Miller-Meeks is one in which the Democratic presidential candidate almost certainly wins an outright majority in the Electoral College.

The big picture: The GOP remains favored to control a majority of House delegations in 2025, but it isn’t guaranteed. The scenario of an Electoral College tie is unlikely, but it’s not impossible. Here are a couple ways it could end up evenly split:

Notable and Quotable 

“Deadlines have slipped, discussions have continued. Nobody’s done this—these are talented people but they’ve never done anything like this. I haven’t either.”

A source close to No Labels speaking to The Dispatch, December 15, 2023

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

John McCormack is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was Washington correspondent at National Review and a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. When John is not reporting on politics and policy, he is probably enjoying life with his wife in northern Virginia or having fun visiting family in Wisconsin.